Press release: Trident protesters in High Court as UN votes to ban Nuclear Weapons

11th July 2017

Appeal against Conviction 

The High Court will today consider an appeal by a group of Christian activists who were convicted in January by Reading Magistrates Court of Wilful Obstruction of the Highway during a protest. The group, named Put Down the Sword joined others from the Trident Ploughshares network in attempting to stop the building of new Trident nuclear missiles replacing old stock. They were arrested after successfully blocking all vehicle access to the Burghfield Atomic Weapons Establishment in June 2016, which the MoD said hindered activity on the site where the missiles are built.

Obstructing traffic?

The appeal today will centre around details of what was actually obstructed. The protesters claim they were careful not to block the public from using any roads around Burghfield, and were only blocking entry to the site – a private road where the stated offence is impossible. 

What’s illegal? Obstructing Trident or Trident itself

The Judge at Reading Magistrates (DJ Khan) had already rejected the argument that blocking Trident counted as Prevention of Crime when considering a previous case – since he concluded that UK law does not ban the production of nuclear missiles.
Last Friday however 122 countries meeting at a United Nations conference in New York today adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first multilateral legally-binding instrument for nuclear disarmament to have been negotiated in 20 years. Although the UK and other nuclear weapons states did not support this process and weren’t present, the treaty will come into force in September. Once it receives 50 state ratifications it enters into International Law in the same way as the ban on biological weapons did 45 years ago, and the ban on chemical weapons did 25 years ago regardless of whether the UK ratifies it.
Angie Zelter of Trident Ploughshares said ” Trident Ploughshares actions have always been within the law. It is a crime to threaten mass destruction and this treaty strengthens pressure on the UK government to finally obey International Law.”

Opposing Nuclear Weapons – intrinsic to Christianity?

In their trial, the defendants testified to how they felt compelled by their Christian faith to take action for peace and justice, even where this lead them into conflict with the law or the authorities.
They presented evidence from Father Peter Hunter, dominican friar and lecturer in philospophy at Oxford about the intrinsic link between Christian belief and opposing weapons of mass destruction. He wrote:
 “The argument against nuclear weapons is about as simple as it is possible for a moral argument to be.
If it is never justifiable to do something, it is never justifiable to threaten to do it. It is never justifiable to kill cities full of people indiscriminately…so the nuclear deterrence is never justifiable. ..Christians draw from Romans 3:8 the principle, “You cannot do evil that good may come” (or, more prosaically, ends do not justify means.) Christians therefore will not accept that any end, no matter how good, could make the indiscriminate killing of a whole city justifiable.”


Defendant Angela Ditchfield, 38 from Cambridge said: “Sometimes political leaders like to claim they follow Christian values. Well, Christian values include not using fear to control others, especially the threat of annihilation. They include caring for the poor and the sick, for children, migrants and the elderly – spending money on things to help people not on threats of destruction. For me actions like this are as intrinsic to being a Christian as going to church and praying. I’d urge all Christians to join in! And also people of all faiths or none – I don’t know any religious or humanitarian value system which would endorse such widespread loss of life & environmental destruction.”

Appeal verdict

The verdict is due to be given around mid afternoon today.
ENDS

Notes:

1. Put Down the Sword is a small group of Christians who take nonviolent direct action together against the causes of war, nuclear weapons, and climate change in the UK. We are from a wide-range of different theological and faith backgrounds, but all feel it is important that our faith is reflected in our actions, and that our faith leads us to intervene in the causes of death and violence in our world.(www.putdownthesword.wordpress.com)
2. Those convicted were: Nina Carter-Brown, Nick Cooper, Angela Ditchfield, Joanna Frew, Alison Parker
They are represented in court by Jo Buckley of Matrix Chambers, and Adam Payter of 6KBW
3. The five activists used superglue and lock-on tubes (with messages painted on eg ‘Jesus said love your enemies don’t bomb them’) to enable them to block an entrance to the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Burghfield, Berkshire on 27th June 2016. Along with 2 other groups blocking 2 other entrances, vehicle access to the whole site was blocked for about 2 hours.

Welcoming the Theophany

[A] pattern of temporary falling apart precedes every transition to a new level of faith, hope, and love. If one is not prepared to live in temporary chaos and to hold the necessary anxiety that chaos entails, one never moves into a Bigger World. Notice that almost every Theophany (revelation of God) begins with the same warning: “Do not be Afraid”. Fear is an entirely predictable response to any God encounter, because any authentic experience of the Absolute relativises everything else. God is actually quite wild and dangerous, but we domesticated divine experience so much that a vast majority of people have left the search entirely, finding most religious people to be fearful conformists instead of adventurous seekers of Love and Mystery.

Richard Rohr

Put Down the Sword -Upcoming Trial

IMG_6682June 27, 2016

The blockade begins…

Back in June five members of Put Down the Sword were arrested “willful obstruction of the highway” while blockading one of the entrances to AWE Burghfield, where the UK’s nuclear weapons are assembled. Two other affinity groups (from the Catholic Workers and Quakers) blockaded the other entrances meaning the whole site was shut to vehicles for a morning.
Put Down the Sword are in Reading Magistrates Court on 23rd, 25th and 26th January. We welcome supporters on any day, but are focussing on 25th January as the main day, and we’re putting on a series of seminars for those unable to get into the public gallery. The schedule for the day is as follows (although it will be flexible!)

IMG_6745June 27, 2016

A cutting team working on a lock-on

9: Meet outside the court. Bring banners etc               11.30-12.30 How to bring change: exploring how to use direct action: Andrew Metheven, War Resisters International
1-2: Communal lunch with defendants
2-3: Jesus and non-violence: Woody Woodhouse, Methodist Minister
3-4: What next? Stop DSEI! Sarah Robinson, CAAT

We also have a solidarity fund to help with travel expenses etc for the defendants. Cash donations are welcome, or transfers to 08-92-86 17488437.

Please tell us your coming at this link

IMG_6706June 27, 2016

Police inspect the lock-ons

A language of peace (part 2)

So on a related theme to my previous post, I think I have found the one place in which this language of violence I speak of seems not to be used.

Whereas in almost every sphere of life violent imagery seems to be common place, there is one area where, as far as possible, it seems to be studiously avoided … when we’re talking about actual violence.So wars are described as “conflicts” because it is a bit less scary, the bodies of the innocent dead are described as “collateral damage” because it doesn’t sound too ghastly, and aggression is described as “security”; a word which used to mean safe but somehow doesn’t any more.

Has any one seen an armed forces recruitment film recently? They are truly terrifying … because they are not in the least bit terrifying. At no point do they seem to think it necessary to mention that you might get killed or seriously injured by the violent acts of others, nor that your soul will be scarred for the rest of your life by the violence you will perpetrate yourself.

They speak instead of adventure and excitement, of opportunities and education, of comradeship and personal development. And guess what: those are all things I approve of and values I espouse. They are things I think every person; including every young person who has had limited options thus far who are those primarily targeted by these insidious campaigns; should be able to access.

I’m just not sure that the military is the best placed institution to be providing them. No, hold on. I am sure. I am absolutely sure. I think they should be found in independent art projects: in theatre and dance and and creativity; I think they should be found in community activism and the service of one another; I think they should be found in a context of peace and hope.

Just as it is dangerous that we unthinkingly describe our everyday circumstances with the language of violence; it is equally dangerous when we fail to call out violence and aggression for what it really is. So let’s call a spade, a spade. And a war, a war.

And then, named as such, let’s choose to say no.

Tagged , , , , ,

A language of peace

It was a hymn we sung in church, a few weeks ago now, which reminded me I wanted to write a post on this subject … although it is a theme I have considered writing about previously, but never quite got round to it.

I can’t even exactly remember which hymn it was now, but it was one of those “onward Christian soldiers”, “fight the good fight” type ones which always make me feel distinctly uncomfortable.

I know others will tell me these are not songs which condone violence, that they are simply using familiar, evocative imagery to explore spiritual themes which defy easy description.

That though, is precisely the problem.

As my involvement with the peace movement has become increasingly active, and as I have engaged with and reflected on what it means to be truly non-violent, I have become increasingly aware how unhelpful the language and imagery we use, often entirely subconsciously, can be.

I have long been uncomfortable with ‘warfare’ hymns and the constant rhetoric of the ‘war on this that and the other’ from government ministries and media outlets but the first time I remember being stopped in my tracks by something I said myself was when I described the Quakers as “punching above their weight”… and realised how entirely inapt the image was.

It was a wake up call to try and think more carefully about my choice of words and images, and to become aware of how often we fallback on images of violent conflict to explain or evoke a whole range of situations and experiences. We “fight” or “combat” the things we are against, take “a shot in the dark” when we just don’t know or “give it a shot” when we think maybe we do.

Perhaps it is all entirely innocent and I shouldn’t be concerned about the words we use without a second thought: but I don’t think so. I believe in the power of language and I worry that by our constant exposure to the language of violence we reduce our sensitivity to what these things actually are and actually mean. Desensitised to the reality behind the images, our everyday language becomes one of many factors helping to perpetuate a culture of violence.

The language we use certainly helps shape the way we think; so I can’t help wondering what would happen if we shifted our rhetoric to more peaceful images.

I am not pretending I have been entirely consistent in changing my language use since I first started to reflect on this idea After all, my starting premise was that often these language choices are so ingrained that we use them entirely sub-consciously. But I guess I have tried to be a little more conscious, at least some of the time, of the words I choose and the images I describe.

It is one of the tiny steps I am trying to take towards the road of peace I want to walk.

Tagged , ,

No Faith in Trident

This morning, five members of Put Down the Sword helped to shut down  Burghfield Atomic Weapons Establishment. Other affinity groups – a group of Quakers, and a group from London Catholic Worker – were also involved, and between the three groups all entrances to the base were blockaded. Eight people were arrested, five members of PDtS and three from the Quaker group. The day was part of a whole month of action organised by Trident Ploughshares. As well as the blockades different faith groups held vigil outside the site.

Burghfield AWE is the final assembly site for the warheads used in the Trident nuclear weapons system. It was recently reported that the site could be being used to develop even more powerful warheads, and has seen upgrades costing billions of pounds, despite no final decision being made in parliament on whether or not Trident replacement should go ahead.

Tagged , , , , , ,

#Breakfree from fossil fuels

By Maya

It’s 6:40 in the morning. We are warm and toasty in our sleeping bag, but the air is cold, and I can tell that outside the ground is frosty. The police helicopter went overhead about 40 minutes ago and the air horn to wake us all up followed half an hour later, but my son is still sleeping next to me. It feels strange to be awake before him; at six months old he is normally the first one up in our household.

I hear the excited chatter of people getting ready for an adventure outside the tent, and think about what will happen that day, as I build up the energy for the unknown challenge of joining a protest as a family.

We have been at the Reclaim the Power camp for the past two days. We have heard the history of radical land rights, taken part in meetings of 300+ coming to consensus decisions, had legal briefings, attended action planning meetings, and painted banners – all ready for the day of action.

And it has arrived. Today we will be shutting down the UK’s largest open cast coal mine. Over 250 people will enter the mine from three different directions while we, alongside others, will be outside the gates with music and banners having a visible presence to those that pass by.

As my son wakes for the day I think about why I am there, up a cold mountain in Wales. We should not be mining new coal, but investing in renewable energy. I am here for climate justice. I am here in solidarity with those locally whose economy is disproportionally tied to the mine, and whose surrounding landscape is becoming scarred by a great black hole. And I am here in solidarity with communities around the world who are also being affected by fossil fuel extraction, and those who are already being affected by climate change while world leaders fail to make decisions on emissions and ‘acceptable levels’ for the global temperature to rise. I am here for change.

My son is up and we head out of the tent. Everyone is wearing red and there is a palpable sense of anticipation as the final preparations. My son looks around, confused and excited about such an unusual start to the day. We join our friends, ready to set off, and hear the news that action teams have already shut down the mine!

And the action starts. I watch as 300 people, with banners and music, head off over the hills towards the mine. I know that this is where I have to be; up a cold mountain in Wales, ready to spend the day as part of the global shift to #Breakfree from fossil fuels and towards climate justice.

maya and andrew and robin

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

In Memoriam

downloadYesterday, Daniel Berrigan: Priest, Poet, Peacemaker and Protester died just short of his 95th birthday.

If, even in the face of vast American military might, he never lost sight of the hope of an alternative, it was perhaps because of his recognition that while the commitment to war was total, those who spoke for peace so often did so half-heartedly, without the commitment and energy that others dedicated to the power of war and death. All it would take, then, for peace to win, is those of us who call ourselves peacemakers, approach the task with the same energy and commitment, and prepared to take the same risks.

Through the anti Vietnam war protests, the anti nuclear weapons movement and onwards to an active stance against more recent American military interventions, Berrigan did exactly that, living what he believed and inspiring others along the way.

I don’t know enough to write a lengthy biography, nor do I feel the need to, I’m sure Wikipedia can do that. But I know enough to know he was an inspiration and that the peace movement, and probably my life, is infinitely richer for his commitment, his faith, his energy and his courage.

His is a voice which continues to resonate and continues to challenge. I know I am not yet living up to the challenge. I know I want to try.

He may not have had the media presence of some of those who facebook has mourned in 2016; but for me, he is without a doubt the greatest of those whose faces have appeared on social media on the roll call to heaven for this year so far.

Some: A Poem by Daniel Berrigan

Some stood up once, and sat down.
Some walked a mile, and walked away.

Some stood up twice, then sat down.
“It’s too much,” they cried.
Some walked two miles, then walked away.
“I’ve had it,” they cried,

Some stood and stood and stood.
They were taken for fools,
they were taken for being taken in.

Some walked and walked and walked –
they walked the earth,
they walked the waters,
they walked the air.

“Why do you stand?” they were asked, and
“Why do you walk?”

“Because of the children,” they said, and
“Because of the heart, and
“Because of the bread,”

“Because the cause is
the heart’s beat, and
the children born, and
the risen bread.”

 

RIP Daniel Berrigan (May 9th 1921 – April 30th 2016

Tagged , , , , , ,

We are nature defending herself

We gathered in the foyer of the British Museum, underneath a banner for the latest exhibition; Sunken Cities, Egypt’s Lost Worlds. We weren’t queueing for tickets; we stood in silence, in a circle, as an act of witness to the destruction being caused in the pursuit of profit by the company sponsoring that exhibition – BP.

IMG_20160425_130512546

Holding a Quaker Meeting is a very simple protest – if that is what it even is – that means space is gently occupied by a group of peaceful people, whose presence draws attention to something everyone would be able to see anyway, if they were to look. Not just BP’s logo – that’s obvious – but casting a light on the all of the systemic violence that has brought that corporation into one of our museums in the first place. BP are not sponsoring our museums and art galleries because they have a great love of art, culture and history – they are there because they need to sanitise their image, and to ensure their view of their world remains hegemonic.

Normally in Quaker Meeting I flit between letting my mind wander wherever it goes, and gently bringing my attention back to my breath, to the flowers or water on the table, to the light coming through the window, to the week I’ve had or the week coming, or to the most recent piece of ministry. In the British Museum, I found my mind settled on the words written on a banner held aloft at the COP 21 protests in Paris:

nous-sommes-la-nature

“We are not fighting for nature – we are nature defending herself.”

In these words there is a sense of hope and interconnection that startles, baffles, and comforts. “We are nature defending herself” speaks of a radical break with the status quo – capitalism’s constant thirst for more resources and ever expanding growth, that is so often achieved to the detriment of societies and cultures, and the destruction of forests, deserts, rivers, lakes, seas, air, animals, birds, insects, fish. Deeper though, those words act as a break with the standard rhetoric of many environmental campaigns and activists; that system tweaks are all that are needed, not systemic and cultural change. I’m convinced we need a radical change in how we use the earth’s resources, and that that has to be nurtured within a radical shift in our relationship with nature, of how we see ourselves in relation to nature.

Stepping back a little, it seems violence is made possible when we are able to effectively distance ourselves from the victim. At a talk I attended recently, a member of Veterans for Peace described the psychological reconditioning that takes place in military training as as important as the physical preparation for war. In his book ‘On Killing’, David Grossman described how in the First World War many soldiers – physically prepared but not mentally reconditioned – ended up not firing their weapons, but by the Vietnam War and onwards the military had ‘successfully’ raised the kill rate, by training soldiers differently. The VfP member described being taught to ‘shoot at the mass’ (rather than the ‘body’, or ‘person’) from distances that made it harder to relate to the target.

Is it trite to suggest a similar reconditioning in terms of our relationship with ‘nature’? Have we been taught to see ourselves as inherently separate from the rest of the earth, to see the earth as an object? Has this allowed us to accept and participate in ecocide?

Have we been conditioned to see nature as an object to meet our own ends, rather than something we have an inherent, deep connection with, something (everything?!) that has value in and of itself? Do we know how to look at a tree, an animal, a river, an insect, a whole ecosystem, as something inherently valuable, regardless of whether we manage to extract resources from it, consume it, even visit it to ‘enjoy’ it? How would we (re)learn how to do that? Could we?

George Monbiot explored some of these themes in ‘Feral: searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding’, a fascinating account of how areas of the Earth’s lands and seas might be allowed to return to wild forest and ocean. He dares us to imagine hundreds of acres of forest, with wolves roaming free in Scotland and wild boar in the south of England, and at the same time imagine what rewilding ourselves would mean; indeed, he suggests it would take a degree of rewilding our hearts and minds to find the idea of boars and wolves palatable. For this to be possible, for this healing of our planet to take place, it feels like we need new stories (or to remind ourselves of old ones) about what a healthy relationship with nature is about; relearning this will be deeply spiritual, as we redetermine what and how we value, how we understand our roles and relationships. It will be a grand shift, away from capitalism, growth, extraction, and profit.

And so when corporations like BP look at our world and only see oil to be extracted and profit squeezed from the very rocks, we should balk. And when corporations invade our cultural spaces to legitimise their worldview, we should act to expose them.

Tagged , , , , , ,