Every year in the spring the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability presents awards in Washington, DC, to those who have made major contributions over the previous year to efforts to end production of nuclear weapons and get responsible management of nuclear waste and the maximum possible cleanup of contaminated sites. One award presented on April 16, 2013, went to Kristen Iversen for her book, FULL BODY BURDEN: GROWING UP IN THE NUCLEAR SHADOW OF ROCKY FLATS. I had the honor of presenting this award. Here is the text of my remarks honoring her.
It is my distinct pleasure to present an ANA award to Kristen Iversen. Kristen, as many here know, last year published to great acclaim a book called Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats. This beautifully written work intertwines two very personal narratives, one of life within a dysfunctional family residing in a sort of suburban paradise, the other one of gradually awakening to what it means to live immediately downwind of a dysfunctional nuclear weapons plant. No recent work in this field has attracted so large a readership so quickly. Critics are set back by its close documentation, especially on matters of ongoing controversy, while the open-hearted are won over by Kristen’s very direct communication.
I wish to address Kristen’s relation to karma. I refer not to her sister, Karma, but to the Hindu/Buddhist principle that what has been sown in past lives is reaped in present and future ones. People often think of karma as simply an individual matter, but it’s also a social reality, a very profound one. A society reaps what it has sown. It brings its fate upon itself. A given society – say the society of the USA – is at any given moment the inevitable and irrevocable product of its past. The culture of a society, the collective human habit of its people, shapes that society for good or ill.
Thus the USA of 2013 is a karmic expression of our imperial, racist, patriarchal, genocidal and ecocidal past. The nuclear menace that ANA addresses is a fateful expression of what has gone before. It exists not simply because our government corralled the scientists who could produce the bomb at just the time we had the political leadership willing, even eager, to use it, so use it we did to the applause of most of the people, who thereafter, with few exceptions, willingly paid the taxes to keep the nuclear behemoth alive, decade after decade, despite the local hazard and the global threat. We had conquered a continent; we could conquer the world. Collectively, some very large portion of the people of the USA created the karmic fate that now confronts us. How we respond creates the karma future generations must deal with.
Enter Kristen Iversen, a very gifted woman who applies her gifts in a frank, honest, compelling and compassionate addressing of the bad karma that Rocky Flats demonstrates. In Colorado, we are just now experiencing a renaissance of activism focused on the poisonous legacy of the defunct Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant. We are witnessing a new awakening of people who, very much because of Kristen Iversen, have a deep awareness of the karmic harm rendered by the DOE, its contractors and its regulators at Rocky Flats. And they are saying NO. Kristen’s good karma is already manifesting itself.
Thank you, Kristen.