Ban Advocate Profile: Brian Arnell

Sep 13, 2023 | News

Ban Advocate Brian Arnell, 50, is a communications adviser and lives in Geelong with his wife and three children.

13th Sept, 2023

As a child, growing up in the American West in the 1980s, Brian Arnell felt the spectre of nuclear war loom large. “I have pretty clear memories of learning about what nuclear weapons were as a child and had a fear of them always being present,” said Arnell. “Then as I got older, I became more aware of the ‘Downwinders’ and of the 100+ above-ground tests that were done in the Nevada desert, and that so many people were impacted by those. [There was] the sense that the US government was willing to bomb its own people for some perceived greater good, which had an impact on me.” 

Arnell speaks of the Reagan era as a very alarming time to grow up in, but it wasn’t until he was studying history in the UK, learning about US-Soviet relations, that the idea of nuclear annihilation really struck. “You just sort of see that it’s sheer luck that we’ve avoided a nuclear catastrophe in the past eighty years,” said Arnell. “The accidents and the misunderstandings and the near misses,  it’s just scary and alarming, and I think that’s what resonates with me,” he said.

Originally from Los Angeles, Arnell met his Australian wife, Tracey, while living in the UK. Together they moved to Tracey’s hometown of Geelong, Victoria, and have been living there for the past fifteen years. “I’m an Australian now, Australia’s home,” said Arnell. “I feel Australian, but don’t sound Australian.”

Arnell has been an ICAN Ban Advocate for the past three years and was first inspired to get involved after seeing Gem speak at an online event during Covid. He says that he was inspired by Gem and Jemila and the ways that they throw their support behind their supporters who are wanting to help but might not know in what capacity yet. Arnell said that Gem and Jemila’s support has been important for navigating things like how to best approach politicians, including specific language to use to communicate the message clearly.

In Arnell’s experience, engaging with local and state representatives in Australia is far easier than it is in the US, as they are more accessible and willing to talk with their constituents. “I’ve emailed people here and I get a call back [from them directly] or I get a call back from a staff member. That never really happened when I would do similar things living in the United States,” said Arnell. “Being able to have conversations with people who represent you has been a really valuable experience for me.”

As with other Ban Advocates, Arnell has worked hard on specifically targeting those who directly speak on behalf of him and his community. His actions have taken many forms, but mostly a lot of emails and phone calls to politicians and council members. He says that direct engagement and face to face meetings have been the most effective forms of campaigning. 

“I’ve emailed and called my local representatives and called and emailed my local senators. I’ve had good conversations. Just recently I met with my local MP, Libby Coker, at an open day. I’d spoken with her on the phone before, and I’d been emailing her a bit and she said, ‘just come down and have a chat.’ So, I went down, and we had a good discussion. She’s someone who has [already] signed the Parliamentary Pledge, and she’s been supportive [of the campaign], but I just wanted to reinforce my views and to talk with her about what I think we can do in regard to the TPNW, and that I’d like to see Australia take a position on it,” said Arnell. “I’ve tried to work with the City Council—unfortunately not successfully yet—to endorse the Cities Appeal.” Arnell is not dissuaded, however, and will give it another go with a different strategy at a different time. 

“I [also] spoke to my state MP, Darren Cheeseman, and [asked if he could] sign the Parliamentary Pledge. I was surprised, he got back to me in ten minutes said ‘yes, no problems.’”

As an everyday campaigner, Arnell says he doesn’t bring any particular special skills to his role as a Ban Advocate, but that it’s mainly about wanting to have his voice heard by those that represent him, as well as believing in the possibility of change. 

“I think something that’s great about ICAN as an organisation is that it’s really clear in its objective,” he said. “It also has a very—I think—optimistic feel about it, like ‘this is something great that can be achieved.’ I think that’s really valuable and a really great approach as well. It’s also got a tangible path, like, ‘This is what we want to achieve. We want the TPNW, and we want to see it signed by Australia and every other country, and these are the steps, these are things we can do to follow that path, to get to that goal.’”

What drives Arnell is the fact that we have the right political conditions for change to occur here in Australia, compared with the political landscape in the US. “Looking at the past few years, the US government doesn’t seem like a particularly stable entity,” said Arnell. “There is an insecurity that I think that brings about. Whereas the prospect of Australia endorsing the TPNW seems like something that could happen, like that seems like a goal that is achievable in the near future.”

Brian Arnell with Libby Coker MP, 2023. Image: supplied.