Since the late 1980s, demonstrations advocating for the abolishment of nuclear weapons have been held annually at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, or LLNL, home to nuclear warhead development facilities.
Throughout the years, the number of attendees have dwindled, but Daniel Ellsberg, a veteran nuclear disarmament activist who passed away in June, was nearly always there – protesting, speaking and supporting.
This year, the annual demonstration was a vigil dedicated in honor of Ellsberg and took place Aug. 4 at the LLNL West Gate in order to ensure that their bomb lab workers would witness the presence of protestors, according to the event’s flier.
“This (Livermore protests and non-violent civil disobedience) was his life,” said Ellsberg’s wife and co-activist Patricia Ellsberg during the vigil. “His life was trying to avert nuclear war, the use of nuclear weapons and coming and expressing himself with others who felt as strongly as he did.”
Patricia Ellsberg spoke about the many times they’d been arrested at Livermore and how her husband considered protestors to be his “tribe.”
Following her remarks, the group watched a video montage highlighting excerpts of six of Ellsberg’s speeches at Livermore protests from 2016 to 2022.
“It was so moving and inspirational to us to both experience and to hear from Patricia, who was his longtime comrade from the times of the Pentagon Papers,” said executive director of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility Bob Gould. “I can’t give words to how moving being with her that day and sharing Dan’s legacy meant to all of us.”
Amongst other groups, the vigil was organized by the San Francisco Bay Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Western States Legal Foundation.
Most vigil attendees personally knew Ellsberg, according to Gould. For him, Ellsberg was an inspiration.
“In the 1970s, Dan was very much in my mind,” Gould said. “I really appreciated his founding courage in releasing the Pentagon Papers … so Dan was very inspirational to me from the time he very courageously challenged the Nixon administration.”
Gould first met Ellsberg in 1992, when Ellsberg was hired by the nation-wide Physicians for Social Responsibility to direct the Manhattan Project 2, an effort to dismantle the nuclear bombs that had previously been built.
Although the project eventually lost funding, Ellsberg and Gould continued to collaborate at the Livermore protests.
“For me, it’s been an extraordinary privilege knowing (Ellsberg),” Gould said. “I really valued our relationship, and I was very much honored by somebody with his prestige and expertise and decades of outstanding commitment and courage that has been such a wonderful example.”
Board member of Western States Legal Foundation and executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy John Burroughs described the spirit at the event as one of “quiet determination.”
Burroughs met Ellsberg numerous times — once when defending protestors that had been arrested at the Nevada Test Site. He said that Ellsberg was a “terrific” speaker, with speeches consisting of both “informative” and “amusing” elements.
Ultimately, Burroughs said the vigil was a “touching” event.
“He’s passed with his life on Earth, but his spirit and inspiration remains with us as a galvanizing force for us to carry on,” Gould said.