Historic peace boat set to dock in Milwaukee this weekend

The Golden Rule made its first voyage in 1958 to protest nuclear weapons testing

The Golden Rule boat made its first voyage in 1958. Veterans for Peace 

The Golden Rule first set sail from Hawaii in 1958, filled with a crew of peace activists on their way to protest nuclear weapons testing on the Marshall Islands. Now, 65 years later, the boat is traveling on Lake Michigan and is set to make a stop in Milwaukee over the weekend.

The boat, now operated by Veterans for Peace, has a simple mission — to educate others about the danger of nuclear weapons. Golden Rule project manager Helen Jaccard said it’s not a protest boat anymore, but rather an “educational boat.”

“We need to wake people up to the possibilities of nuclear weapons and help them understand how they can help get rid of them,” Jaccard said.

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The 35-foot-long wooden sailboat began its current journey on America’s Great Loop in September 2022. Since that time, it’s held 350 events in 92 cities, sailing from the Mississippi River in Minnesota to the Gulf Coast, circling the south and east coasts — traveling 11,000 miles.

Currently, the boat is sailing through the Great Lakes, making 18 stops in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin before completing its journey in Chicago in September.

Bill Christofferson, a member of Milwaukee Veterans for Peace and the lead organizer for the boat’s visit to Milwaukee, said he jumped at the opportunity to host the boat and its crew in Milwaukee. He believes the goal of the tour is to “educate and inform the public about the real threat right now of nuclear weapons proliferation and nuclear war.”

“The boat is just a great vehicle to do that — it engages people, it gets their interest to begin with, and it gives you the opportunity to talk about the issue,” he said.

In Milwaukee, 15 peace, religious and community groups are co-sponsoring the visit, which will include free tours for the public and a welcome event while the boat is docked near Discovery World.

“This is an important time to be talking about the threat that nuclear weapons pose,” Christofferson said, referencing the Russia-Ukraine war.

According to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, detonating just one nuclear weapon over New York City would cause an estimated 583,160 fatalities.

Currently, there are around 12,500 nuclear warheads across the globe.

Earlier this year, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set their Doomsday Clock — which gauges the world’s vulnerability to global catastrophe caused by nuclear weapons — at 90 seconds to midnight, the “closest to global catastrophe it has ever been.”

A movement to stop nuclear weapons testing was launched in the 1950s, leading to a crew of Quakers sailing the Golden Rule from Hawaii towards the Marshall Islands, intending to protest and interfere with atmospheric nuclear tests. Those tests caused radioactive debris to be released into the atmosphere. Even though the crew of the Golden Rule was arrested in Hawaii, a second boat did make it to the Marshall Islands.

The Golden Rule was in private hands when it sank off the California coast in 2010. But it was rescued and restored by Veterans For Peace.

In 2015, Jaccard, who used to be a computer programmer, put in an application to be part of the crew. Jaccard said she was already a member of Veterans for Peace but was inspired to join the crew after reading “The Voyage Of The Golden Rule: An Experiment With Truth.”

She thought she’d help renovate the boat. But that wasn’t the case.

“Even though I had never stepped foot on a sailboat, they said what they wanted me for was to be the public speaker,” she said. “And I said well, okay, I hadn’t done that before either, but I would be honored.”

She’s been traveling with them ever since.

“Wherever the Golden Rule is, I am,” Jaccard said.

Jaccard said the boat is a means to discuss the issue with people when they arrive in a city, as the crew often hosts speaking events and show a film about the boat’s history. She also said the crew is promoting the ratification of the United Nations treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, which has been signed by 122 nations, but not the United States.

“No matter who it is we’re talking to, no matter what end of the political spectrum they happen to be, people are interested in getting rid of the possibility of nuclear annihilation,” she said.

The boat will be docked near Discovery World in Milwaukee from Friday afternoon through Labor Day. Learn more about the free tours and the event’s over the weekend here.