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Historic Peace Boat in Wisconsin Promotes Nuclear Disarmament | Opinion

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by Bill Christofferson, Wisconsin Examiner
August 25, 2023

A small sailboat with a huge mission — to end the existential threat of nuclear weapons — entered Wisconsin’s waters of Lake Michigan this week, nearing the end of an 11,000 mile voyage for peace.  It will dock in Sheboygan, Milwaukee and Racine for public events. 

The Golden Rule is the original peace boat that sparked a movement 65 years ago that resulted in the international treaty to ban nuclear weapons testing in the atmosphere, in space, and underwater.

Now, it is sailing to promote ratification of the United Nations treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons,  which has been signed by 122 nations  — but not the U.S. or any other nuclear powers — and, more broadly, to educate the public about the threat posed by nuclear weapons proliferation. 

“We are sailing for a nuclear-free world and a peaceful, sustainable future,” says Golden Rule project manager Helen Jaccard. “What better way to bring a message of peace and sustainability than this beautiful sailboat with its storied history? It puts a smile on people’s faces.” 

“As a catalyst for change, the Golden Rule is more of an educational vessel than a protest boat,” Jaccard says. “People love this boat.” With its red sails emblazoned with a peace symbol and the Veterans For Peace logo, “you can see us coming from a mile away, and the excitement keeps building.”

“Our mission is all the more urgent now that the two nuclear superpowers are confronting one another in Ukraine, greatly increasing the possibility of nuclear war,” she said. 

The Golden Rule began its current trip on the Great Loop route in September 2022 on the Mississippi River in Minnesota, sailing to the Gulf, visiting Cuba for 10 days, and circling the south and east coasts before reaching the Great Lakes this summer.  It has held 350 events in 92 cities to date, generating favorable media coverage and a warm welcome everywhere it docks.

Getting the U.S. and other nuclear-armed nations to ratify the treaty may sound like an exercise in futility. But this is “the little boat that could.”  

In 1958 a crew of Quakers sailed the Golden Rule from Hawaii toward the Marshall Islands, where the U.S. had tested 67 atomic bombs. They intended to protest and interfere with the atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, but that voyage was halted by the government and the crew was arrested and jailed. Another boat, the Phoenix of Hiroshima, which was docked near the Golden Rule in Honolulu and inspired by its crew and its mission, sailed into the test zone before it, too, was intercepted and its captain jailed.

These highly publicized missions focused international attention and caused a public outcry about the radiation blowing around the world, which was even found in Wisconsin milk. President Kennedy signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, with Great Britain and the Soviet Union, in 1963. The Golden Rule action inspired many peacemakers and peace ships that followed, including Greenpeace.

Golden Rule, in private ownership, had sunk and was in such bad condition a California shipyard was going to burn the boat. But Veterans For Peace (VFP) and others intervened, spent five years restoring her to her former beauty, and re-launched Golden Rule in 2015 as a national VFP project.  It has since sailed up and down the Pacific coast, spent nearly two years in Hawaii, and is now on the Great Loop tour that will end in Chicago in September.

The Golden Rule will be in Sheboygan on Saturday, Aug. 26, in Milwaukee Sept. 1-4, and in Racine Sept. 5-6 with boat tours and a series of public events planned.  Details are available on the Golden Rule’s website.

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Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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