Tag Archives: protest

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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The Challenge of Campaigning

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.

AZ Palestine Roof Protest - August 2014 029This 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.

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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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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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