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Reconvening in the Cause of Nuclear Disarmament

Ikeda Center

Peace educators Betty Reardon (center) and Zeena Zakharia (second from right) facilitate a seminar on nuclear abolition at the Ikeda Center, Cambridge, Mass., Feb. 10. Photo by Kevin Maher.

by Mitch Bogen
Special to the Tribune

With a challenge as formidable as nuclear disarmament, it’s hard to know where to begin, let alone how to proceed effectively once you have started.

These were among the challenges taken up during a nuclear abolition seminar on Feb. 10 at the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning and Dialogue in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Like the first center-sponsored seminar on this topic held last October, the gathering was facilitated by peace educators Betty Reardon and Zeena
Zakharia. Once again they worked with students from several Boston-area universities to elicit their best thinking.

Participants were greeted by Ikeda Center Executive Director Virginia Benson, who looked to SGI President Ikeda’s 2018 peace proposal for inspiration. In it, he argued that the human rights approach is key to responding to the threat of nuclear weapons. To succeed, said President Ikeda, we should make “the life and dignity of each individual” our focal point.

To begin, students shared what they learned about the state of nuclear disarmament from the dialogues and research they engaged in as preparation for this second seminar. Many found that the goal of abolition seems so distant, and the threat so abstract, that “ordinary citizens don’t know what to do.”

For another activity, students reviewed lists of concrete, recommended steps toward disarmament taken from the writings of President Ikeda and Ira Helfand, a member of the steering group for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. Inspired by these ideas, participants agreed that their own best first steps should focus on raising confidence and awareness among ordinary people.

They also engaged in ambitious, long-term thinking through what social scientists call “backward design.” Students were introduced to a hypothetical scenario in which the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons would be entered into force, becoming international law in 2029 (when participants are coming into their own as leaders in their fields). They worked backward from that date to determine the five political or civil society milestones that would chart a course to the achievement of that goal.

For the next phase of this project, students will share their recommendations for nuclear abolition at a “peace dialogue” to be held at the Ikeda Center on April 21.

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