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PSR National Board of Directors - Spring 2015 Conference


This was a 3 day conference. What follows are highlights that I believe are important to share.

The optional congressional lobbying events occurred throughout the morning and  afternoon of the first day. Most board members did not participate in the lobbying.  For those board members not lobbying, like me, there was an opportunity to network with other board members. PSR’s values, shown below, were prominently displayed and referred to throughout this conference.


In the ancient and universal tradition of the physician who promotes healing and seeks truth, members subscribe to the following values:

• That life on Earth is precious, powerful and vulnerable;
• That human life draws vital sustenance and coherence from the ecological and social systems in which it participates;
• That the acquisition and application of scientific knowledge imposes the responsibility to protect life, not to endanger or destroy it;
• That knowledge about global threats results from experience and scientific study including modeling and simulation, which inherently contain uncertainty;
• That the necessary decisions based on such uncertainties must be evaluated in settings open to public review, so that the best possible approaches can be achieved;
• That citizens have a right to informed participation in such decision-making processes made by both government and industry which affect their health, welfare and environment; and
• That our commitment to future generations requires that problems of violence and militarism, global environmental degradation and social and economic inequities be addressed now and not be left as a toxic legacy to be solved by those who follow us.

Confirm Major PSR Goals for 2015:
1. Review Security efforts on Humanitarian campaign with attention to chapter and new members
2. Assess Climate Health Actions Teams and efforts to bring in members
3. Refocus Chapters’ capacity to engage more on #1 and #2, while continuing to work on issues special to them.
4. Stabilize or increase our membership in 2015

Executive Director’s Report (Thomasson)
Our strengths as always are the dedicated and hard-working staff, board, chapter leaders and active members. The challenges include finances to implement media and program, a sense of needing more staffing, variability in chapter strength, size and commitment to national PSR goals. I think our security program has been more successful in the last year for providing the leadership to engage with chapter leaders, developing new activist leaders and increased action across the country. This has been helped significantly with the addition of Theresa Shaffer last fall. The team is using the Security Committee (now with 55-60 participants) to bring active board and chapter volunteers together, provide a stream of useful material and have a timeline of activities that are focused with clear goals.

The work on the Climate side is more difficult for a variety of reasons. The major target, implementing the Clean Power Plan, is not federal action. Rather it is one that will vary by state for implementation similar to our other goal of opposing fossil fuel exports. Our work is coalescing with the new strategic plan, but it is a newer program and the vision of the Climate Health Action Teams flexed early on when we needed to lean more on chapters to provide leadership. We clearly have a large number of volunteers signed up for the Climate Health Action Teams (680), but fewer team leaders to push uphill to create the teams.

We now have a database system that can easily allow us to share and track not only our donors but our activists’ actions in a much clearer way. Funding for our chemical toxics has dried up completely and we are working to land continued major donor funding but that is not adequate to meet even nationals’ needs. Despite a drop of 8% in donors last year our overall donations were greater.

PSR national has top notch staff in place. I know you will welcome our newest team member, Paz Artaza-Regan the climate organizer, who has been very pro-active in learning about our organization and is passionate about climate change. PSR national has eleven full time staff positions:
Catherine Thomasson – Executive Director
Barb Gottlieb – Director of Environment and Health
Martin Fleck - Director of Security
W. Taylor Johnson – Director of Operations
Christine Herrmann – Director of Philanthropy
Rachel Miller – Deputy Manager of Philanthropy
Julia Morgan – Web Manager
Kathy Attar – half-time Toxics Program Manager
Theresa Shaffer – Security Outreach Associate
Amy Ciciora – Membership Manager
Paz Artaza-Regan – Climate Organizer


Ira Helfand, Martin Fleck, and Theresa Shaffer – April 2015
PSR Security Program is working to speed progress toward the day that the world decides--once and for all--that nuclear weapons are dangerous relics from a previous century that belong in the dustbin of history.

Outline of the PSR Security Program

Ira Helfand, MD chairs the PSR Security Committee, which is staffed full time by Martin Fleck, Security Program Director, and Theresa Shaffer, Security Program Outreach Associate. Seeking to “organize in bulk,” PSR Security program hosts a once-a-month conference call with a listserv of 50 contacts. New this year, we have conducted three educational webinars with average attendance of 35 people. PSR Security works with 11 chapters: Arizona, Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, Florida, Iowa, Maine, New York state, Oregon, Western North Carolina, Washington state, and Wisconsin. We also work with individual PSR members in DC and 4 states: Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri and Chapel Hill N.C.

PSR involvement in the Vienna Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons Initiative

As a partner organization in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), PSR Security
advocates for a nuclear weapons ban treaty among other avenues for abolition. Responding to the efforts of the government of Austria, PSR, and many other actors, the United States elected to send an official delegation to the Vienna Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (HINW) Conference, December 8-9, 2014. Great Britain also chose to go. This was a breakthrough for disarmament, as the entire P-5 (U.S., Russia, China, U.K., and France) boycotted the previous two HINW conferences. Ira Helfand and Catherine Thomasson represented PSR at both the ICAN Civil Society Forum (Dec 6-7) and the Vienna HINW Conference. At the Forum, Ira gave a
presentation on nuclear famine, and Catherine conducted a workshop on how to influence elected officials. PSR was one of five U.S. NGOs who delivered an official statement to the conference, outlining tangible actions nuclear-armed and non-nuclear-armed states could take in the near term to fulfill the NPT disarmament obligations. All during the Civil Society Forum and the Vienna Conference, PSR staff generated a steady stream of tweets and Facebook posts about the many newsworthy parts of the conference. The Vienna HINW Conference was a spectacular success, with 158 nations participating (80% of all nations). The Vienna proceedings included testimony from Japanese atomic bombing victims, downwinders from Kazakhstan, Marshall Islands and the American West, a presentation from author Eric Schlosser on the risks of maintaining nuclear arsenals, and a stirring statement from Pope Francis, delivered by a Papal Nuncio, calling on all nations to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons. Most importantly, host Austria issued the Austrian Pledge to “identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.” Austria also challenged other nations to join them in the pledge.

Security Webinars

New for 2015, Security staff launched a series of webinars with the goal of educating PSR members on specific issues and providing them with the tools they need to act on those issues. Recordings of webinars are always placed on our YouTube page, Facebook and twitter pages, and on our website as a resource.
Enlisting support from youth: the Nukebusters Film Contest Today, activists over age 60 comprise much of the anti-nuclear movement. PSR Security and Development programs have launched Nukebusters, a short film contest seeking four-minute films created by and for young people on nuclear disarmament and the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

The contest has 3 main goals: 1) Educate the public, especially millennials, that the world’s 15,600 nuclear weapons pose a threat to human survival; 2) Illustrate how the Humanitarian Impact Initiative is growing, providing hope that multilateral nuclear disarmament is possible; 3) Inspire youth to join and claim the movement to rid the world of nuclear weapons. The winning short film will then be aired at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Atlanta this November, co-hosted by President Jimmy Carter. More than 40,000 students, 3,000 world leaders and 30 Nobel Laureates are expected to attend. We’ll award a $5,000 prize to one film student and a $5,000 prize to one professional filmmaker, with three runner-up prizes of $1,000 each to make the argument to abolish nuclear weapons based on the budget, faith, and health. N Square has provided us with funding for this contest. They’ve provided $40,000, our full request.

NGO Collaboration
PSR has been working to strengthen ties with like-minded NGOs. We are in constant contact with ICAN and IPPNW. PSR and Pax Christi filed an amicus brief in support of the Nuclear Zero lawsuit against the United States for its violation of Article VI of the NPT. Martin and Theresa recently connected with Marie Dennis from Pax Christi International to coordinate efforts around the Pope’s visit to DC in September. We have also connected with Pax Christi USA to help populate Security lobby teams with people representing the faith message.

Coming Up
- The next PSR media wave is now underway, on the occasion of the April 27 start of the once-every-five-years Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference. The “Peace & Planet” coalition of 65 disarmament minded organizations—including PSR—is organizing an ambitious international conference, rally, march, and “Peace Festival” on April 24–26 in New York City, prior to the opening of the NPT Review Conference. PSR and PSR/New York are co-hosting an HINW workshop at the conference and a booth at the Peace Festival. Peace and Planet endorsers include PSR/National and these chapters so far: Chicago, Kansas City, LA, New York, Oregon, Sacramento, Texas, and Washington. 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki. PSR is gearing up to take advantage of this “teachable moment.”  
Pope Francis will visit the United States in September.

Barb Gottlieb – April 2015  
We launched the Teams (now called CHATs) in January. CHAT members participate in monthly webinars, then take an action to build support in their state for the Clean Power Plan and encourage replacing coal-fired power with renewable energy and energy efficiency. Paz-Regan joined us as our new climate organizer in late March. Here’s a thumbnail of the program’s current status:
• 665 people signed up.
• Members in 49 states + Washington DC.
• Active team leaders in 12 priority states.
• Webinars held: January (introduction to the Clean Power Plan), February (distributed solar energy), and March (wind power). Average participation 45 people. April webinar will be held 4/29.

Strengths: The CHAT program gives us a mechanism for engaging PSR’s grassroots members and has attracted people who have not been active through the chapters. The webinars provide them with information for the heated battles we expect when the Clean Power Plan is finalized this summer; the actions expose them to a range of types of advocacy. We were pleasantly surprised by the response of CHAT members when we asked them (outside of the context of a webinar) to write or sign onto climate op-eds: We got responses from people we didn’t know in red states including Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. This suggests that the CHATs hold potential for invigorating PSR members and achieving a higher level of volunteer energy for PSR. It is a problem that we are surfacing this new talent in states where we don’t have chapters to scoop it up. It’s unclear if the CHATs will facilitate actual recruitment, i.e. of new members. That could work but would require that someone on the ground reached out to non-members and encouraged their participation.

Weaknesses and modifications:
The original plan, modeled after the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, was for the teams to meet face-to-face, watch the webinars together and support one another in taking action. That hasn’t happened (with the exception of Boston), so we amended the model and set up state-wide teams. For now, most are teams in name only – most people watch the webinars alone and take action (if they do so) alone. In another divergence from our original plan, we are drawing on chapter leaders to lead some of the CHATs, at least for now, or to designate a leader from within their chapter. This puts an unintended stress on the chapters. On the other hand, it also maximizes the potential for the CHAT program ultimately to funnel new activists into chapter life.

-- We are disappointed that few of the people who signed up for the CHATs actually participate in webinars. We anticipate that when the Clean Power Plan hits the news this summer, we’ll see a spike in engagement. In the meantime, Paz will try to establish regular direct contact with team leaders and to bring in leaders in more states.

-- Media work on climate. Another of the goals we set in November was to place PSR climate experts on TV/radio to speak about the health benefits of energy efficiency and clean energy. We have not secured funding for media work. A real media campaign would require substantial amounts of money, i.e. foundation-level support. However we hope for modest funding from the Climate Action Campaign (supported by the major environmental organizations) for pass-through grants to several chapters, supporting them to get earned media and otherwise make their support for the Clean Power Plan visible to U.S. senators. We did get in-kind media support from
Climate Nexus, whose staff drafted several op-eds for our members to sign and pitched them to newspapers.  

-- Educating health professionals on climate. One of our goals is to increase the number of health professionals working on the climate issue. We are currently exploring holding a health professionals training event in September, piggybacking on our planned chapter and member meeting. Catherine is leading outreach to health organizations active with us in the EcoAmerica project. The U.S. Climate & Health Alliance and Health Care without Harm are our partners in the initial planning; APHA, AAP, American Lung Association and American Thoracic Society are potential future partners. We have also engaged with George Mason University to develop CME climate and health curriculum. We have provided initial feedback on heat management and have several board members willing to edit as well. We hope to work with National Medical Association and AAP as well and are pursuing other funding sources for this from health systems and foundations.

-- Methane. As the fight over coal heats up, so will the debate about the appropriate role for natural gas. We plan to weigh in on that debate with a report on the health effects of natural gas – toxics associated with fracking and climate impacts of methane leaks. I (Barb) will write that report, and I’m pleased to say that when I announced it at a recent meeting of national groups working on methane regulation, it was received with real enthusiasm. Our allies are clear that the health impacts of methane are the critical piece of the argument and they are eager to get the report. There was a similar response when I met with EPA and White House staff. Thanks to last summer's work on fracking, I have a head start on outlining the report’s scope, content and sources, and have begun to
identify more current source materials. We will also seek funds to support work on fracking, both by the national office and by various chapters. We are seeking funds to pursue another of the goals we set, which is to slow construction of new export facilities for fossil fuels. PSR chapters are battling or plan to battle proposed energy export hubs (transportation, processing and export of oil or liquefied natural gas) in Washington State, Oregon, New York State, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

-- Divestment. We also agreed to explore opportunities for action regarding divestment in fossil fuel companies by universities with medical or public health schools or hospital systems. I am in dialogue with Health Care Without Harm about collaborating in their divestment efforts by providing health professionals to speak about the health impacts associated with coal. Stay tuned.

-- Coal ash. Barb has been asked to edit a report on coal ash and water contamination, in exchange for the report appearing in the name of PSR. Courtesy of our good friends at Earthjustice.

Next Board Meetings:
• Short Board meeting: May 30, 2015-1-3 pm ET
• Fall meeting, DC: November 12-14, 2015

Chapter Leaders and Members Meetings:
• Members meeting: September 20, 2015 (Sunday)
• Lobby Day for Leaders and Members: September 21, 2015 (Monday)

Mission Statement

PREVENTING WHAT WE CANNOT CURE: Physicians for Social Responsibility is the medical and public health voice working to prevent the use or spread of nuclear weapons and to slow, stop and reverse global warming and the toxic degradation of the environment.