Illustration by Harrison Gough.
Illustration by Harrison Gough.

In the first half of the 1980s, UC students across the state became critical of the relationship between the institution and the country’s nuclear arsenal. Since the founding of Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1943, the UC regents fostered strong ties with the country’s creation of nuclear weapons. The bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were created by UC employees, in conjunction with the Atomic Energy Commission which later merged with the Department of Energy. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the nation’s second nuclear weapons manufacturer, was founded by the UC in 1952.

UC Santa Cruz students, just 70 miles from Livermore, played a significant role in the direct actions against the regents’ ties with the facility. In alliance with the Livermore Action Group, many students were arrested at protests during this period. Campus demonstrations were also common. These displays of civil disobedience are embedded not only in the history of this campus, but also the larger national nuclear disarmament movement as a whole.

June 1980: Over 100 nuclear disarmament protesters attend UC regents meeting to persuade them to sever ties with Los Alamos and LLNL.

February 1982: First demonstration held at LLNL in over three years, 150 protesters arrested. Among them are UC Berkeley and UCSC students.

June 21, 1982: Over 1,300 people are arrested in a nonviolent blockade at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, some of whom are UCSC students. Three thousand people attend the demonstration, intending to “stop the bomb where it starts.” Among those arrested is Daniel Ellsberg, the activist associated with the Pentagon Papers scandal. He told the New York Times, “the business as usual at the laboratory is creating first-strike weapons like the neutron bomb. It must be stopped.’’

1983: UCSC’s Academic Senate becomes the first to support UC disarmament, passing a resolution

(48-2) saying, “We do not believe that it is part of the University’s mission to be involved in the design and development of weapons … Nor do we believe that the University or any committee of the Faculty can realistically oversee and control what is done at these institutions.”

June 20, 1983: UCSC students join in International Disarmament Day, a movement of thousands of protesters across 18 states. Over 900 people are arrested at a demonstration in Livermore and 33 at Lockheed Plant near Santa Cruz. Afterward, the Department of Energy places a 196-acre “buffer zone” around the lab.

Spring 1984: UCSC Adlai Stevenson Program on Nuclear Policy is forms to discuss and educate the campus community about nuclear issues.

March 1985: Students form the Student Alliance for Fallout Emergency (SAFE) and get a referendum placed on the spring ballot, requesting the Health Center to “stockpile suicide pills to be distributed on request to registered students in the event that the UCSC campus is exposed to lethal quantities of nuclear radiation.” The referendum also called for the creation of burial sites and radiation monitors at each college.

The only UC chancellor to support nuclear freeze at the time, UCSC Chancellor Robert Sinsheimer, stated that he would never allow such a measure to be enacted even if passed, calling it a “nihilistic, Jonestown solution.“

April 1985: SAFE’s “suicide option” fails by a margin of 60 votes. In the largest campus voter turnout in a decade, the measure is struck down with 1,599 votes against, 1,539 in support. Its defeat, however, doesn’t derail the anti-nuclear movement’s message on campus. “We insist that this election is a victory for us,” said student Peter Blackshaw, one of the authors of the SAFE referendum, to the Los Angeles Times, “because we forced so many students to think about the human consequences of nuclear decisions.”