Last week, in the morning hours before he attended a Santa Monica City Council meeting, City Atty. Robert M. Myers was carted away in handcuffs.
His alleged crime was trespassing. Myers was one of nearly 100 protesters arrested during a demonstration at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site in Mercury.
"It took a lot of thought on my part," Myers said. "As a lawyer who believes in the rules of law, deciding to commit civil disobedience was difficult. But there is no other way to challenge these kinds of activities."
Myers was the only Westside official arrested in the May 5 demonstration. But his case is not atypical. Anti-nuclear activists report that increasing numbers of Westsiders are participating in nuclear protests and making contributions to anti-nuclear organizations such as the Westside Sane/Freeze.
John Murphy, coordinator of Sane/Freeze, said that Westside participation in nuclear disarmament activities has increased "enormously" in the past year. Murphy said his group has recruited more than 1,300 Westsiders.
Westside residents have a history of contributing large amounts of money and manpower to liberal political causes, and leaders of the nationwide anti-nuclear movement are obviously hoping to tap into that rich tradition.
Supporters of the anti-nuclear cause range from well-known actors such as Martin Sheen and Betty Thomas to high-profile public officials like Myers, who has gained a reputation for speaking out on a range of political issues.
Myers said he decided to participate in a demonstration at the Nevada Test Site, sponsored by an international Catholic peace organization called Pax Christi USA, after attending another nuclear protest at the Federal Building in Westwood.
Myers drove to the government test site 60 miles northwest of Las Vegas on May 5 and was among 100 protesters arrested for trespassing when he entered the federal property.
Memo to Council
"I was part of a group from the Westside arrested for the misdemeanor violation of creating a public nuisance by blocking the entrance to the Nevada Nuclear Test Site," Myers wrote in a brief memo directed to the members of the Santa Monica City Council. "This group included an orthopedic surgeon, a retired Los Angeles City firefighter, nuns and a priest."
Myers was placed in plastic handcuffs and loaded onto three buses with the other demonstrators. They were driven to a processing station in Beatty, Nev., where they were issued citations and released. The Nye County district attorney's office does not prosecute demonstrators arrested at the site because the small office cannot handle the growing number of cases.
The federal government has conducted nuclear tests at the barren Nevada site since 1951. It has become a rallying point for nuclear protesters in recent years, and hundreds of them have been arrested there.
More than 740 people were arrested at a Mother's Day protest last Sunday, which attracted more than 2,500 demonstrators. Among them was actress Betty Thomas, a regular on the television series "Hill Street Blues."
Thomas, an avid supporter of the nuclear freeze movement, said she and six other people carried an American flag as they illegally crossed the barbed wire fence that surrounds the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. They were arrested by a security guard and later were booked for trespassing.
"I don't like being arrested " said Thomas, who played a policewoman for seven years on television. " . . . But symbolically it's important."
Lisa Alvarez of Santa Monica was one of the organizers of the Mother's Day demonstration. She has been involved in the protest for 10 years and has been arrested twice.
Alvarez called Sunday's protest a day of unification for Westsiders who have been involved in the movement through various anti-nuclear groups, including the Women's International league for Peace and Freedom.
"There were about 220 people there from Los Angeles, and about half of those were from the Westside," Alvarez said. "It is gaining momentum."
Vivian Rothstein, an administrator in the Santa Monica Department of Recreation and Parks, flew to the protest with five of her friends. She was not arrested but spent the better part of the day standing outside the barbed wire fence that surrounds the barren test site deep in the Nevada desert.
'Important to Be There'
Rothstein said that her two young children understood why she spent Mother's Day in Nevada.
"It was important to be there," Rothstein said. "My children . . . were concerned I would be arrested. But I told them not to worry."
Sister Maureen Murray of the St. Joseph's Center in Venice has attended two demonstrations at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. She said she expects more Westsiders to become involved in the movement.
"We are determined to put an end to nuclear bombs," said Murray, who also was arrested last week. "There is definitely a (Westside) movement starting. More and more people are letting their feelings be known."
Murphy of Sane/Freeze said the next large demonstration is planned for next month, when organizers will sponsor a 100-mile walk through the San Fernando Valley and the Westside on June 14 and return to the test site on June 15.
"It's going to build now," said Rothstein, who had not been involved in protest activities since her days as a 1960s activist. "There hasn't been a way for people to express their concerns about nuclear war. But this is something very specific."