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Joanna Macy

Anti-nuclear activist is 'just a sucker for courage'


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Joanna Macy remembers Aug. 6, 1945, vividly. She was 16 years old, spending the summer at her grandfather's farm in upstate New York.

"I walked into the kitchen of the farmhouse and there was this very serious voice on the radio. He said we had dropped some new kind of bomb on a place called Hiroshima. I found even then, in the tone of the announcer's voice, that we would be living with this for the rest of our lives."

Macy is a legend in the anti-nuclear movement. The author of eight books and international champion for peace, justice and environmentalism, the 82-year-old activist will visit Boise on Thursday, Jan. 19-Sunday, Jan. 22, as a guest of the Snake River Alliance. Macy will participate in book signings, a lecture and a two-day workshop entitled In League with the Future: Containing the Poison Fire at the Basque Center.

Prior to her trip, Macy spoke to BW from her home in Berkeley, Calif.

Tell me about your parents.

My father was an investment banker, not a very successful one, I'm afraid. We lived in a series of New York City apartments that grew ever smaller. I grew up in Midtown Manhattan, but spent the summers of my youth at my grandfather's farm along the Erie Canal in a town called Albion.

What were your dreams when you were a young girl?

I wanted to be an artist and raise horses. My best friend was an old horse on my grandfather's farm. His name was Spotty.

What do you remember about Spotty?

He was a retired circus horse. He was white but had big reddish-brown spots and a black tail. He would have looked a bit comical except for his great dignity. And he was big--15-hands tall. And he had very good teeth. That's what really counts in a horse. I guess in people, too.

What did you want to study when you went off to college?

I studied biblical history at Wellesley College. It was right after the Second World War, when we had big existential questions, like "What makes people try to annihilate one another?" and "What breeds obedience to rules that you don't really believe in?"

But decades later, we're still asking why we continue to drop bombs.

In my 30s, I began wandering through Buddhist teachings and they make a lot of sense of why we do such unskillful, stupid, evil things. It's fear, lust for power, greed and ignorance, and they all abet each other.

So, in a world of fear, lust and power, where do you see hope?

I see hope in an actual readiness to open our eyes, minds and hearts.

Do you see hope in younger generations?

Oh, yes. You can see some of their gutsiness and creativity in the Occupy movement.

What do your instincts tell you about the Occupiers?

They are quite significant. They're really looking at the root problem of economic inequality in our society. It's quite unhealthy, spiritually and materially. No nation can last long when there is such a staggering gap. It's a form of disease.

As you know, the Snake River Alliance has been fighting quite a strong battle against Areva, the French nuclear company that, up until recently, was moving quickly toward building a uranium enrichment plant in Eastern Idaho. What would you say to those Idahoans who support such an endeavor?

Do you and your family and your family's future generations want to eat food grown from soil or drink from an aquifer that is irradiated from enriched uranium? It lasts forever. The half-life of enriched uranium is 4.5 billion years. It's almost mythic.

How concerned are you that the current president has embraced the nuclear industry?

I'm disgusted. It's willful ignorance. Of course, he's from Illinois, the state that has the most nuclear reactors, and the nuclear industry has very deep pockets.

For someone who is 82, you sound and appear quite youthful.

When you have a cause, and I have a lot of them, it brings me into contact with marvelous people. People who face up to nuclear power and nuclear weapons production are some of the liveliest, soulful, energetic, funny and obstinate people I know. I love being around them. I'm a just a sucker for courage.


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