Founded in 1962 by the Hungarian nuclear physicist Leo Szilard (who was also a longtime socialist activist and an alleged Soviet agent) and other scientists who likewise had pioneered the development of atomic weapons, but who now worried that such agents of destruction posed a grave threat to all humanity, the Council for a Livable World (CLW) is a nonprofit advocacy organization whose mission is “to advocate for sensible national-security policies and to help elect congressional candidates who support them.” Toward that end, CLW lobbies legislators, holds seminars, and uses the media to push for a dramatic downsizing and the eventual elimination of America’s nuclear-weapons cache. In CLW’s calculus, it is “short-sighted and counter-productive to continue relying on Cold War measures such as [the stockpiling of] overwhelming nuclear arsenals … for our nation’s security.”
CLW reviled President Ronald Reagan, whose administration, the organization warned, was guilty of “launching a massive escalation of the nuclear arms race.” CLW sought not only to derail Reagan’s planned deployments of the MX missile and the B-1 bomber, but also called for across-the-board defense-budget cuts during his presidency. On May 2, 1982, CLW and Physicians for Social Responsibility co-sponsored a Washington, DC conference on the potentially catastrophic medical consequences of a nuclear war. During that same period, CLW used its tax-exempt Education Fund to accept and process financial contributions to the Randall Forsberg-founded Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, which had not yet secured its own tax-exempt status.
In 1997, CLW was one of more than 100 leftist organizations that co-sponsored and launched the so-called “Progressive Challenge,” in an effort to unite their activities and talking points under a “multi-issue progressive agenda.”
CLW has established a Candidate Fund to accept donations earmarked for political candidates who promote the organization’s main agendas. Though the organization identifies itself as “non-partisan,” the vast majority of the candidates whom it supports are Democrats. CLW’s political action committee, PeacePAC, plays a key role determining which candidates are worthy of the organization’s backing.
Over the course of its history, CLW has lent its tactical and financial support to hundreds of congressional candidates, including Tammy Baldwin, Joseph Biden, Barbara Boxer, Carol Moseley Braun, Sherrod Brown, Robert Byrd, Jon Corzine, Peter DeFazio, Rosa DeLauro, Chris Dodd, Dick Durbin, Robert Edgar, Lane Evans, Sam Farr, Dianne Feinstein, Bob Filner, Barney Frank, Al Franken, Al Gore, Raul Grijalva, Tom Harkin, Maurice Hinchey, Edward Kennedy, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, Patrick Leahy, Barbara Lee, George McGovern, Jim McGovern, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Bernie Sanders, Jan Schakowsky, Patricia Schroeder, Joe Sestak, Maxine Waters, Mel Watt, and Lynn Woolsey.
CLW is led by an 18-member board of directors and a 14-member national advisory board, both of which are composed of individuals known for their achievements in such varied fields as academia, jurisprudence, business, politics, economics, and philanthropy. Among the more notable national advisory board members are Julian Bond, Margaret Gage, and Patricia Schroeder.
CLW’s current chairman is Ira Lechner, who succeeded former U.S. Senator Gary Hart in that position. A labor attorney by profession, Lechner, a Democrat, served in the Virginia State Legislature from 1973-77. In later years, he ran for lieutenant governor of Virginia and for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the run-up to the 2008 elections, he was the original organizer of the “Obama for President” campaign in San Diego and later served as a fundraiser for Barack Obama.
The executive director of CLW is John Isaacs, who has represented the Council on Capitol Hill since 1978. Isaacs previously served as a legislative assistant to New York congressman Stephen Solarz, and as a legislative representative with Americans for Democratic Action.
CLW has staked out clear positions on a number of major political issues:
Each year since 2006, CLW, in conjunction with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, has presented its Father Robert F. Drinan National Peace and Human Rights Award to individuals who exemplify a “commitment to peace and human justice.” Named after an avidly antiwar Catholic priest who served five terms in Congress during the 1970s, this award focuses broadly on U.S. politics, physical science, biology, peace studies, and peace and human-rights activism. Past recipients include such notables as Senators Ted Kennedy and Dianne Feinstein, and Congressional Representatives Barney Frank, David Bonior, and Jim McGovern.