Letter to Los Alamos Monitor


Los Alamos Monitor, 
256 DP Road,
Los Alamos, New Mexico 87544

Dear Editor:

I am a board member of the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG) and would like to comment on Peter Kray's 7/8/97 Monitor article, "Free Speech or Trespass?"  I would also like to address the Museum wall and lottery issues, and our arrests for leafletting.

The Monitor quotes Museum Director Rhoades:  "The Study Group wants exclusive rights to that space for an anti-nuclear exhibit."  An exclusive right has never been our position.  A wall was promised and granted, however, for the expression of anti-nuclear views, as the following history shows.  No other dissenting antinuclear group has come forward to ask for space.

In 1992, LASG requested Museum wall space for anti-nuclear opinion after successful litigation by California activists seeking to counter pro-nuclear exhibits at the Lawrence Livermore Visitors Center.  On July 10, 1992, LANL Deputy Director Jim Jackson wrote us saying, "We recognize the right of reasonable access to the museum," urging us to work with Museum staff on the specifics. 

Which we did.  Museum Director John Rhoades asked us on August 11, 1992 to be "gatekeepers" (John's term) of the twenty-foot section of wall he made available for antinuclear dissent.  We had already been in discussions with Mr. Rhoades supervisor, Scott Duncan, who on June 18, 1992 suggested that instead of providing alternative training for Museum docents, Study Group members would be welcome inside the Museum as docents.

When the Bradbury Museum opened in early April of 1993 our nine exhibit panels were there, introduced by the Museum's introductory panel:

"The exhibit on this wall has been designed by a group of citizens who disagree with aspects of the Laboratory's past and current research.  The Bradbury Science Museum has made this space available to the group to encourage responsible debate about the role and future of the Laboratory."
We had spent several thousand dollars and months of work on these exhibits, with LANL generously supplying maps and photographs. 

Our exhibits hung without incident for more than two years, in perfect cooperation with LANL, during which time they were popular with many visitors, as the thoughtful comments in the Museum's log books show. 

From 1992 until now no other dissenting group has come forward to compete for dissenting space.  Though we would have no problem with sharing the wall with other anti-nuclear groups, should the occasion arise, the Museum has now given what is left of the space it originally allotted for dissent to the pro-nuclear Los Alamos Education Group (LAEG), who are emeritus Lab employees and veterans that initially organized to defend the history, as they understand it, of the atomic bombing of Japan. 

The Museum now urges us to enter a lottery against LAEG for space.  There are many reasons why the Museum's proposed "lottery" is wrong-headed, the first of which is that it is entirely unnecessary, there being no other applicants for dissent.  I use the term "proposed" deliberately, since there has not been more than one entry in each Museum "lottery" so far. 

There are additional problems with current policy.  First, it would mischaracterize antinuclear dissent as one half of a controversy with LAEG, over which "The Laboratory" would reign magisterially.  Our dispute is obviously not with LAEG, but with certain LANL programs, as well as with a Museum that, without dissent such as ours, gives visitors no more than the Lab's point of view.  Second, the two small walls now provided -- two thirds of a small niche -- do not begin to equal in space or visibility the space we were promised and granted; exhibit space is now very pinched, and far fewer people can view the exhibit comfortably, let alone study it carefully as many did before -- assuming they can find it at all. 

The wall issue could best be resolved by Director Rhoades, but only if he had the support of Deputy Director Jim Jackson, groups like Our Common Ground, citizens, and the Museum staff.  Politics played too big a role in 1995, when the LAEG group demanded some of our wall space.  Among the letters they solicited and gave to the Museum Director was an intimidating one from ex-LANL-Director Harold Agnew, who wrote:  "We got rid of the Smithsonian curator over the Enola Gay fiasco.  Hopefully the Bradbury staff will understand."  John should not have to suffer intimidation like this. 

On another front, nine of us have been arrested for leafletting at the Museum since April 19th.  In each case, we stood well out of the way of passing visitors and were uniformly courteous.  Bill Sprouse of LANL security, who has known us for years, can confirm our polite, courteous attitude.  Nevertheless, LANL spokesperson James Rickman, doing his job I suppose, expressed concerns about "sticking a leaflet in your face."  But in a New Mexican article of 4-20-97, a Brazilian visitor who witnessed two of our arrests is quoted otherwise:  "It is terrible.  They seem to be such nice people." 

Since visitors to the Museum come from several directions, we cannot reach them from the public sidewalks without a small army.  In inclement weather, we would like to be free to stand in the Museum's ample lobby; some of our leafletters will be elderly.  In any case, the visitors are not accessible in rain or snow out on the sidewalk.  Courts have ruled that access to the intended audience cannot be denied if that access is compatible with the purposes of the public facility.

Both the leafletting and wall space issues are especially important First Amendment free speech cases because they test citizens' right to protest the policies of their government.  We hope LANL doesn't believe it has to destroy our constitutional rights in order to save them. 

Cathie Sullivan,
Los Alamos Study Group

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