A couple of weeks ago I went to Shenstone, just outside Birmingham, to show my support for the eight activists who had shut down an Israeli-owned factory making engines for drones by camping out on the roof. The factory remained closed for forty-eight hours before the protesters were removed and charged with aggravated trespass. I was not on the roof. In fact, due to a perhaps slightly over-zealous local police force, I was not even close enough to see those who were.
Nevertheless, I wanted to be there. I wanted to be in that sleepy small town, outside an inoffensive looking industrial unit, to stand in solidarity with the suffering people of Gaza; and, more concretely to say that yes, I wanted this Israeli drones factory closed down. To say, in fact, I want all drones factories closed down.
This protest, like the march through Birmingham in solidarity with the people of Gaza a couple of weeks earlier brought into sharp focus one of the challenges of joining with others to campaign against injustice, to speak for peace. It is a challenge it is important to be aware of and acknowledge, because by doing so, we free ourselves to be true to what we think and believe.
I wanted to be there, to be counted among those calling for an end to the bombing of Gaza, calling for an end to the building of drones, calling for an end to the export of arms made here to commit atrocities around the world. I wanted to stand with others who cared, deeply, passionately about these issues too. But some of what was said and chanted, some of what was thought and felt and expressed, these were not things I wanted to add my name to.
The building of drones engines by UAV systems in Shenstone is not ok. But to my mind, some of the views expressed by those supposedly on the same side were also not ok.
It has, of course, a wider relevance. A choice to associate oneself to a campaign can always subtly, or not so subtly, be twisted into suggesting associations with other issues; or be accidentally or deliberately misunderstood as meaning something slightly, or even completely, different.
But perhaps because the Palestine question provokes particularly heightened emotions, and because it is a cause whose complexity attracts people who approach it from very different perspectives, it was more immediately evident that whilst there was certainly some common ground among those who felt the suffering of the people of Gaza was unacceptable, there were also a range of views being expressed which didn’t all have either the same starting point, or the same final aims.
And thus it served as a reminder of the challenge of every campaign: the challenge of finding common ground and solidarity with others to build a mass movement which can effect real change, balanced against the need to be true to the essence of my own vision and faith.
Because for me, the theory, at least, is very simple (even if putting it in to practice is infinitely complicated): To campaign for peace is to say no to the violence that pervades every level of our society and our world. To say no to the aggression, hostility and fear which feed our economy and our education, our relationships with those close to us and those far away. To campaign for peace is about much more than just an end to warfare and weaponry (although that would be nice), it is about changing our words, our actions, our mindsets. To campaign for peace cannot mean calling out in vitriolic language imbued with the same violence that the drones manufacturers espouse.
To campaign for peace and justice is to also seek those virtues within ourselves, and, little by little, to allow them to fill our hearts and imbue our words with a different vision.
This is what I wanted to speak for in Shenstone. If I do so with those around me, so much the better, but even if I do so alone, I hope I have the strength to acknowledge my differences from those by my side as well as our shared understanding and to be true to that message, the message of peace.