Tag Archives: activism

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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#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

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No Faith in War

Over coming days, as those involved process the experience, I’m sure there will be more to be said about Tuesday’s “No Faith in War” day of action outside the DSEi arms fair. There will be photos certainly, and maybe some video footage too. But some first thoughts from me:

On Tuesday 8th September, Christians gathered outside the ExCeL centre in London as it prepares to host one of the world’s largest arms fairs. Travelling from across the country and representing diverse denominations and groups, we maintained a presence at the gates throughout the day.

Peacefully, prayerfully, many stepped out into the roads, successfully preventing access to the entrances to the centre where preparations for next week’s exhibition are underway. Multiple blockades through the day were part of a whole week of creative action to disrupt the set-up of the DSEi Arms Fair. Informal prayers sat in front of a growing tail-back of lorries and a funeral procession for the unnumbered victims of the arms trade were among the powerful moments which took place in the approach roads to the ExCeL gates.

Supported by those maintaining prayerful vigil on the surrounding verges and pavements, the atmosphere remained one of respectful peace and of passion steeped in gospel values: a stark contrast to preparations for an event which will contribute to the continuing escalation of instability and conflict; the human cost of which is becoming increasingly evident.

DSEi takes place every two years and brings thousands of arms manufacturers and dealers together with representatives of global governments including those from some of the world’s most repressive regimes. As the refugee crisis in Europe draws our attention to increasing global conflict and instability, there is an almost sickening irony in knowing many of those conflicts are fuelled by a trade which being encouraged here, in our capital.

The theme of the Beatitudes reverberated through the day, with different groups independently choosing their inclusion in their liturgies. The power of Jesus’ words, spoken to an audience living under a military occupation, resonated through acts of repentance and resistance, in the face of a system which continues to perpetuate violence and oppression.

The sense of joy and community, which pervaded the day, even in the seemingly impenetrable face of death and destruction, allowed us to experience the truth of the blessing, that the peacemakers and those who hunger and thirst for justice will know happiness.

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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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Prophecy

While our friends were on trial this week, we held banners and handed out leaflets, declaring them prophets. ‘What a hideously grandiose, exaggerated claim!’ was my initial reaction to the idea, to the suggestion that any person might be able to adequately fulfil all all the necessary requirements to be able to claim that their words and actions are prophetic, not least people I knew! I felt uncomfortable with the idea that we might claim to carry a truth that others didn’t know – ‘surely we’re all as broken and lost as each other?’ I found myself asking – ‘who are we to judge?’

However, as we prepared for the days of solidarity outside the court, and especially sitting in the public gallery watching some of those same people take the stand to explain to the magistrate why they had taken the action they had, I began to feel more and more comfortable with the word. This was because my original understanding of prophecy had been of lone, angry voices sat on the outside of society, bellowing down it’s criticism from lofty heights, but not involving itself in the world. However, what activists – prophets – actually do, is to act in a way that’s integral to society, and is deeply rooted in our communities, and in the earth. When my friends took their action, they identified deeply with those directly affected by war and violence in the world, and sat alongside them in love. They demanded that we imagine a world where it is neither possible nor necessary for a tiny minority of people to profit so greatly from death and destruction.

I had been thinking of prophecy as something hierarchical, of something some are preordained to do, while others blindly follow. Actually, it feels like something anyone can do, if they can think of a world rooted in peace and justice. At Greenbelt a few years ago, Barbara Glasson spoke of ‘prophetic communities’  – those who are living lives of peace, equality and justice (she identified the LGBT and environmental communities as two examples) that we might hope all would aspire to. Prophecy is active, and identifies with the oppressed and marginalised, and with that inner, hidden voice which says “this is not the way the world needs to be!” Acting prophetically in this manner invariably creates conflict, because we are challenging society and ourselves to imagine something different to what it currently is, and it is conflict that drives and inspires change. Thinking of conflict – in it’s nonviolent forms – as positive is deeply liberating. This was a form of prophecy I could get behind!

Activists – from the great and famous to the nameless and forgotten – should be considered prophets, because they carry an understanding of what it might mean to create a world of peace, love and justice. Many of them choose nonviolent means in order to articulate this, and they power change in our societies by creating conflict, by demonstrating the injustice of the system, and they do this not by sitting outside of society and simply bellowing their critique, but by rooting themselves centrally in society, living, working and breathing with and amongst their community.

In peace.

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5 Broken Cameras

I recently attended a showing of the film “5 broken cameras” (http://www.kinolorber.com/5brokencameras/) organised by the Milton Keynes Palestine Solidarity Campaign (http://www.palestinecampaign.org/) (Congratulations to them for hosting such a great and well attended event.)

The film is made by Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat and documents the building of the Israeli settlements near to his village, Bil’in.  We see the separation wall being built and the brutal sight of ancient olive trees being lifted out of the ground by bulldozers, and later being torched by the settlers.   This latter act was particularly shocking as if illegally stealing the land wasn’t enough, they also had to destroy the villagers’ livelihoods.   Of course the film is made by one side of this conflict and I am struggling understand the settlers’ perspective.

One of the themes it explores is the challenges faced by non-violent activists.   Early on in the film we see peaceful protestors being physically beaten by Israeli soldiers simply for protesting.   Later in the film the soldiers seem to regularly use live ammunition on protestors armed simply with flags and banners;  some protestors are killed.   There’s a horrible scene where a handcuffed protestor is shot in the leg at point blank range.

I was recently involved with 6 other Christians in direct action in the UK against DSEi, the world’s largest arms fair hosted in London.   Although it was frustrating that the police’s priority was to ensure the event passed off without any problems and thus protestors were not tolerated, actually the police were polite, patient and professional throughout.   I cannot imagine protesting when my health and life might be in danger, and some of the footage of conversations with the protestors family demonstrated it was not an easy decision for them either. 

And of course their protests do not succeed in being totally non-violent.   Teenage boys seem to be particularly vulnerable.   They see their fathers injured at the protests and the lack of progress on the legal front, and they resort to throwing stones at the soldiers when they come into the village.   But they are punished heavily for this, arrested in midnight raids.

Another chapter in the world’s catalogue of non-violent direct activism is being written.

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John Dear uses the first words of this poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay in his book “Lazarus Come Forth!”. For me, the whole poem is a powerful reminder of what it would mean to reject death and to exist affirming life, and no more so than this year as we think about the start of the first world war, and how the powers lined up to participate in an almighty blood bath.  It is important to remember that in the UK alone, over 20,000 men of military age refused to go to war, and many spent time in prison, and though nowadays our means of resisting war are different (unless you find yourself in the military), the discourse of violence and death is still very powerful.

Conscientious Objector

I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man’s door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome.

Edna St. Vincent Millay
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Reflections from Ireland

From Waterfallswimmer:

I’m enjoying reading and discussing John Dear’s book ‘Lazarus, Come Forth’ as part of our continuing shared journey of nonviolence. Something I read last week resonated with me and I’ve been able to think more deeply about it so thought I’d share that here. Firstly I’ll quote the passage from page 15 in the section entitled ‘The Kingdom of Death, the culture of Violence’

“Life is hard, life is a struggle. For many, life means only death. People all over the world are stooped under the burden of hunger and war, ignorance and neglect. They flee and die under the military adventures of the superpowers and elsewhere under the terrors of tribal warlords. Many labor for little; many come to early and unjust deaths. And over us all hovers the spectre of nuclear weapons and environmental destruction, both a result of a few thousand rich people spawning an epidemic of corporate greed. To protect their global control, their “national interests,” their “way of life,” sleek armies march and drill all over the globe……… Alas, this seems to be the way of the world – a kingdom altogether different from the Kingdom of God. Call it the kingdom of death, and how hard for our transfixed minds to concede its reign. There is in the nature of deathly powers something elusive. Hectic and threatening and adroit at covering their tracks, they ensnare and overwhelm us; they exhaust out mental capacities, feeble as they often are. In biblical parlance, they possess us.”

Lately I’ve been feeling very much ensnared and overwhelmed by injustices in the city I live in, the country I live in and the world I live in. This feeling takes over mentally and then physically. It’s beyond words and description but I become unsure of what I can do to change things, to bring life, and am left with a sense that maybe there isn’t anything I can do that could make a difference.

However, last weekend I found myself on the West Coast of Ireland for a swimming event in Killary Fjord which leads to the sea between mountains – a breathtaking place to be. I was walking by the water and mountains as the sun was setting and the sky turned from bright blue to deep orange and then purple, reflected in the water as the mountains slowly became silhouettes. It was so beautiful, again beyond words and I was overwhelmed by it and if I had to use words I might use love, peace and hope.

I realised that this came from the same place in my being as the feelings I might call pain, despair and hopelessness when I’m aware of and ensnared by injustices. It was the same energy but manifesting in different, almost opposite ways.

This is helping and encouraging me because I now know that if I’m feeling hopeless I can find hope in the same place, if I’m feeling pain or despair I can find love and peace in the same place.

I may find myself in the midst of a human-created culture of death, but no matter what is happening in the world around me there is life within me, I’d call it God, and even if its hard to reach I know it’s there and will keep me searching for and walking on the path of nonviolence.

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We act and pray for a world without war, the absence of violence in all of its manifestations.  We put down the sword, we blockade the nuclear bases and arms fairs, we go over the fences, we withdraw our taxes, we picket the embassies.  We live in community, we refuse to use violence even if faced with violence ourselves, we refuse military service.  We resist the ‘Pax Romana’, and through our actions, we show how our governments and economies are addicts of violence and war.

But like an addict, we have to show too that the mere absence of violence doesn’t mean we have overcome the temptation to violence, to death – I cannot believe that this is all that the peace of Christ is.  Even when we are not ourselves at war, or behaving with physical violence we repeatedly, everyday, in thought and word and deed, demonstrate the power that violence and death have over us.  We swear at drivers as they narrowly miss us on our bicycles, we legitimise our ongoing participation in systems of injustice, we fail to consider the impacts of our actions on others.  The peace of Christ, to be born again, is to live a way of life, where the culture of death has no power – it cannot simply mean the absence of something (overt, active violence).  It is a way which negates not only the violence of war and global economic injustice, but also means we encounter – and renounce – our own addiction to the culture of death that feeds so much suffering in ourselves, our relationships and in our communities.

When we put ourselves in the way of the war machine, I believe we are creating a schism between the world of violence and death, and the ways of peace, love and life that we sometimes see glimpses of appear that bit more possible.  The world of violence, which normally fits around us – like a glove – so easily that we don’t even recognise it, suddenly doesn’t quite work any more.  Like a rocket choosing a new trajectory, we begin to move away, onto a different path.  As we continue on this journey, violence will continue lack the operable power over us that it once had, and we will continue to be led on our search for something more life affirming, a way of love.

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There is another way

Last week the biggest arms fair in the world came to London and we felt obligated to be there to say that the way of weapons is a dead end. There is another way, a way of peace, that Jesus teaches.  The arms fair has a history of breaking what minimal rules there are and it turns out this year was no different. Illegal torture  equipment was found in the exhibition. Some us took part in a non violent blockade of one of the entrances, to say that we cannot stand by while this illegal and immoral trade continues. There are some photos here and over the coming weeks we ill keep posting reflections as the trial for “aggravated trespass” gets under way.

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