Holding baggies of herbal tea, Joe Galliani and a handful of anti-nuclear activists clad in Hawaiian shirts climbed aboard the 21-foot sailboat Skylark and prepared to re-create a bit of history.
"I think it's tea time, ladies and gentlemen," Galliani announced as the small boat bobbed next to a wharf at the Downtown Long Beach Marina. Then, imitating 18th-Century American patriots, the group ceremoniously dumped the tea into the water.
"This tea is biodegradable," Galliani told placard-waving friends and supporters clustered on the nearby wharf as a tea slick drifted away from the boat. "It will do a lot less harm to this harbor than a nuclear weapon would."
The activists staged their modern-day version of the Boston Tea Party on Tuesday to protest what they feel is the Long Beach City Council's "taxation without representation." The council, without holding a public hearing, on Jan. 22 approved a resolution inviting the battleship Missouri to use the city's harbor as its home port.
Protesters say hearings on the potential for accidents should have taken place, since the Missouri, a World War II-era ship being recommissioned for contemporary use, may be equipped with nuclear missiles.
Concerned About Future
Although the Navy Department announced on Monday that Long Beach had officially been scratched as a site for the ship--leaving only the cities of Honolulu and San Francisco in the running--the anti-nuclear activists decided to go ahead with their protest, demanding that hearings be held on the issue of nuclear weapons in local waters.
"Even though the Missouri won't be here, we're still concerned about the other ships that could come," said Harold Collins, co-chairman of the Long Beach Area Peace Network, an umbrella organization for 15 local citizen groups.
On Tuesday evening, Collins and the other activists took their message to the City Council during its neighborhood meeting at the Jordan High School auditorium--and were rebuffed.
After Collins and Galliani spoke, Mayor Ernie Kell announced that only one more anti-nuclear speaker would be allowed and then the matter would be closed to further public comment. The two dozen anti-nuclear demonstrators yelled in protest.
"This will be the last speaker on this," Kell bellowed back. "I've got a ruling from the city attorney that I can close this discussion. Why don't you just shut up and listen?"
Later, when still another anti-nuclear activist attempted to address the council, Kell ordered the meeting closed and quickly left the auditorium and walked to his car.
"What they were telling us was repetitive," Kell said as he jumped in his car. "I have no problem when a group speaks about the issues, but they had an orchestrated, repetitive performance. I would have done the same thing to any other group that addressed the council like that."
Ignored Public Sentiment
Kell said the anti-nuclear protesters were wrong to suggest the council had ignored public sentiment in passing the Missouri resolution, noting that such matters are routinely handled during council meetings without public discussion.
And the mayor said a debate on the issue of banning nuclear weapons in the harbor is unnecessary because he and other members of the council feel the Navy has the right to bring such arms into Long Beach waters.
"I feel it's our patriotic duty to support our military," Kell said. "I would reaffirm that support any day of the week."
The anti-nuclear protesters, meanwhile, blasted Kell and the council.
"This was a sham," said Galliani, a writer and sometime commentator on a local radio station. "We were railroaded. The mayor overstepped the bounds of of a public hearing and of common decency.
"The council's action shows things aren't much different from the days of King George, except now we've got Mayor Ernie," Galliani said.
The activists contend nuclear missiles on Navy vessels pose a danger because of the potential for accidents. They point to the release of a list by the Department of Defense of 37 nuclear weapons accidents since 1958 and suggest that such mishaps could occur aboard Navy ships.
Navy's Record Attacked
"Some press reports estimate there have been about 380 incidents or accidents involving nuclear weapons, far more than the Defense Department says," Collins said. "The Navy's record has not been good."
The protesters also are concerned about naval vessels currently ported in Long Beach that may already be outfitted with nuclear warheads, ships such as the USS New Jersey. Navy officials will neither confirm nor deny that the New Jersey's Tomahawk cruise missiles are fitted with nuclear tips, but the activists contend it is likely the battleship has such arms.
"If any other ships with nuclear weapons are docked here, we'd like to know about it and have some imput on that," said David Mulinix, president of the Alliance for Survival's Southeast-area chapter.
Mulinix said the Long Beach council failed to consider either the potential for accidents or the economic impact of the Missouri before inviting the ship.
Long Beach officials have suggested that the Missouri would bring jobs and monetary benefits to the area, but Mulinix questioned that. He noted that a study done by San Francisco suggested the battleship would cost the city more in increased municipal services than it would return in tax dollars.
In fact, the study shows that though the city would likely be at a financial disadvantage, it would be a fiscal plus for the Bay Area.
"We want some studies to be done before our elected officials decide they want these ships to port here," Mulinix said. "The council didn't do their homework before inviting the Missouri down here."