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Anti-Nuclear Forces Pick Up From Point Zero

November 26, 1987|RON RUSSELL | Times Staff Writer

A year ago, when disarmament activists were licking their wounds and pondering the future of the troubled movement, Maggie Murphy was crawling beneath barbed wire fences at the Nevada Test Site under cover of darkness.

After being arrested at the site a dozen times, Murphy, 30, figures she's one of the few women who knows what it's like to be set free on the streets of Tonapah, Nev., in the wee hours of morning.

"That's when they let you out, at midnight, if you can believe it," she said, recalling one incarceration of 20 days. She and five other demonstrators had been jailed for trespassing after they hiked to within four miles of ground zero on the day of a planned nuclear test.

Resurgence of Movement

"We went through some rough times, but it turned out to be worth it," the Santa Monica peace activist said. "We're seeing things begin to turn around."

She and her husband, John--who met as volunteers gathering petitions on behalf of the nuclear freeze campaign five years ago--are part of a Westside anti-nuclear movement that is experiencing something of a resurgence.

Aided by a growing number of public officials willing to commit acts of civil disobedience to protest the testing of nuclear weapons in the Nevada desert and by several celebrities who have lent their names to the cause, anti-nuclear activists say they are finding it much easier to raise funds and to recruit.

"There's no question there's a heightened awareness of the nuclear armaments issue on the Westside, and as far as we're concerned, it's about time," said Andrew Tonkovich. He and Murphy are the paid staff members at Westside SANE/FREEZE, which claims 1,300 members.

On Sunday, the organization raised more than $10,000 and enlisted 78 new volunteers who pledged to participate in a Dec. 13 protest at the government's Nevada test grounds. The protest will coincide with the annual conference of the National League of Cities in Las Vegas.

Coming-Out Party

The volunteers were among 600 people who paid $20 each to attend a supper at the Santa Monica pier and to hear speeches by peace activist Daniel Ellsberg, human-rights advocate Midge Costanza, Los Angeles Councilwoman Ruth Galanter and Santa Monica Mayor James Conn.

The gathering was a coming-out party of sorts to celebrate the national merger of SANE, the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, with FREEZE, the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign.

"We're ecstatic about the merger because we believe it's going to enable us to do a much more effective job of reaching new people than in the past," said Tonkovich. "It's a perfect blending between the more established education and lobbying-oriented organization SANE has been and the more activist grass-roots organization represented by the FREEZE."

Tonkovich, 27, who has been active with one or another peace and justice group since high school, left graduate school at USC last year to devote himself full time to the disarmament effort.

He and Murphy share a cramped, cluttered office on the second floor of a Methodist church in Santa Monica. Conn, the church's pastor, in June became one of the first public officials in the nation to be arrested while protesting at the Nevada site.

'Peace Criminals'

Since then the list of Westside public officials arrested at the site has grown to include Santa Monica City Atty. Robert Myers and council members Dennis Zane and David Finkel and West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tem Helen Alpert.

In his remarks Sunday, Ellsberg drew laughter when he commented about how "unusual it feels to be here with a set of officials like this who are all verging on being peace criminals."

However, the arrests have not amused everyone.

Several elected officials on the Westside, including Santa Monica Councilwoman Christine E. Reed, have publicly criticized the actions of Conn and the others, saying it is not proper for public officials to take the lead in lawbreaking.

Myers, who was arrested a second time at the Nevada site two weeks ago, dismisses such criticism.

'Matter of Conscience'

"My actions are a matter of conscience, just as the consciences of some apparently move them not only not to participate but to criticize those who do," he said.

Tonkovich credits involvement by the officials "as probably the single most influential factor" in what he describes as a "new high level of energy" among anti-nuclear advocates on the Westside.

Disarmament groups generally experienced a lull after their success in 1982 and 1983 in helping persuade about 370 city councils and 15 state legislatures to pass non-binding resolutions calling for a freeze on testing, production and deployment of nuclear weapons.

Although a strong nucleus of volunteers was active on the Westside from the time the nuclear freeze movement sprang up in 1981, "volunteers were simply operating out of their homes," Murphy said. "We didn't even have an office until a year ago."

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