The rules posted on the wall of the Nuclear Information Center are clear: Organizations must sign up to use the meeting rooms in advance, only one meeting can be held at a time, nobody can use anybody else’s desk.
“The rules are very strict, but nobody pays any attention,” said Shannon Mong, associate director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, one of the groups that share the ocean-view office on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica.
After initial jockeying over who would put which desk where, the activists have settled down to peaceful coexistence. Together with some variations since 1984, they share volunteers, use each other’s telephones and bounce ideas off one another in a businesslike environment that resembles a smallish real estate brokerage.
Peace groups generally have trouble raising enough money for postage, let alone $50,000 a year in rent. They work out of rumpus rooms and garages, not picture window offices with views of the Pacific Ocean.
“Funding for space is hard funding to get,” said Lynda Palevsky, a member of the board of the Ploughshares Fund, which raises money to help other peace groups operate. “People don’t want to provide money for space. They want to provide money for programs.”
But the volunteers who stuff envelopes, raise funds and plan public meetings in the 2,500-square-feet office suite have a sugar daddy in jeans mogul Fred Segal. It is Segal who has paid the rent since 1984, funded by the proceeds of his red-white-and-blue clothing emporiums on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles and on Broadway in Santa Monica, where visitors can snack on watercress soup between shopping bouts.
Segal, 56, said he hit on the idea of funding joint office space for Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament, Hollywood for SANE, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Women Strike for Peace, Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament, The Thursday Night Group and other peace groups after the sale of his retail outlets freed him to pursue good works.
“I was working so hard at the business I do and at raising a family that I didn’t take responsibility like what’s happened to me in the last eight years,” the Chicago native said.
He credits a former secretary for recruiting him to the peace movement through a book, “The Hundredth Monkey,” which argues that “there is no cure for nuclear war--only prevention.” Segal gives out free copies of the slim volume to shoppers at his hip establishments, where disc jockeys play Madonna for shoppers who may be more interested in $375 sweaters than the prospect of a nuclear holocaust.
But Segal is persuaded by the message of “The Hundredth Monkey’s” that public opinion can be changed incrementally. While the Reagan Administration credits its hard-line policies for making the Soviets agree to reduce the number of intermediate-range nuclear forces, Segal said public opinion was just as important.
"(The Soviets) are doing what their people want them to do, and our government is doing the same thing,” said Segal, who participated in last year’s peace march of Americans from Leningrad to Moscow.
He still owns the two Fred Segal locations, acting as “landlord, consultant and philosopher of what’s going on” for about 40 friends, ex-in-laws and veteran employees who operate the various shops under lease. Workers there wear T-shirts with Segal’s credo, “Look See Feel Be Love All.”
He said his experience in merchandising made him realize that while the hearts of local peace activists “were in a good place . . . they weren’t used to the world of business.”
“So I thought the first thing was to get them into some good offices and . . . give them more confidence and self-esteem, because the environment where you work really does help,” he said.
Palevsky said the result turned out to be “exactly what he hoped, because we began communicating with other peace groups, and it was like a web, or a network.”
“We found that we worked better when we talked to each other,” she said.
The groups sponsored speeches by the likes of Strategic Defense Initiative critic Robert Bowman, a former head of the Pentagon’s Advanced Space Program Development, and Seymour Melman, a Columbia University professor who specializes in the economics of converting military industry to peaceful uses.
They also organized a Wilshire Boulevard vigil in 1985 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
The signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union last year did not end their fight for nuclear disarmament, the activists said. The treaty calls for dismantling about 4% of the nuclear warheads held by the two superpowers.
“When I look at the ocean, it reminds me how beautiful the planet is, and I don’t want to see it destroyed, and it makes me angry to think that people can even talk about a limited nuclear war,” Palevsky said.