MONTPELIER - Two years ago, Mary Hooper, the mayor of Vermont's capital city, signed a statement calling for an end to nuclear weapons proliferation. Next week, the mayor of Montpellier, France, will sign the same statement, and Hooper will be there to cheer her on.
The declaration was drafted by the Mayors for Peace Emergency Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons, a movement started by the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More than 600 mayors worldwide have signed on, calling for complete global nuclear disarmament by 2020.
Hooper is traveling to France for the October 6 Montpellier signing ceremony - on her own dime - because she feels a responsibility to work harder for peace while so much of the world is engaged in armed conflict. The Vermont chapter of the American Friends Service Committee will hold a send-off concert for her at Christ Church Episcopal in Montpelier on September 30.
"It's easy to sign a declaration that says, 'I support peace,' or 'I oppose nuclear weapons,'" says Hooper. "But I've just become more and more concerned, particularly in the past two years, that people aren't actively talking about peace in the same way that we actively talk about war."
Hooper won't be the only dignitary visiting the French city of nearly a quarter million; the mayor of Heidelberg, Germany, will be there, too. Heidelberg and Montpellier are sister cities, and Hooper hopes to foster a relationship between the two European municipalities and her town of 8000. Hooper, an Army brat, already has one connection - she was born in Heidelberg.
Asked what a small-town mayor can realistically do to eliminate nuclear weapons and advance world peace, Hooper is optimistic. She says she was inspired when Greg Nickels, the mayor of Seattle, launched a campaign in 2005 to combat another large, intractable problem: global warming. Incensed by the U.S. failure to adopt the Kyoto Protocols, Nickels pledged to meet the international pollution targets on a municipal level, using tools such as energy conservation and sustainable development. He went on to enlist nearly 300 U.S. mayors, including former Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle.
"Obviously we can't wait for the federal government to be talking about this," Hooper says of the mayors' anti-nuke campaign. "People need to be talking about it locally. If people in leadership positions - perhaps at every level, but certainly on the local level - say this is important, and we need to be paying attention to this issue, then maybe we can make a change."
"Montpelier to Montpellier: A Musical Sendoff," Christ Church Episcopal, Montpelier, September 30, 7 p.m. Info, 229-2340.