Synthesis/Regeneration 11   (Fall 1996)

Creation or Destruction? Grassroots Initiative Allows Humanity to Decide

Proposition One Gaining Momentum

by William Thomas, Proposition One Committee

Proposition One is the generic name of a nationwide grassroots voter initiative. This grassroots campaign seeks to create binding international law that would mandate the constructive use of human resources and eradicate a major threat to the planet—nuclear weapons. Proposition One is also international. On September 14, 1993, thanks to a lot of volunteer energy (and on less than $1,000), Proposition One achieved its first official victory, against considerable odds, when voters in Washington D.C. passed Initiative 37.


The Mayor shall notify the District's Congressional Delegate, in writing, that a majority of the District's voter request that the Delegate propose a Constitutional amendment directing the US government to:

1. Disable and dismantle all nuclear warheads by the year 2000 and refrain from replacing them with any weapons of mass destruction at any time;

2. Enter into a vigorous good faith effort to eliminate war, armed conflict, and all military operations from their considerations;

3. Actively promote policies intended to induce all nations on earth to join in these commitments for peace on earth;

4. Use recent annual levels of nuclear weapons program resources to (a) convert all weapons industry employees, processes, plants, programs, and complexes smoothly into constructive, ecologically beneficial peace time industries during the three years following the ratification of this amendment; and (b) redirect those resources into human needs such as housing, health care, education, agriculture and environmental restoration.

This amendment shall become effective as soon as the Commonwealth of Independent States ratifies comparable amendments.

Proponents of Proposition One were barred from participating in candidate forums; the entire press establishment (except one African-American newspaper), and every politician (except one, who refused to take a position), vehemently denounced Initiative 37. The Washington Post urged District voters to "vote No, because a vote of 'Are You Kidding' isn't available."

"We elect representatives, not leaders."  

Compounding the opposition, two days before the election, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton—to whom the Initiative was addressed—announced that she would ignore the measure if it passed. Although the mainstream media trumpeted Delegate Norton's announcement, she made a mistake in breaking the news on WOL, the leading African-American radio station in Washington. Cathy Hughes, the owner of WOL, told Ms. Norton that she was going to vote for the initiative and reminded the Delegate, "We elect representatives, not leaders." She suggested that if the measure passed, Ms. Norton would be well advised not to ignore it. On its own, WOL also began running pro-Proposition One spots until the election.

On election day, reason won out when the initiative passed with 57% of the vote. At the polls people were heard saying, "I'm voting for it; you'd have to be crazy to vote against it."

While 57% of a local ballot may be a far cry from international critical mass, it was enough to cause Congresswoman Norton, who agreed with the substance of the measure, to begin searching for common ground.

For various reasons, Ms. Norton believed that nuclear war was an inappropriate subject for a constitutional amendment. 'We the People' stated in the Preamble that the purpose of the Constitution is 'to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and Secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,'" we reminded Ms. Norton, explaining that Proposition One was designed to address these concerns. However, Ms. Norton said she would be the laughingstock of her colleagues if she were to introduce such a Constitutional amendment.

On January 26, 1994, Del. Norton submitted a compromise proposal, the "Nuclear Disarmament and Economic Conversion Act" (H.R. 3750 in 1994, HR-1647 in 1995 and 1996).

Del. Norton's legislation closely tracked the text of Initiative 37. However it had major differences:(a)it was framed as a statute rather than a constitutional amendment; (b) "year 2000" deadline was deleted; (c) it specified conversion of only "nuclear" weapons industries; and (d) it required that all international nuclear powers enact similar legislation. The bill had eight additional cosponsors in the House in 1994, but it remains stuck in committees and needs a jump-start to help get it onto the floor of the House for a vote.

In 1995, despite the disenfranchisement of the District of Columbia by reactionary forces of the Gingrich Revolution Congress, Ms. Norton re-introduced her disarmament conversion bill as HR-1647. "Things like this take time," the Delegate explained. She has promised to keep re-introducing it every session. (For updates see,

In November 1994, the Japanese Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs raised Proposition One to an international level when it sponsored a visit by Ellen Thomas, a Proposition One spokesperson, for the purpose of delivering information about the voter initiative to the Nineth annual Japan Peace Conference, in Misawa City, Japan.

The idea of pursuing peace through constitutional law seems quite natural to the Japanese. In pertinent part, Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution provides that the Japanese people "forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish this aim, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained."

In November, 1995 Ms. Norton wrote the International Court of Justice a letter, that was accepted as evidence in hearings on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. Ellen carried the letter to The Netherlands, and on November 15, 1995, the Republic of Zimbabwe delivered the closing argument, noting "the Nuclear Disarmament and Economic Conversion Bill introduced into the 104th US Congress as the result of a citizen initiated referendum. U.S. Congress member, and introducer of the Bill, Eleanor Holmes Norton sent a letter to this Court on the 3rd of November 1995 describing the Bill and urging this Court to 'consider the legacy it will pass on to our children and to issue a strong opinion in favor of nuclear disarmament'". (See

Attorneys for the nuclear powers had argued that the Court lacked jurisdiction to hear any arguments, since no international laws criminalize nuclear weapons. (Russia agreed with this position but said there should be such laws.)

In a public address during February 1996, Congresswoman Norton mentioned the 200-odd billion unasked for dollars rebudgeted by Congress to the Pentagon, and hailed her disarmament economic conversion bill as tailored to remedy the present economic crisis. Later, Ms. Norton thanked Proposition One Committee members for "forcing" her to introduce the bill, stating "You were ahead of your time." Thus, Proposition One accomplished peaceful change on an individual basis.

This success must be repeated many times in many places before it can become reality.

The successes of Proposition One to date are only small steps toward the solution of a very big problem. Because nuclear weapons are a global creation and concern, this success must be repeated many times in many places before it can become reality.

Although critics condemn the idea as "idealistic," the underlying theory is simple: "Law" is whatever agreements human beings may establish for the purpose of structuring a given society. Once a critical social mass agrees that something will be the law,it becomes "the Law."

There is historical support for this theory; Hammurabi's Code, the legal systems of Roman and Chinese empires, and the Magna Carta all came and went long before Thomas Jefferson observed, "To imagine that law should remain immutable, is to expect that a man will wear still the clothes that he wore as a boy." Since then the laws of several French Republics, the Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos, the Soviet Union, and many others have held sway and vanished.

After ages of honing civilized legal processes,our nations are still unable or unwilling to break with greed or transcend subjective perceptions of reality. Thus, they breed violence, epitomized in the maldistribution of wealth and the genocidal making of weapons. Fear continues to dominate the human environment.

Of course, genocidal weapons and the maldistribution of wealth are issues of universal magnitude, perhaps overwhelming on a personal level. We are born into times of monumental problems: environmental pollution, human rights violations. On the positive side, all of these problems are human creations; therefore, we may look for human solutions. On the local level, it has been shown that Proposition One offers an opportunity to begin building creative global agreements. It's apparent to nearly everyone that it's time for conversion of the war machines.

Economic conversion is not a new idea. "One third of our members are dependent on military contracts," Dick Greenwood, special assistant to the President of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union, said recently. "Instead of marching on Capitol Hill with our employers to fight military spending cuts, we helped write a conversion bill back in 1978. With the prospect of disarmament on a grand scale, we need that program now!"

Nor is peace through war universally accepted as the solution. As Senator Mark Hatfield once put it:

Peace through strength is a fallacy." The national defense has left us vulnerable, but not because we lack an arsenal. Our vulnerability is the poor who are without homes, nutrition, education, health care. We the people are vulnerable today.

As President Eisenhower said in his farewell speech:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies a theft from those who are hungry and not fed; from those who are cold and not clothed. This world-in-arms is not spending money alone; it is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. People in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our government. One of these days government had better get out of their way and let them have it.

Someday, if a critical mass agrees, the problem can be solved. A great deal of technical and historical information, plus communication links, can be found on our web site. Please look up —and let us know what you think.

You can reach Proposition One Committee at P.O. Box 27217, Washington, DC 20038/202-462-0757, e-mail

Synthesis/Regeneration home page  | Synthesis/Regeneration 11 Contents