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Photos: Get to know ICAN, the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates

Photos: Ari Beser The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize is always accompanied with a torch light parade to the Grand Hotel to greet the Prize winner. This year was one of the biggest.

OSLO, Norway – The Norwegian Nobel Committee once bestowed its prestigious peace prize to Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu each in their fight to end Apartheid. President Obama earned it for his ability to unite the masses in the name of hope. Malala stood up to the Taliban for girls’ education, and she too won its acknowledgement. This year, the committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for its work to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

ICAN is a coalition of non-governmental organizations based in over 100 different countries. According to the statement from the Nobel Committee, “This coalition of partner organizations around the world has been a driving force in prevailing upon the world’s nations to pledge to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders in efforts to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.”

This summer, I documented ICAN as they successfully lobbied for the historic ban on nuclear weapons adopted by 122 member states in the United Nations. To date, not a single nuclear-armed state or any of its allies have signed the treaty. However, after 50 or more signing countries ratify this treaty will enter into force with our without the nuclear armed states.

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize went to ICAN for its critical role in bringing the treaty negotiations into fruition after 10 years of organizing civil society around the world. They held international prep conferences starting in 2013 in Oslo, Norway, and 2014 in Vienna, Austria, and Nayarit, Mexico. These led up to the UN treaty negotiations. After 50 signing countries take it home and ratify it within their own governments, it will be enforced as international law.

Setusuko Thurlow, survivor from Hiroshima, and Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN, accepted the award on the group, but they represent a small portion.

Photos: Ari Beser Setsuko Thurlow, Japan Setsuko survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima when she was 13 years old. Like most children her age, she was mobilized for the war effort. On August 6th at 8:15, she found herself buried in a collapsed building when the atomic blast ripped through her city. She escaped, but the ghostly victims, burned and mangled from the incredible heat still haunt her. “We Hibakusha have always felt that no one should ever allow what happened to us, to ever happen to another human being.” The earliest days of her activism date back to 1954 when she came to the United States on a scholarship and she spoke out about the atmospheric testing in Bikini Atoll region. “It was then I realized that Americans did not look at Hiroshima and Nagasaki as I did.  Most were very busy justifying the war.  During this time, I felt truly alone. I had to do a lot of soul searching. And I did. As I came out from that dark, lonely time, I emerged with an even stronger conviction to speak out.”

Ray Acheson, Canada Ray Acheson first got involved in disarmament about 14 years ago as an intern with Randy Forsberg, one of the leaders of the Nuclear Freeze movement in the 1980s. Ray learned the history of organizing against nuclear weapons from Dr. Forsberg and was inspired to keep working and dedicate herself to disarmament. After graduating from the University of Toronto , she moved to New York and joined the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). She started as an intern in 2005, but now she directs WILPF’s disarmament program Reaching Critical Will and became an International Steering Group (ISG) member of ICAN. She has been engaged with ICAN since its founding in 2007, and attended the launch in Vienna. “I hope the Nobel Peace Prize amplifies our message in this time of crisis. We have a lot to lose - we have everything to lose - but we also have gained a lot with [the nuclear weapon ban] treaty and we need to use that to prevent the horror of nuclear war.”

Tim Wright, Australia Tim Wright, Director of ICAN Australia, has been a disarmament activist since his early childhood. Each year, he and his classmates would send paper cranes to Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a symbol of support for the cause. “I couldn't believe -- and refused to accept -- that there were still so many thousands of nuclear bombs in the world. Why would anyone wish to unleash such devastation once again on innocent civilians?”, he asked. “I'm proud to have been ICAN's very first volunteer, back in 2006. I helped prepare some of the initial resources for the campaign. It was at our launch at the United Nations in Vienna in 2007 that I met Ray Acheson and current ICAN executive director Beatrice Fihn together, with many other wonderful activists who would become dear colleagues,” he said adding, “I hope that this tremendous honor will help us persuade more nations to support the treaty.”

Susi Snyder, Netherlands, USA Susi Snyder is on the ICAN ISG as a representative from PAX. “We’ve put a lot of energy into national activities, resulting in the Netherlands being the only nuclear reliant state participating in the whole treaty negotiations,” said Snyder. She also coordinated annual research and campaign activities for Don’t Bank on the Bomb. This PAX/ICAN project engages the financial sector in order to stigmatize, outlaw and eliminate nuclear weapons.  Snyder was inspired to join the fight for nuclear disarmament by the efforts of Native Americans who resisted the US nuclear weapons test site in Nevada. “The human rights approach to nuclear weapons inspired me, as did the determination to beat the odds and demand action,” she said shortly after finding she was among the winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. “ICAN has this great opportunity to use the spotlight on the Treaty to clear away the clouds and fog around nuclear weapons and focus on the fundamental question: are nuclear weapons acceptable or not?”

Daniel Högsta, Sweden, USA Daniel, ICAN’s Network Coordinator, says he fell into the anti-nuclear campaign by chance, it wasn't long before I was totally taken by the topic from the passion and spirit of my colleagues, from the testimonies of the survivors of nuclear weapons use and from a sense of the absurd injustice of the situation whereby the entire debate around nuclear weapons was being dictated and controlled by those states that are most complicit in the maintenance of the status quo. This is why the prospect of banning nuclear weapons, even without the nuclear weapon states was so exciting. It levels the playing field and presents so many opportunities for civil society across the world. Hogsta hopes, the Nobel Peace Prize will prompt more people to believe that progress on nuclear disarmament is possible despite the entrenched opposition we face. We have already done so much -- it is not inconceivable we will see great gains made towards the abolition of nuclear weapons in a short time frame.

Dr. Kathleen Sullivan, USA In the early 1980s Dr. Kathleen Sullivan was a young high school student under President Regan “I was pretty much convinced that the world would be destroyed in nuclear hell fire.” In 1982, the television program The Day After aired and from that moment she has identified as an activist for nuclear abolition. Decades later after finishing her dissertation, a feminist critique of nuclear technology, she moved to New York in 2000, to direct the Nuclear Weapons Education and Action Project with Educators for Social Responsibility, and here began her passion for disarmament education, bringing youth atomic bomb survivors’ testimony. She was part of ICAN’s inauguration in Australia in 2007. In 2008 she co-founded Hibakusha Stories with Robert Croonquist, a fellow NYC teacher. Their NGO has brought hibakusha witness to over 40,000 students in the US, primarily the New York Metro Area. “The Nobel Peace Prize will go a long way in bringing ICAN’s message to the world community. Nuclear weapons cannot exist without their eventual use by accident or design. We need to wake up to the reality that everything we love is threatened. We need to act now and protect what and who we love. And our one beautiful planet, for future generations.”

Beatrice Fihn, Sweden In closing her speech at the Nobel Peace Prize lecture in 2017, ICAN’s  Executive Director Beatrice Fihn said, We are a movement for rationality. For democracy. For Freedom of Fear. We are representative of the moral majority: the billions of people who choose life over death, who together will see the end of nuclear weapons. Fihn manages the campaign consisting of more than 420 NGOs working together to achieve a treaty banning nuclear weapons. She just launched the campaigns newest initiative–the 1000 Day Fund. Modeled after the legend of folding 1000 paper cranes, for the next 1000 days, campaigners who have projects aimed at getting their countries to sign and ratify the nuclear weapons ban treaty can seek funding from ICAN.  Previously, Beatrice worked for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s disarmament program Reaching Critical Will and worked for the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. She has written extensively on disarmament processes and civil society engagement, and has a law degree from the University of London.

I recently gave a TEDxFulbright talk at the US Capitol. I detailed what it is exactly we can learn from the survivor testimony. My role in ICAN has been storyteller. I've been working with atomic bomb survivors since 2011, recording their testimony and forwarding their stories to the next generation. The humanitarian approach to nuclear weapons has resonated with people worldwide, and propelled us to this moment. As Beatrice Fihn said in her Nobel Lecture, "It's either the end of the weapons, or the end of us."

Ari Beser is the author of The Nuclear Family and filmmaker who used his Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship (2015-2016) to give voice to the hundreds of thousands of people directly affected by nuclear technology today. He is the grandson of Lt. Jacob Beser, the only U.S. serviceman aboard both B-29s that dropped atomic bombs on Japan during World War II.

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