Discussing Intersectionality in the Nuclear Field

Discussing Intersectionality in the Nuclear Field

This week's episode of Press the Button examines the role that intersectionality can have in the world of nuclear weapons. 


How do you live out an intersectional approach to nuclear weapons issues?

In last week’s episode of the Ploughshares Fund’s Press the Button podcast, Mari Faines, the Director of Communications and Outreach at Physicians for Social Responsibility and host of Got Melanin?, uses her recent Outrider article as a starting off point to answer this question.


In speaking with Press the Button, Faines notes that many people understandably do not view nuclear weapons as the most proximate threat to their lives, given the closeness of other insecurities such as racism and lack of access to housing and jobs. Faines makes the case that in addition to being aware of these insecurities, the nuclear field must empathize with the impact that they have on communities.

Faines explains that “this is a very privileged conversation that we’re having if [nuclear weapons are] the first and only thing that you can see [as] an existential threat for certain communities. You’re allowing yourself to operate in a different space than a lot of your day-to-day Americans and, honestly, global citizens.”

Faines says that it is vital to recognize and understand this privilege in order to have more authentic conversations. Acknowledging the varying levels of insecurity facing communities lays the foundation for finding areas to work together.

Faines says that this lack of understanding can be seen in how the national security space reacted to the Black Lives Matter movement over the past decade, particularly in the summer of 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. She explains that while the space was able to understand militarized violence, it did not understand the particular impact that systemic racism has long had on Black American communities. Furthermore, she says that many individuals in the national security space are unfamiliar with the Black Lives Matter movement’s efforts to push for equity in economic and education spaces, which may create opportunities for collaboration.

Providing space for these voices to be heard and understood is a vital step in building that understanding, Faines says. “These communities that we consider disenfranchised in the United States of America are smarter and understand more than we want to give them credit for. But our epistemology and understanding of what is a scholar, who has the right to be considered an expert—that is what has to change here,” Faines tells Press the Button.

The intersection of social justice and nuclear weapons abolition is what Faines and Physicians for Social Responsibility are exploring with their #DemandAccess series of events.

This platform aims to create an environment that encourages growth in the community: “the first thing that we’re trying to do is change what an expert looks like,” says Faines. She adds that “really allowing young voices, diverse voices – not even necessarily just voices that haven’t been considered mainstreamed experts come — to the forefront and having authentic conversations has shown that there are people that are here and willing and ready to push this movement forward in a new way. If we’re willing to share the microphone.” 

Prioritizing intersectionality matters, Faines stresses, because if we do not work with other communities and learn their history, then we limit ourselves to a narrow scope of individuals and their ideas. When we broaden our coalitions, we allow for a wider group of individuals to share their experiences and ideas to resolve problems.

Another aspect in building momentum around issues, Faines adds, is centering the people at the core of the work instead of focusing on machines and technology.

She goes on to add that “the more we center the people at our core of this work, and we see people as equitable, as authentic, and as holistic beings – the more beautiful this movement gets, the more powerful this movement gets, the more people want to latch on to this movement.”

This focus allows for the necessary momentum to strengthen these movements and provides a platform to elevate the voices and perspectives from other communities.

The entire interview with Mari Faines is available here on Press the Button.

Angela Kellett is the Roger L. Hale Fellow at Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. Her Work focuses on nuclear policy, conflicts in the Middle East, and China. You can follow her on Twitter @angiekellett.

Image: Reuters.