I’ve just finished reading a book called “The Hammer Blow”, by Andrea Needham. Andrea was one of the women who participated in the Seeds of Hope action 20 years ago. Seeds of Hope famously campaigned against the shipment of Hawk fighter jets to Indonesia, where they would be used to attack the people of East Timor. After a long campaign, the group decided to take direct action against this shipment, entering a British Aerospace (now BAE Systems) factory and disarming one of the jets, hammering on it’s side and control panels. Four of the women spent six months in prison, before being found not guilty by a jury.
The book itself is very well written, and a powerful tale of the power of nonviolent intervention. I was wary when I picked it up, because it is easy to read stories like these, and end up putting the people who did them up on a pedestal, as hero figures, and project onto them idealised images of the fearless activist. The book is a relief, because the writer has dared challenge these stereotypes, and the book is rich with humanity.
There is a particular moment when the writer describes a simple ritual they participated in, just a few days before they took their action; each woman wrote on a piece of paper the fears and worries they had about the action, and these were collected up and burnt without being read out loud. A tray of seeds was then passed around, and each participant took some of the seeds and told the group what their hopes and dreams were for the action – as these were said, the seeds were mixed up into the ash. When all the fears and all the hopes had been collected up together, each woman took a pinch of seed-ash mixture, which they scattered in the days leading up to the action.
For me, this simple ritual is an illustration that in our activism, we have to hold our whole being in the light as we take part. It seems that the women in this story weren’t without fears – I assume they all wrote something on those bits of paper! But what is beautiful is that they refused to let their fears be the only thing that dictated their decision-making, they were able to be guided by something else.
We all might have different understandings of what that ‘something’ is; one of the women had the words “choose life!” painted on her hammer, which maybe illustrates this ‘choosing something else’. Maybe a way of being that ‘fearless’ activist is not hiding our fears away, but owning them and refusing to be co-opted by them, and finding new things to be guided by.