Sam Day, 1926 - 2001

Vanunu Campaign Coordinator and Nuclear Resister Dead at 74 Author and activist Sam Day, the coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu, died on January 26, 2001 after suffering a massive stroke at his Madison home. Sam had recently returned from trips to California and Washington, D.C. on behalf of the Vanunu campaign. His sudden death came while he was hard at work, advocating for nuclear disarmament and freedom for the imprisoned Israeli nuclear whistleblower.

Sam Day at Ashkelon Prison, Israel
September, 1998
photo by Felice Cohen-Joppa

Sam's long-time involvement in causes for peace and justice, as well as his great optimism, clarity, humor, humility and stellar writing and public speaking skills, had a profound impact on people around the world. Messages of condolence were received from all over the U.S., as well as from Great Britain, Nigeria, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, Israel, Australia, Norway, Sweden and France.

It was on a peace walk through Israel and the occupied West Bank in 1992, that Sam met members of the Israeli Committee for Mordechai Vanunu. The next day, Sam was out with others in front of Ashkelon Prison, vigiling for the freedom of the man he saw as a kindred opponent of nuclear secrecy. Since that time, Sam, who had himself been imprisoned for many anti-nuclear protests, worked tirelessly on Mordechai's behalf.

As coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu, he recognized the importance of including freedom for Vanunu the individual in the grander global discussions of human rights, peace, and nuclear disarmament.

Sam took care of the day-to-day campaign work of correspondence, newsletter editing, article writing, and fundraising. He was responsible for organizing many efforts to pursue the campaign's goals of freedom for Vanunu and nuclear abolition. He spearheaded lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., sometimes spending months at a time in the nation's capitol. He initiated and took part in a series of civil disobedience actions over the years at the Israeli embassy and consulates across the U.S. to demand Mordechai's immediate and unconditional release.

His last civil disobedience action was at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. on September 28, 2000, marking the 14th anniversary of Mordechai's kidnapping and imprisonment.

Sam constantly solicited support for Vanunu from Jewish, Christian, and other clergy and laity, politicians, celebrities, peace and human rights groups and grassroots activists.

He traveled often throughout the U.S. to speak publicly about Vanunu blowing the whistle on Israel's clandestine nuclear weapons program. Bridging the waters between Vanunu's supporters around the world, Sam also traveled to Israel, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, while encouraging allied campaigners in many other countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. In turn, he brought Mordechai's brother Meir, Israeli activists Yael Lotan and Gideon Spiro, and the Israeli theatre troupe of Mr. V to North American audiences.

Working with international campaigns to free Vanunu, Sam helped to organize the Democracy, Human Rights and Mordechai Vanunu conference, held October, 1996 in Tel Aviv. The groundbreaking conference, chaired by then Nobel Peace Prize recipient Joseph Rotblat and featuring an impressive international roster of whistleblowers and nuclear experts, was a wedge to open a wider and more sympathetic discussion of Vanunu's act that continues to this day in Israel.

Sam's subsequent trips to Israel included public speaking, vigils and leafletting about Vanunu and nuclear weapons around the country, and participation in the 1998 International Citizen Weapons Inspection of Dimona that resulted in the arrest of Sam and 9 others.

Sam's education and experience as a journalist, combined with his passion for free speech, made him a formidable foe of nuclear secrecy long before Vanunu's imprisonment became a major focus of his activism. His 1991 autobiography, Crossing the Line: From editor to activist to inmate - a writer's journey, tells the story of becoming a prisoner for peace himself, foreshadowing his subsequent strong support for Vanunu.

Sam served as editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in the mid-1970s, and later fought the U.S. government over censorship of the H-Bomb story as managing editor of the Progressive. As founder and director of Nukewatch, in the 1980's he worked to make U.S. nuclear weapons more visible by initiating campaigns tracking H-bomb truck shipments across the country, and publishing maps of all the 1,000 land-based nuclear missile silos in the midwest.

Sam is survived by his wife, Kathleen, their three sons, six granddaughters, and his brother and sister. His passing is a tremendous loss for the world-wide effort to free Vanunu and rid the world of nuclear weapons. He will be greatly missed.

Donations in Sam's memory may be made to Nukewatch, the U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu or the Progressive magazine. U.S. Campaign webmaster Gail Vaughn has established a memorial internet site for Sam at no-nukes.org/samday.