By Linda Pentz Gunter, Beyond Nuclear International, 14 April 2019
Dr. Helen Caldicott: the anti-nuclear movement’s most fearless and indefatigable matriarch
I have nothing against Birkenstock sandals. Well, not much anyway. Nor tie-dye really. Nor, do I think, does Dr. Helen Caldicott. But there was a time — and maybe there still is — when she would advise any woman anti-nuclear activist venturing into verbal combat with the other side to “wear pearls and pantyhose.”
This was not an anti-feminist stance. Far from it. It was the sign of a smart tactician. Leave the Birkenstocks and the peace sign jewelry at home. Don’t give them what they want. Don’t let them stereotype you. Put on those pearls and then pummel ‘em!
Caldicott, probably the world’s most famous anti-nuclear campaigner, has done her fair share of pummeling for the best part of close to six decades. She is 80 now and tired and she wants us to do it. Especially us women. Although she is as disappointed and frustrated as the rest of us that we still have to. We should have won by now, I am sure she would say. I do.
In my now 21 years in the anti-nuclear movement I have come across countless people, mostly women, who have told me, “I got onto this movement because of Helen Caldicott. She inspired me.” Usually it took just one encounter, a single speech. Helen had a way of rattling people’s conscience. After listening to her, you couldn’t not join the anti-nuclear movement (against both nuclear power and nuclear weapons.) The alternative was to walk away, remove the mirrors from your walls, and sleep badly the rest of your life.
Caldicott comes from the pull-no-punches school of oratory. This is a particularly hard choice for a woman. When Bernie Sanders does it, it makes him “bold” and “progressive”. When women do it, we are labeled “shrill,” or, worse still, “emotional.”
“Damn right,” Helen will answer to that one. What can be more “emotional” than trying to stop a technology like nuclear power that kills babies and children — or, during a nuclear war, everyone on Earth? If you are not emotional about this subject, what does that say about you as a human being?