Bayard Rustin’s surviving partner and a group of activists huddled at the late civil rights icon’s former home on March 17 to commemorate his birthday and encourage the City Council to take action against nuclear weapons.
The advocates gathered at Penn South between Eighth and Ninth Avenues and West 23rd and 29th Streets, where Rustin — who would have turned 109 — lived with his partner Walter Naegle, who still lives there. Those on hand included members of Rise and Resist and the New York-based members of International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Others, including bagpipers, also showed up. The focus was on two City Council measures — a resolution encouraging the city comptroller to divest pension funds of public employees from nuclear-related sources and legislation that would trigger the formation of an advisory committee to evaluate nuclear disarmament.
“On this St. Patrick’s Day and Bayard Rustin’s birthday, we call on Speaker Corey Johnson and the City Council to vote and pass Res. 976 and Intro. 1621 to divest our pension funds from nuclear weapon producers, reaffirm New York City as a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone and honor the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons’ entry into force earlier this year,” activist Brendan Fay said in a written statement. “In Bayard Rustin’s memory, in the name of justice, for the sake of children and love of Earth, let New York worker pensions instead be invested to reflect values of peace, health care, and hope for the future.”
Fay presented flowers to Naegle, who said Rustin would have appreciated the demonstration.
“People who knew [Rustin] at all associated him with the March on Washington and the African-American struggle,” Naegle said. “He was also about the struggle against nuclear weapons, human rights for all people, and LGBTQ rights. Bayard, at his very core, was about equal justice for everybody, not just for one community or another.”
After individuals paid tribute to Rustin, activists marched to Johnson’s office, where they delivered a letter asking the speaker to take action on the two pending legislative initiatives. Out gay Queens Councilmember Daniel Dromm is leading the way on those measures.
“If Bayard were alive today there is no doubt he would support the legislation before City Council that addresses a concern that he dedicated his life to — nuclear disarmament,” Dromm said. “Most will remember Bayard for his passion for social and racial justice, LGBTQ rights and non-violence, but few will know that he travelled to Algeria in 1959 to protest French nuclear testing and sat outside City Hall with Dorothy Day to protest Civil Defense drills in New York City. He was committed to nuclear disarmament and in his memory we should pass RES 976 and INT 1621 without any further delay.”
Dr. Kathleen Sullivan, who is director of a project known as Hibakusha Stories, which provides New York City youth with first-hand accounts from survivors of atomic bombings, said Rustin should receive credit if the City Council approves the measures.
“Once Danny Dromm’s legislation is passed, we should name it in honor of Bayard Rustin,” Sullivan said. “He understood that nuclear weapons are an expression of racism, patriarchy and colonialism.”
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