A trio of prominent Westside politicians, following in the footsteps of Santa Monica Mayor James P. Conn, expect to be arrested for trespassing next month when they join in a demonstration at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site.
Santa Monica City Councilmen Dennis Zane and David Finkel and West Hollywood City Councilwoman Helen Albert will participate in the large rally marking the 42nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.
Albert said public officials should be willing to risk arrest for a worthy cause. "We need to stop the bomb," she said. "And I think it is important for officials to take a stand and set an example for others."
The Nevada Test Site, about 60 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is a favorite target for peace activists, who hope to persuade Congress to cut off funding for nuclear weapons testing. More than 1,600 people have rallied at the site so far this year and many more are expected in coming months.
John Murphy of Westside SANE/FREEZE said politicians lend credibility to the anti-nuclear effort, especially when they are involved in highly publicized arrests. He said he hopes others will join in scheduled rallies.
"We would love to see officials from other cities involved," Murphy said. "I would never have predicted this much participation two months ago."
Conn is the most prominent Westside politician arrested at the site so far. The Santa Monica mayor was taken into custody and booked for trespassing when he and others blocked the path of a bus carrying workers into the test site.
Some Westside politicians criticized Conn, saying lawmakers should not break the law. But Conn, who is also a Methodist minister, called his decision a "matter of conscience." He will not be able to attend the Aug. 9 rally because it conflicts with his Sunday services at the Church in Ocean Park, but said he expects to return soon.
Santa Monica City Atty. Robert M. Myers was the first Westside official arrested at the site. He has since been arrested again and expects to be taken into custody for a third time next month. Protesters are not prosecuted because of the sheer volume of arrests, but Myers said he would go anyway.
The city attorney sits on the steering committee of Westside SANE/FREEZE, which has 1,300 members. After two arrests and four hours in custody, Myers said he is convinced that civil disobedience is an effective form of protest.
"Those of us who are willing to risk arrest send a strong message to our government," he said. "We are telling (federal officials) that their conduct and their nuclear policies are unacceptable to the American people."
Zane and Finkel, who belong to the liberal political organization known as Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, are going to the site for the first time. Zane said he would have gone with Conn in June if he hadn't been teaching.
Zane said he is aware that some people believe it's wrong for public officials to intentionally break the law. After weighing both sides of the argument Zane decided, like Conn, that the decision is personal.
Avenue of Expression
"The nuclear arms race is so important that public officials ought to take every way available to express themselves," Zane said. "If other officials think they have other avenues of expression I encourage them to use them."
Zane was less clear about the political ramifications of his decision.
"I don't know how it cuts politically," Zane said. "It's possible that some people will think it's inappropriate. But I am much more concerned about how it contributes to the dialogue about curtailing the nuclear arms race."
Finkel, who has supported anti-nuclear efforts, said he was encouraged to participate in the demonstration when he read some of the criticisms of Conn and Myers. Finkel said the arguments against their actions fly in the face of reason.
"I was really upset by one letter to the editor that said public officials should not be arrested," Finkel said. "That's bull. When I hear someone suggesting that officials ought to butt out of public expression I get very concerned."
Finkel added that he was also willing to risk political controversy.
"People who worry about the consequences of such actions shouldn't be in government," Finkel said. "If this means that I won't be a City Council member for a second term, then so be it."