From Thursday October 24 (UN Day) to Wednesday October 30, a team of volunteers in New York City counted out $542 billion – the approximate global nuclear weapons budget for the next five years – and symbolically reallocated this to climate protection, poverty alleviation and the Sustainable Development Goals. The money was counted in 542,000 mock notes each of value $1million. The aim was to demonstrate the incomprehensible magnitude of nuclear weapons spending,
‘Most people have no idea how much is $1 billion, let alone $100 billion or $1 trillion. By counting this note-by-note we come to realise the absolute insanity of investing so much money in devices designed to bring unimaginable misery into the world instead of using these precious resources to solve the global social, humanitarian and environmental problems.’
Holger Gūssefeld, World Future Council adviser and conceiver of the project.
‘We had hoped to count 1 million notes to make up $1 trillion, the nuclear weapons budget for the next ten years’ said Susanna Choe, Co-founder of Peace Accelerators and one of the five core team members. ‘But this amount of money is so vast, that even counting with notes of $1million and with many volunteers counting, it was too much.’
‘We filled basket after basket with billions of dollars,’ said Bill Kidd, Member of the Scottish Parliament and another of the core team members. ‘This money could protect the climate, end poverty, ensure universal health care, support peace and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals if it were not wasted on nuclear weapons.’
Money counting locations and events in New York City
The money counting started at the United Nations (click here for video of UN launch) and then continued at various locations around the city including:
- With Students Strike 4 Climate (Fridays for Future) in front of the United Nations;
- Outside Jacobs Engineering, a nuclear weapons contractor, during which a letter was delivered to the company informing them of the divestment campaign against them;
- In front of New York City Hall, to support initiatives for the City Council to end investments by NYC pension funds in nuclear weapons companies, and to establish a public committee to advance NYC’s role as a nuclear-weapon-free zone;
- At Strawberry Fields in Central Park (a location honoring John Lennon) and at the Gandhi statue in Union Square;
- The Hub in the Chelsea neighourhood of New York City, where most of the money was counted and re-allocated to baskets representing the 17 SDGs.
The Hub also featured an opening event with representatives of peace, climate action and social justice organisations; an event on Divesting from nuclear weapons and investing in peace, three exhibitions and a closing party featuring live musicians and a performance of Bella Gaia, a NASA-powered immersive experience inspired by astronauts who spoke of the life-changing power of seeing the Earth from space.
The exhibitions were Project Holocene by artist Russ Ronat, depicting endangered species, an exhibition by Basia Gaszczynska from Global Coralition on restoring coral reefs, and an exhibition of Memes from supporters of Move the Nuclear Weapons Money.
New York city divestment campaign
The City Hall action was held to specifically support City Council draft resolution Resolution 976, which was initiated by Manhattan Project for a Nuclear Weapons Free World calling on New York City to divest from the nuclear weapons industry, and Initiative 1621 to reaffirm New York City as a nuclear weapons-free zone and establish an advisory committee to implement this status.
“City of New York pension funds should not be used to support any aspect of nuclear weapons production, plain and simple,’ said Councillor Helen Rosenthal (Manhattan, District 6), co-sponsor of Resolution 976. ‘Helping to fund nuclear proliferation runs contrary to what this city and our 300,000+ municipal workers stand for. Our teachers, fire fighters, social workers, and so many other public sector workers have devoted their careers to making life better for their fellow New Yorkers. We cannot in good conscience assist in underwriting the catastrophic loss of life and environmental ruin that would result from a nuclear conflict.’ (See Money counters call on New York City to divest from nuclear weapons).
I wholeheartedly join with the Count the Nuclear Weapons Money initiative and so many other organizations in supporting the goals of U.N. Disarmament Week.
Helen Rosenthal, New York City Council member and co-author of draft Resolution 976 and Initiative 1621
‘We presented a letter to NYC councillors calling on them to support Resolution 976 and Initiative 1621, and we are campaigning to get the super majority required for their adoption,’ said Christopher Salata, Co-founder of Peace Accelerators and one of the core team members.
‘The letter and campaign are building support from a range of New Yorkers, including artists and entertainers as well as influence-makers from organisations such as Beyond the Bomb, Mayors for Peace, War Resisters League, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Pax Christi, 350NYC.org, United Religions Initiative, Rotarian Action Group for Peace, Veterans for Peace, Code Pink and more…’
Count the Nuclear Weapons Money representative Christopher Salata also met with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), co-author with Senator Markey of the Green New Deal. Chris encouraged her to support the SANE Act (see below) and the campaign to have New York City divest from nuclear weapons. Chris noted to AOC that ‘the $454 million New York City invests in nuclear weapons would be better invested in the Green New Deal.’
Move the Nuclear Weapons Money and the SANE Act
The money counting action was part of Move the Nuclear Weapons Money, a global campaign to cut nuclear weapons, end investments in the nuclear weapons industry and re-direct these budgets and investments to peace and sustainable development. (See New anti-nuclear campaign to stop funding of nuclear weapons, Associated Press).
U.S. Senator Markey, an endorser of Move the Nuclear Weapons Money, used the opportunity of the money counting week to introduce an updated version of the Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditure (SANE) Act. The Act, which was introduced also into the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Blumenauer, aims to improve national security and budgetary sanity by cutting redundant and destabilizing nuclear weapons programs.
“The United States should fund education, not annihilation; that is our future. We need sanity when crafting America’s budget priorities, and more and improved nuclear weapons defies common sense. The SANE Act cuts nuclear weapons and delivery systems that we don’t need so we can invest in the people and programs that will make America safe and prosperous in the future.”
Senator Ed Markey, Co-President of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament and lead sponsor of the SANE Act.
Money countings in other cities/countries
There were also countings of smaller amounts of nuclear weapons money in London, New Mexico, Philadelphia and New Zealand.
In London, a counting of £5.2billion in 10,400 notes of £500,000 each was organised by Conscience: Taxes for Peace not War and held on Saturday 26 October outside the Ministry of Defence in Horse Guards Avenue, London SW1A 2HB. See Photos of the London event, London Count the nuclear weapons money action flyer or visit the London event facebook page.
In New Mexico there were counting events at Taos Plaza (Taos), State Capital Roundhouse (Santa Fe), Socorro Plaza Gazebo (Socorro) and outside the Los Alamos National Laboratory (Los Alamos). The events were organised by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety in cooperation with Youth United for Climate Crisis Action and Taosenos for Peaceful and Sustainable Futures.
New Mexico hosts a number of nuclear weapons facilities including LANL in Los Alamos which undertakes nuclear weapons research, design, and development; Sandia National Laboratory (SNL) in Albuquerque which undertakes systems engineering of nuclear weapons and research, design, and development of non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons; and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) where plutonium-contaminated wastes generated by the nuclear weapons complex are disposed. New Mexico is also the State where the first nuclear weapons test was undertaken – at the Trinity Test Site on July 16, 1945 – near Socorro.
The New Mexico events generated a number of media stories including Activists Count ‘Nuclear Weapons Money’ In Los Alamos (Los Alamos Reporter), Northern New Mexico Demonstrations Question Defense Spending (Rio Grande Sun), Counting the Nuclear Weapons Money at Los Alamos (La Jicarita) and a KCEI radio interview of the event organizers Serit Kotowski and Suzie Schwartz.
In Philadelphia, a counting of $4.5 billion was held on October 24 at City Hall Philadelphia Courtyard organised by the Granny Peace Brigade Philadelphia. The event include songs led by the Grannies such as ‘We are a gaggle of Grannies’. See Photos of the Philadelphia counting and some videos of the counting action.
We are a gaggle of grannies, urging you off of your fannies. We’re telling you now, we’re angry and how. No more nukes. With all of the government spending, to create weapons that are unending, we’re going for broke, this isn’t a joke. No more nukes.
Words of song by Granny Peace Brigade Philadelphia, sung while counting nuclear weapons money.
In New Zealand, a counting event was organised in the New Zealand Parliament (Women’s Affairs Select Committee Room) co-hosted by Louisa Wall MP, United Nations Association of NZ and Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament.
The event included parliamentarians from government and opposition as well as representatives of peace and disarmament NGOs. New Zealand banned nuclear weapons by legislation adopted in parliament in 1987, and has followed up by ending nuclear weapons investments by government managed funds such as the Accident Compensation Commission, Superannuation Fund, Pacific Conservation Trust, Disarmament Education United Nations Implementation Fund and the Peace and Disarmament Education Trust. See videos of the New Zealand event.
Move the Nuclear Weapons Money – the global campaign
Count the Nuclear Weapons Money action was part of a global campaign Move the Nuclear Weapons Money.
‘The campaign is aimed at curtailing a dangerous nuclear arms race by cutting off the budgets and investments that fund the weapons, and to use these funds to instead address and resolve climate change, poverty, international conflicts and inequality,’ said Alyn Ware, co-founder of the campaign and one of the core members of Count the Nuclear Weapons Money.
‘The nuclear weapons industry makes billions of dollars and uses their wealth and power to promote the nuclear arms race and increased spending on nuclear weapons. But we can take back this power through divestment and legislative action.’(See New anti-nuclear campaign to stop funding of nuclear weapons, Associated Press).
‘The campaign is making progress on divestment action, and is getting support from all types of people, young and old, from all sorts of backgrounds and from nuclear-armed and non-nuclear countries,’ said Vanda Proskova, Vice-Chair of PragueVision Institute for Sustainable Security, curator of the Move the Nuclear Weapons Money memes exhibition and one of the core members of Count the Nuclear Weapons Money.
‘Counting the nuclear weapons money this past week puts (non-fossil) fuel into the campaign by demonstrating the staggering amounts of money currently going into nuclear weapons and the amount of good this money could make for ensuring a peaceful and sustainable planet if it was re-directed.’