NEW YORK – On April 24, a few days before the month-long Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference began here, Bike Away the Atomic Bomb riders completed their ride from Washington, D.C. to New York City, arriving in front of the United Nations headquarters.
The organisers of the bike ride sought to attract attention to the tragic consequences of nuclear weapons testing and urge the international community to move more resolutely towards abolishing nuclear weapons.
The ride was put together with the support of The ATOM Project by Bike for Peace, a Norwegian non-governmental organisation, and Mayors for Peace, which brings together around 7,000 international mayors in support of global nuclear disarmament efforts. It took place just as another campaign was gaining momentum, Global Wave 2015, which saw activists and leaders around the world wave a symbolic goodbye to nuclear weapons.
Following their departure from Washington, D.C. on April 21, the group arrived in Wilmington, DE, where they met with Wilmington Mayor Dennis P. Williams and members of Wilmington Friends Meeting. Riders also spoke in Wilmington schools and at a stadium in front of 2,000 students.
“I am very honoured to have met you and to have had the opportunity to speak with you guys about nuclear weapons and your effort to abolish them,” Shaheed Purnell, a senior student from Urban Promise Academy in Wilmington, told the riders. “I will forever remember your efforts and remember your presence here in the United States, which is greatly needed. I will continue to spread the word about the terror of nuclear weapons and would love to do something about this issue and later be a part of your organisation to help abolish them.”
Tore Nærland, co-founder of Bike for Peace, and Thore Vestby, mayor of Frogn, Norway, who is also vice president of Mayors for Peace and a member of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (PNND), Frank Tomlinson, vice president of Bike for Peace; Svein Arne Jerstad, mayor of Kvinesdal, Norway; and Ann Suellentrop, an American anti-nuclear activist from Kansas, rode from Washington through Baltimore, Maryland, Wilmington, Delaware, and Princeton, New Jersey and arrived to New York on April 24. They were joined along the way by Kazakh Olympic gold medallist Vladimir Smirnov, members of the Potomac Pedallers Touring Club, Princeton Free Riders club and other anti-nuclear weapons activists.
The ATOM Project Honorary Ambassador Karipbek Kuyukov, an artist and nuclear testing survivor joined and supported the group along all the way, although, having been born armless, he could not ride a bike. The ATOM Project, which stands for “Abolish Testing. Our Mission” is a global awareness campaign that seeks to galvanise public opinion against nuclear weapons as the critical step towards the abolishment of these weapons. People around the world can sign The ATOM Project’s online petition to global leaders to ensure the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
Following the riders’ arrival in New York, the permanent mission of Kazakhstan to the United Nations held an exhibition of Kuyukov’s art and a gathering in honour of the group.
“I want to use my art to fight against nuclear weapons in the world. Kazakhstan is a good example to explain this to other countries. I am proud of my homeland, which was the first state to give up nuclear weapons,” Kuyukov said at the event. “It will take a long time and I think I won’t see it in my lifetime, but it’s my real dream and I’m doing a lot of things to achieve it.”
“We have made a great journey from Washington, D.C. to New York City, engaging with many people along the way. I hope the message we are trying to convey to world leaders is being heard: we demand a world without nuclear weapons. I hope to be the last born with the after-effects of nuclear testing,” Kuyukov added.
United Nations members, foreign delegations and U.S. experts attended the event.
“We are honoured to be part of a truly international campaign against the use of nuclear weapons. Arts, sport and diplomacy are all here on the eve of the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Yerzhan Ashykbayev said in his remarks welcoming the guests.
“Mayors for Peace numbers at around 7,000 mayors around the world. Together we represent one billion people, connecting 110 capitals. As vice president, I had the honour to sign Astana into the list as well,” Thore Vestby said.
“Look at Kazakhstan! It is very important to get the message out at all levels of society!” Tore Nærland, co-founder of Bike for Peace noted in his interview for this story. “It was especially good to talk to schoolchildren and teach them about the tragedy of nuclear radiation. When we were starting in the 1980s, there were 80,000 nuclear weapons around the world. Now there are 17,000, but that is still 17,000 too many! We need to rid the world of them for good!”
He was supported in his comments by Svein Arne Jerstad, mayor of Kvinesdal, Norway who said, “The deterrence effect of the weapons is self-contradictory, nobody would ever use nuclear weapons. Therefore, they are useless. And if they’re useless, let’s get rid of them!”
In her turn, Ann Suellentrop, member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said, “We view nuclear weapons as a public health issue. These trips are a great way to raise awareness and inform the larger society. Where I’m from in Kansas city there is a plant that produces up to 80 percent of the materials needed to build a nuclear weapon.”
Approximately 160,000 people from across the globe have signed The ATOM Project’s (Abolish Testing. Our Mission) online petition. The petition is an opportunity to tell world leaders the people demand a nuclear-weapons-free world. The petition was launched by Kazakhstan on Aug. 29, 2012, at the International Day against Nuclear Tests.
Bike Away the Atomic Bomb is a continuation of last year’s bike ride, held by Mayors for Peace, which crossed the world in 72 days and included meetings with world leaders, anti-nuclear activists, as well as Pope Francis and Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
On April 25, the riders of the group joined the massive rally in Manhattan of the Global Wave campaign. Their speeches and nuclear disarmament calls drew cheers and applause from thousands of supporters.