“Turning Fear into Action”: A Conversation with Cora Weiss


The June 12, 1982 mobilization for the abolition of nuclear weapons was an exercise in turning fear into action. With these words in summarizing the conversation posted here, Cora Weiss, who guided the event from its inception, exhorts us to a similar response to the fears raised by the potential Russian use of “tactical” weapons in the war against Ukraine. The fear induced in the early 1980’s by the nuclear arms race between US and USSR produced both more public information campaigns and more civil society organizing to halt the race. This series on “The New Nuclear Era” is an attempt to encourage the dissemination of more information and facilitate substantive education leading to action to face down this present fear with action to eliminate nuclear weapons completely and finally. The posting of this conversation that refers to the preparations on the day before the actual demonstration is intended to give those who have been following this series a view of lessons learned as reflected in this conversation between Cora and some now seeking to promote action.

Viewing the entire conversation (something over an hour-long) will provide information on historical precedents not previously mentioned in the series. Among them were the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legality of nuclear weapons, the Nuclear Freeze, and the concepts of common and mutual security, all part of the public discourse at that time; all contributing to the unprecedented number of participants in the event.

In the conversation and the chat (also available from Peace Action New York State) there are mentions of multiple other actions surrounding the event, such as the little remarked simultaneous demonstration attended by 50,000 in San Francisco; and mention of various individuals (most of them women) who initiated action and education, the people of civil society who made this history.

We who are committed to educate and act in this present nuclear crisis owe them all a profound debt of gratitude. GCPE acknowledges not only that comprehensive debt for past action, but our present and immediate debt to those who both made this history and shared it with us:  Sally Jones of Peace Action who organized the conversation; Robert Richter who made available his documentary filmed during the demonstration (tomorrow’s post), Katrina Vanden Heuvel of the Nation magazine who contributed to the conversation and gave permission for the posting of Michael Klare’s foundational article, and to Michael whose call to mobilize lead to this series.

Our heartiest thanks are to Cora Weiss, not only for the inspired and visionary leadership that produced June 12th and now points us to the integral relationship between the climate and nuclear crises (Katrina refers to her as a prophet); but most especially for her modeling of a lifetime of commitment to action for a better world. Cora is the responsible global citizen we image in our work in peace education. We are especially grateful for one arena of her action not mentioned in the conversation or the chat. She made it possible to launch the Global Campaign for Peace Education at The Hague Appeal for Peace Conference in 1999, fully embraced it, and has facilitated it since then. THANK YOU CORA!!!!

This post is a testament to the vision of peace activists and the power of civil society. We must now engage that vision and ignite that power to energize a massive global effort to eliminate nuclear weapons now.

Conversation with Cora Weiss, Robert Richter and Jim Anderson about the June 12, 1982 NYC march

A conversation with Cora Weiss, Robert Richter and Jim Anderson about the NYC march and rally of 1 million persons for peace and nuclear disarmament which took place on June 12, 1982.  The event was organized and hosted by Peace Action New York State.

Learning from June 12, 1982 

  • What new learning about the nuclear threat and the roots of the abolition movement did you gain from the Conversation with Cora Weiss?
  • What are the similarities and differences between the nuclear threat of the early 1980s and today’s threat? How should these similarities and differences affect planning and implementing our current antinuclear organizing and educating?
  • Should the abolition movement take to the streets again? Where and how might that take place? What slogans might be on the placards carried? How might we encapsulate the message of the urgency of nuclear abolition so as engage the public for further education?
  • Draft a platform speech that you would hope to hear at a major antinuclear manifestation. What vision would you put forth? What strategies would you advocate? What groups would you most hope to move to action?  Why these groups?
  • What will be your own next step toward eliminating nuclear weapons from the face of the earth?

BAR, 6/9/22

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