Category Archives: Action report

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.

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No Faith in War

On 8th September 2015, members of Put Down the Sword in partnership with Quaker Peace and Justice, Pax Christi, London Catholic Worker and Campaign Against the Arms Trade, took part in a vigil outside the Excel centre to say no to the Arms Fair and to disrupt the setting up of the fair

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Easter week actions

On Palm Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem not as a conquering king, but humbly on a donkey. He never used violence, yet 300 years later the Roman Empire converted to Christianity and 2000 years later 2 billion people follow him. Instead of a traditional Palm Sunday procession we walked around the perimeter of Aldermaston, a site that plays a key role in developing and building Britain’s nuclear warheads. We believe that nuclear war is a particularly horrific form of warfare. It is also vastly expensive at a time when services to the poorest are being cut. As we walked, we marked the fourteen Stations of the Cross with prayers for different people affected by nuclear war. We tied crosses to the fence at each station, leaving a lasting reminder of our visit and God’s love for everyone who worked there.

We were delighted to be joined by 21 Christians and Buddhists and we received a lot of support from passing cars beeping their horns as they saw our banners. The walk took nearly 3 hours which really highlighted the vastness of the operation – meting many people, so much concrete dedicated to the most abhorrent of tasks. Protesting for nuclear disarmament is particularly timely as the vote to renew Trident will happen early in the next Parliament and election candidates need to be reminded of the strength of feeling against Trident renewal.

The following day parliament was dissolved before the general election, but we were up much earlier than David Cameron! By 6.30am seven of us were lying across the entrance to tIMG_3592he construction gate with arms locked together, together with six people in support. As we stared up at the beautiful sunrise, we felt a strong sense that despite the bizarre reality of the situation, this was where we were called to be as Christians at that moment in time. This feeling was mixed with relief at actually being there. We has been warned that following a concerted month of action the police had set up roadblocks on the approaches to the site and they were likely to stop a minibus full of people with lock-on tubes. But we encountered none of that – we just drove up, piled out of the van as practised and had fully blocked the gateway by the time the MoD Police came over to say “good morning”!

Twenty minutes later they reappeared in their vans and started making clanking noises as they moved around equipment inside. It was at this point we realised they intended to cut us out. The eventual appearance of the Thames Valley Police did nothing to dissuade theme of this plan and 45 mins later we were donned in protective gear (goggles, ear defenders and Kevlar blankets) and they were flexing their power tools. It took them over two hours to cut us all out, thanks to the cunning construction of the tubes which were all different – providing five different puzzles for the police to solve. The cutting was accompanied by readings from the Quaker Advices and Queries, moments of silence, requests to approaching vehicles that they would need to find another entrance and a morning chorus of tweets and to let the rest of the world know what we were doing. Once we had all been moved to the verge we had a short reflection with prayers and songs. We decided to leave then as the police were doing a good job of blockading the gate themselves with four vehicles! We offered all the police the sign of the peace before we left. We did reflect that we are lucky to live in a country where the police meet our non-violent actions with a non-violent response.

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We hope our action demonstrated God’s love for the whole world, and gave everyone whose day was disrupted a chance to think about the real consequences of their work. In the Christian family everyone has different gifts and our action was the result of thirteen people who all brought something different – driving, media, observing and the constant replacement of errant hats(!), as well as lying in the road. Our prayers are now with those who will take the decision about Trident replacement, may you choose the Way of Peace.

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Fear and other motivations…

Since our most recent blockade at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Burghfield last week, I’ve been thinking a lot again about fear, stress, and what it is that guides and motivates us. On our way to the base, I was feeling particularly nervous – the combination of the practical things that needed to happen to make our action work well, combined with the potential legal penalties made for a rich cocktail that fed fear and nerves, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling that way! Fear can be pernicious and I’ve found one of it’s little tactics is found in the desire to ‘find a way out’ can be powerful; the little voice saying “you don’t have to do this, you don’t have to be here, it’s OK to bail out…” can sometimes be making a lot of sense, but it can also be a voice driven by fear.

On that journey, driving through the Berkshire countryside at half past six in the morning, I found myself looking for a source of motivation, of something to be guided by that wasn’t stress, fear, or even determination and desire to be effective (whose counterpoint is the fear of being ineffective) – I was looking for something that put the action we were about to take into a wholly different context, beyond the pressure of being right or wrong, beyond effectiveness and failure. I wanted my actions that day to be born out of love, and while that feels easy to type, and easy to say in comfortable, warm, safe spaces, it didn’t feel immediately easy while sat in that van!

Looking out of the windows though, we were met with a deer running across the road, beautiful rays of dawn light through big, leafy trees, gentle mists, and – as we approached the boundary fence of one of the most abhorent places in the country- a bird (a Jay, I think) flew briefly fly alongside the van. Breathing gently and purposefully – finding those little seeds of joy and love, as Thich Nhat Hanh might say – and thinking about the beauty of the creation we’re so blessed to live among, every day, became a wonderfully rich source of guidance and strength, taking me a long way from the logic of fear. As we approached the gate of the base, opened the doors and got the lock-ons out of the van, jumped into the road, and blocked the gate, I felt glad to be where I was and doing what I was doing – once we were in the road, I felt happy and content (a long way from where I’d felt a few minutes previously!) Managing to see the world with eyes of love felt like a deep moment of prayer; I felt like was able to carry my fear much more gently afterwards.

Reading back, it can seem almost trite to recall those minutes in the approach in such a way, but the experience was once again a lesson in not letting fear be the sole, overwhelming force that it can become. There are other, brighter, lighter, more gentle emotions and experiences to be guided by, and we’re surrounded by them every day. While we were locked on, we witnessed a Red Kite treat the SOCPA law – which consider anyone who dares enter designated areas as a terrorist – with a beautiful disregard for the ridiculous contractions humans have set around particular areas of land, as it flew over the base! Even when legitimate and logical, fear is paralysing and disabling; it can stop us acting with the love we hope to. Seeing the world with eyes of love, even just very briefly, is empowering and nurturing. I felt lucky to be able to take the action we did, and glad to briefly find those little seeds of joy and love that fed my spirit while lying in that road.

In peace

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Approaching the tomb…

Early on Tuesday morning, thirteen people were sat in a van, heading towards AWE Burghfield, Berkshire.  Between us we had lots of tubes of superglue, some plastic tubing, bucketfuls of determination and the words of Noam Chomsky ringing in our ears;

“Fifteen years ago the World Court determined that it is a legal responsibility of the nuclear powers to meet their commitment to devote themselves to removing these awful devices from the earth.  Further development of these systems is not only a violation of law; it also increases threats to survival that are constant and serious. Those who are acting courageously to uphold our obligations deserve our sincere respect and full support.”

We stopped next to the ‘Construction Gate’.  Eight of us jumped out of the van, followed quickly by the support group, and quickly got into position lying across the gate with our hands glued fast to the people either side of us.  The traffic quickly mounted up, and it soon became clear that we’d achieved what we’d set out to do – we had impeded the ongoing redevelopment of the site, which will allow the United Kingdom to continue to build weapons of mass destruction for decades to come.  We planned to stay there as long as we could and were expecting to be arrested.  After five hours in the road and severe disruption to the day’s work we gently pulled our hands apart, prayed together, and left.

The action was organised non-hierarchically by a small group of Christians and Quakers from various denominations and peace groups from across the UK.  It felt empowering to be locked alongside other people who had decided to take this daring step into non-violent direct action, and for some of our group this was their first experience of protest in this form.  We smiled and laughed a lot, sang songs, prayed, shared communion and told stories.  In an individualised, atomised world where we spend an immense amounts of time doing what we’re told, staring at screens, and wishing ‘someone would do something about that’, it felt empowering to be part of a small group of people who had acted on their convictions and had had a positive impact.

Throughout the preparation for the action, and on the road itself, a whole host of different images and words raced through my mind, but after recently reading John Dear’s book ‘Lazarus, Come Forth!’, the one that I kept coming back to were Jesus’ last words to Peter as he was being arrest – “Put down the sword.”  John Dear describes this as the first moment when the disciples really understood what it was Jesus was about, and it terrified them.  Jesus challenges us to imagine a way of being where we do not rely on the tools of violence or oppression in order to achieve our aims, and this goes for everything, from nuclear weapons to our personal relationships.  Put down the sword.

At various points in the preparation and organisation I found myself trying to step back, to find an excuse to not go to the base or to get in the road (I’ve got things I need to do, maybe I should take pictures instead, maybe we won’t find a van we can use, maybe, maybe, maybe…) but Jesus’ words to Peter acted as a little reminder as to why we were doing what we were doing.  It was right to acknowledge the fear I had – I recently spoke with a far more experienced activist than myself, who very humble acknowledged that before every action he feels ready to ‘back out’, and hearing this made me feel more comfortable with acknowledging my own nerves.  Taking part on this action taught me a lot about not letting fear move me in a direction other than the one I want to go in.  I found real strength in the group – being one member of a group of beautiful, radical and committed people, doing something together that terrified me to think of doing on my own allowed me to overcome the fear in my belly!

The action felt like a success, but also revealed how much work we still need to do if we are to fully reveal the UK’s nuclear hypocrisy and make sure that our MP’s vote against the replacement of Trident in 2016.  Every morning vehicles, workers, materials, and nuclear convoy trucks pass through the gates of AWE Burghfield, Aldermaston and Faslane, unhindered and unquestioned, allowing our state to continue to build weapons and pose an existential threat to humanity.  We need to pile on the pressure and continue to expose the violence and hypocrisy that is our nuclear weapons system, and to confine all weapons of mass destruction to the history books.

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