Tag Archives: Sarah Hipperson
Obituary: Sarah Hipperson
Sarah Hipperson was a founder member of Catholic Peace Action and a Greenham Common women peace activist at Yellow Gate for 17 years
Sarah Hipperson died at the age 90 on 15 August 2018, an important date in the Catholic calendar which association would have given Sarah great joy. She is most importantly remembered as arguably one of the most committed Greenham women peace activists who from 1983 to 2000 lived at Greenham Common Yellow Gate and watched its transformation from an RAF military base to an American nuclear cruise missile base to an open common for the public including a memorial peace garden. She was born in 1927 in Glasgow and her early life was disrupted by the separation of her parents when she and all her siblings were sent into care under the supervision of the Sisters of Charity in Glasgow. She recalls her time under the Catholic nuns’ supervision with affection and her First Communion day with special joy. There is no doubt that from an early time her faith was a most important force in her life and which gave her a sense of identity and value as an individual which was to be an important part of her self confidence in all the struggles that were to follow.
Her formal education was limited and when she applied to join the nursing school in Eastern District Hospital Duke Street Glasgow the matron initially refused her entry on the grounds that she had not completed the necessary educational requirements. Not to be put off by such obstructions from authority even at that early age she argued her case with the matron saying that she should be given a chance and was finally accepted. She repaid the matron’s trust by winning the anatomy and physiology prize in her first year. She went on to qualify as a nurse midwife and to work in some of the poorest parts of Glasgow after further training as a district nurse. She had a great respect for how her very materially deprived patients coped with the harsh conditions of life in Glasgow during this time but her desire to travel and to see more of the world led her to apply to become a nurse in the army. She was however refused entry to the army when she failed the medical having what was to prove to be an insignificant heart murmur. One can only wonder how her life might have evolved if she had been then accepted into the army.
Her continual desire to travel led her to emigrate to Canada where she married and had five children. She returned to UK to London in 1969 where to all appearances she had a materially secure middle-class life and was even appointed a magistrate. Her experience on the magistrates’ bench proved to be a strain as her discordant voice in support for the often poor and inadequately represented defendants made her unpopular among her fellow justices of the peace. After a few years she finally resigned from the bench sensing that her presence was giving the legal process a legitimacy she could not support.
In the 80s as a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes Wanstead she became active in the Justice and Peace group and motivated by the Dr. Helen Caldecott film, Critical Mass, on the dangers of nuclear war she organised invitations to the local churches to a viewing of the film hoping to start discussions. She noted that in fact the usual response was horror and awareness followed by social paralysis. In 1982 she noticed an invitation by Dan Martin who was then the Justice and Peace worker for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Southwark to meet in the forecourt of Westminster Cathedral to discern a Catholic response to nuclear war preparations. This was to form the beginning of Catholic Peace Action and her first introduction to non-violent civil disobedience. At that time the Catholic Church’s teaching on nuclear deterrence was at the least ambiguous. The then Pope John Paul II’s address to the General Assembly of the United Nations in June 1982 gave a moral acceptance to nuclear deterrence as a step towards nuclear disarmament. To many in the Church this was taken as an endorsement of the policy or as was often termed loosely the “doctrine” of nuclear deterrence. Others in the Church saw this doctrine as a kind of heresy and there was no indication of nuclear disarmament. This was a time when the cold war was at its height. Mrs. Thatcher’s government then dominated the political scene, Mr. Heseltine the secretary of State for Defence was telling Parliament that protesters ran the risk of being shot and to be a peace activist often meant regular visits to court and sometimes jail for non-violent protests that were interpreted by the authorities as illegal. Greenham Common was designated to be the place where 96 nuclear cruise missiles, each with a capacity of 15 times that of the bomb at Hiroshima, would be stationed to counter the Soviet SS20 threat in the East. There was a general sense of uncertainty, the cold war political rhetoric was fierce and the introduction of these intermediate-range nuclear weapons made nuclear war more likely. The debate and division within the Catholic Church at this time was heated but respectful. Senior well known Catholic lay people in the Church and senior religious leaders took opposing views in public and while some developed a theology of nuclear deterrence others not only voiced and debated opposite views but advocated and took part in non-violent civil disobedience at military bases and at the Ministry of Defence London. To sustain people through the legal process and often jail time affinity groups which could be described as base Christian communities were set up among which Catholic Peace Action (CPA) was one in London and which Sarah became a founder member. Her first act of civil disobedience was carried out with this group and she described it as crossing an invisible line which marked out her commitment to no longer being a bystander.
In 1983 she moved to live at Greenham Common though continuing her discerning and support for Catholic Peace Action and their support for her. She attended their monthly meeting which focused on non-violent protests at the Ministry of Defence which often led to court cases and prison sentences.
The Imperial War Museum has recorded (oral history) an extensive oral history of Sarah’s story where she describes the harsh conditions of living in the mud of Greenham Common, the brutality of the bailiffs and police, her over 20 imprisonments, her numerous court appearances, her fasting which on one occasion lasted 31 days in Holloway Prison when she lost over 2 stone in weight. She records the moving experience of attending Mass on Sundays in Holloway Prison with the marginalised women whose faith was an inspiration.
She describes the grassroots non-violent spirituality of women and her confidence in the ultimate removal of the cruise missiles. She relates that the women at Greenham were neither saints nor sinners but were described by opponents as “bloody women” and she was proud of that description and that they were rooted in non-violence whatever faith tradition or none they claimed. She never hid her own Christian faith at Greenham and the unifying spirituality among them was the women’s non-violence and their anti-nuclear position and willingness to participate in protests that put them at risk of arrest.
Often social activist like Sarah never see the results of their struggle and it may be another generation that reaps the benefit but in the case of the Greenham Common women history gives them a visible definite legacy. In 1987 the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was signed by Mr.Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev and soon after the cruise missiles were removed as were the SS20s from the East. The Ash Wednesday annual Pax Christi demonstration at the Ministry of Defence against nuclear weapons is a legacy that Sarah was happy to see in her lifetime and the Catholic Church is now no longer ambiguous about any “theology” of nuclear deterrence. The very possession of nuclear weapons is condemned with clarity at the highest level. Sarah was very aware that her prayer for a nuclear free world remained unanswered in her time, we still have much to do but considering one “bloody woman’s” contribution to the cause of non-violent peace building she will be to all who knew her an inspiration and a challenge.
The Glasgow nuns who were so instrumental in Sarah’s Catholic formation have a lot to answer for. May Sarah rest in the peace of Christ which in her life, at a great personal cost, she struggled to embody.
“Greenham: Non-violent Women-v-Crown Prerogative”
Sarah Hipperson’s oral history at the Imperial War Museum
Breaking the Bylaws
From the Greenham Newsletter, 1991. Text by Dido.
After the Cruise missiles had all been removed, there followed a long struggle between the Ministry of Defence, who wanted to retain the base, and the people of Newbury who were demanding the return of their common land.
The House of Lords returned their rights to the common land to the people of Newbury and in 1997 Newbury was able to buy back its common land from the Ministry of Defence for £7million. Two years later cattle were back grazing and the rights of the commoners were re-established. A memorial has been designed in memory of the Greenham Common peace women.
The 87-year-old, who was one of the last women to leave the camp, said: “It is 14 years since the memorial peace garden was opened to mark the commitment and determination of women in their efforts to make this world a more peaceful place.
“The garden was maintained by the peace women through a commemorative fund appeal. But the time has come to ask the owner of the site Greenham Common Trust to take over the management of the site which they have kindly agreed to.
“It is a fitting end to the protest. At the end of the day you have to put your differences aside and give things back to the community. Long after we are gone people will be saying: ‘What happened here?'”
The site represents the four elements of earth, fire, water and air and is planted with British species.
It includes a flame sculpture, which symbolizes the campfire, and a stone and steel spiral sculpture, engraved with the words “You can’t kill the Spirit”.
A tree was planted to mark the official handover.
Greenham Common Trust chief executive Chris Boulton said: “The Peace Garden marks an important part of the history of Greenham Common. The trust would like to thank Sarah and the other peace women for the upkeep of the garden and for asking us to manage it in the future.”
On July 12th  Georgina and Jean won the Bye-laws Case in the House of Lords. The Greenham bylaws were declared illegal. Trespassing is no longer a criminal offence and women aren’t arrested anymore for going in.Greenham-S.-Hipperson-1-Book
Sarah Hipperson dies
Sarah Hipperson has died on this day, 15 August 2018, at the age of 90.
Sarah spent 17 years living at the Main Yellow Gate of Greenham Common protesting against the siting of 96 nuclear cruise missiles and was a founder member of Catholic Peace Action in 1982. Her non-violent protests resulted in over 20 imprisonments and numerous court appearances. She lived to see the removal of the nuclear cruise missiles from UK and the transformation of Greenham Common back to its original purpose for the common use of the public.
Update: Read her Obituary.
May 1995 Newsletter
We invite you to join us at Bow street court, Saturday, 10 June, 1 pm for a few prayers before Ray and Dan face the magistrate again. Having been found guilty of ‘criminal damage’ on 30 March they were ordered to pay £239 and £339, respectively. A report on the trial will be in the next mailing. Because neither have paid the money the hearing on 10 June will decide whether to send them to prison, or send in the bailiffs.
Thank you for your support;
in peace and solidarity,
Catholic Peace Action
Ray Towey, Dan and Cannel Martin, Pat Gaffney, Sarah Hipperson
Reflections On The Ash Wednesday Act Of Witness And Repentance, 1995
by Richard Solly
Ash Wednesday was cold and blustery. I felt physically uncomfortable in Embankment Gardens and along by the Ministry of Defence. I felt conspicuous as well, especially when some of the Ministry’s younger employees jeered at us by singing Christmas carols and yelling “Repent! Repent!”
But I thought back to other Ash Wednesdays which I had spent elsewhere, in cosy churches where repentance seemed easier and shallower. One year, the parish priest told us that this life is all about preparing for the next. And I thought: No! This life (this earth, this blue sky, ‘this green grass, these spring flowers, this birdsong, this human laughter, these amorous embraces) is not a celestial service area through which we are supposed to hurry doggedly on our way to somewhere else. It is the raw material of the paradise that once was and that could be still if we would let it be. I felt so disgusted, I nearly walked out. Now, some years later, I was standing again at a place where work is being done to send us all more swiftly to the next world, and our purpose was to affirm the value of the one we’ve got, and I was glad to be there, and our repentance seemed more real and meaningful.
Repentance can seem cheap in our society because we have trivialised and individualised sin. The ancient Hebrews went in for collective acts of repentance because they had keen sense of collective sin. We are members of a people which, as a people, has broken its relationship with God.
I think that there are many ways in which we, as contemporary society, break our relationship with God. For me, the ones that stand out in starkest relief are the ones that relate most closely to the work that I do with refugees, indigenous peoples and the planet’s health. We imprison people seeking political asylum; we construct legal walls around our country to keep out migrants; we tolerate increasing numbers of racist attacks on our streets. We build more and more roads, raping our sacred mother earth and fouling the air with car exhaust fumes; we do nothing to reduce our criminal consumption of energy, wasting the planet and bankrupting the next generation.
The epicentres of any of these evils — the Home Office, the Ministry of Transport, the M11 extension building site, the Immigration Service Enforcement Office — would all be appropriate sites for an Ash Wednesday service of repentance and resistance.
But there can scarcely be a more appropriate place for such acts than the Ministry of “Defence”. This links right in with all my work. The uranium mining industry, the foundation of the global nuclear deterrent, lays waste the earth (the half-life of some of a uranium mine’s radioactive wastes is 245,000 years) and violates indigenous people’s land lights. The British air force practices low-level flying on Innu indigenous territory in Nitassinan [in Canada]. The arms trade, sustained by corporate welfare handouts from the British tax-payer, creates many of the situations from which refugees are forced to flee. And now that the Cold War is over, the “enemy” against whom our missiles are directed is surely the two-thirds world poor.
I am a coward. I watched as others carried out their acts of prophetic symbolism, marking the Ministry’s walls with charcoal, surprised that the security men were caught off guard (are they not used to this by now?). I felt disturbed by the readings from the Book of the Apocalypse, because I dislike that book intensely, rendered immune to its charms by North American Fundamentalists who beat people round the head with it. I don’t want an apocalypse and I don’t want a god who plans one for us. Let that god take his apocalypse elsewhere and leave us with our bluebells and hawthorn blossom. But that’s not the point: the apocalypse we face is one of our own making, not of God’s, and the purpose of our Ash Wednesday act of witness and repentance was to help prevent it.
Oh! May life and sanity prevail at last, so that there will be no further need for these prophetic gatherings, and we can all go walking in the woods or by the seaside in a peaceful world where no one is afraid! This life is the raw material of the paradise that once was and that could be still if we would let it be.
Homily, Ash Wednesday, 1995
By Sarah Hipperson
How does it help, my brothers when someone who has never done a single good act claims to have faith? Will that faith bring salvation? If one of the brothers and sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty, without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is faith? In the same way faith, if good deeds do not go with it, is quite dead.
James 2.•14-17, 26.
The clear message indicated in James 2:14-26 appears to be saying that in any given situation requiring a declaration of faith it is necessary to affirm and support it with action.
Each time I come to the Ministry of Defence I am aware of the immense power generated by the sheer size of the building, the sense of authority it gives off and most importantly, the undisguised challenge it makes to God and His Kingdom, by the insistence on having the tight to own nuclear weapons of mass destruction and to a defence policy that threatens to use them.
A great number of people have difficulty acknowledging this as a truth. Denial and the burying of this as a truth have allowed an insidious apathy to develop and undermine a previously committed peace movement to lose its voice of protest.
We appear to have slipped too easily from expressing our objection to cruise missiles now removed — to an acceptance of a Trident submarine, roaming the ocean armed with 16 missiles each having the explosive power of 80 Hiroshima bombs that can wipe out a whole continent and kill 200 million people, and dangerously powered by a nuclear reactor.
This Trident submarine with all its demonic, genocidal, technology designed to be used against human beings, has been fully operational for months in the ocean, practising its full range of destructive killing skill, without any collective outcry or outrage.
I am reminded of the silence that prevailed when the genocidal policy of extermination became a reality against the Jewish people in Europe during World War 2. This failure to respond to genocidal policies that end in crimes against God and humanity brings shame on us all.
If we are prepared to take the message contained in James 2 and apply it to the sinful condition of Her Majesty’s Government’s behaviour, in owning these weapons, we are compelled to make ourselves aware of the full implication of our defence policy and the challenge that it makes to the power of God, our creator, the designer and maker of the earth, and to His beloved son Jesus, who bequeathed to us all the vision of a non-violent world as an alternative way of living, by his life, his teaching and his death.
is a triumph of evil
We must do more than denounce. We must make a choice. Will we accept the destructive evil power that the Ministry of Defence relies on or will we affirm our faith with action and create God’s non-violent Kingdom on this earth in this nuclear age?
I believe that each generation is called upon to resist the abuse of power and not to be encompassed by it. Trident unchallenged is a triumph of evil. We are called upon, as Christians, to declare through our faith and action that God is Lord of all, including those who plan genocide and those who design the weapons.
In 1983 I read in Jim Douglass’s book Lightning East To West that we were the first generation to live in the ‘End Time’; that the first nuclear explosion furnished humanity with the means of destroying the planet and all means of sustaining life. I keep that thought with me daily. While at the same time I believe that we continue to live by faith, by living wholesome lives: having babies, digging gardens and resisting.
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore, choose life that you and your descendants may live. (Duet. 30:19-29)
(On 14 May, Sarah and four other women cut and removed a portion of fence around Aldermaston, where the warhead components for Trident are produced. They were held for six hours and charged with criminal damage.)
Six Months for Chris Cole
On 7 April 1995, Chris Cole was summonsed to the High Court for contempt of court. He was charged with violating his injunction of last July which forbade Chris from trespassing or inciting others to trespass on British Aerospace (BAe) property. The Court heard how Chris had done exactly that on at least three occasions.
Chris did not deny his activity but in his statement (below) informed the Court of his motivations. The Judge ordered a custodial sentence of six months for each violation of the injunction to run concurrently. After the Judge pronounced sentence Chris turned round to his supporters, waved, and said, ‘You know what you have to do.’ [i.e. continue the Campaign]
Chris is to serve half that time. His Prison address: Chris Cole, (PB 0538), HMP Pentonville, Caledonian Road, London N7 8TT. He is allowed visits every day but Sunday. To arrange a visit you must ring first…Even after his time is served, the injunction remains in effect ‘forever’.
Chris’s Statement to the Court
I have been summonsed here today to answer why I should not be imprisoned for breaching the injunction imposed on me last July. I do not deny being on BAe property on November 12th last year or on January 24th 1995]. Nor do I deny writing the article entitled ‘Call 10 Action’ which is also the subject of this hearing. I would, however, like to attempt to explain my conduct.
As Mr. Boyd [the plaintiffs banister] has outlined, my concern about British Aerospace goes back several years, 10 1988 in fact when I first discovered BAe and its horrendous work. I won’t try your patience by going into details of specific weapons systems or specific corruption allegations or specific statistics detailing deaths and destruction. Suffice to say perhaps that BAe is Europe’s largest arms dealer, supplying genocidal regimes like Indonesia and human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia with the means to can-y out their crimes.
So I, along with many others, have tried to call BAe to account for its criminal activity. I don’t use that word – criminal – lightly. I believe very strongly that BAe are engaged in great Crimes, assisting others to commit murder purely for profit. So I try both to prevent that activity and to draw attention to what is going on.
I have undertaken many different methods to try to achieve this aim. Writing to the company, meeting with directors, talking to and leafleting the workers, researching their work in great depth, praying, fasting, civil disobedience, informing people through talks and writing, etc. etc.
And because of this work I’d like to emphasise how much responsibility I feel about what happens at BAe sites. Once I became involved, once I knew about what was going on, I couldn’t simply walk away because that would make me part of the problem. Once you know something wrong is happening you cannot simply walk away and forget. As someone once said, ‘For evil to triumph all that is needed is that good people do nothing.’
Obviously, the imposition of an injunction gave me great pause for thought. It upped the ante, if you like. The consequences of acting were now much more serious, for example than possibility of imprisonment for relatively minor protests. But of course, the seriousness of the other side did not decrease. BAe continues to fuel and profit from wars, continues with manufacturing deadly equipment, continues to be involved in dirty dealings and corruption. And so the two sides have to be weighed up, and considered seriously, which I did. The seriousness and the consequences of breaking the injunction must be weighed against the seriousness and the consequences of not breaking the injunction, of allowing things to remain as they are, and choices made. As a Christian I am given very clear instructions about choices to be made. ‘Choose life,’ say the scriptures, ‘So that you and your children may live.’ So I opt for life and against death.
This weekend sees the fiftieth anniversary of the execution by the Nazis of the German priest and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for his resistance to the war. Bonhoeffer wrote that it is our task as Christians to ‘not only bind up the victims beneath the wheel, but also to put a spoke in that wheel.’ I honestly cannot see how I can put a spoke in the wheel that is BAe, which grinds over the poor in the third world to put profits in the pockets of shareholders in Britain, by staying outside their fence — and within the law.
And so I decided to act accordingly by going to BAe with around fifty others on November 12th, the third anniversary of the massacre of more than 250 East Timorese by the Indonesian military. The very same people to who BAe are supplying more weapons. I broke the injunction symbolically by going onto a car park and burning a small piece of paper which had the name of Abel Araujo on it. It is a Timorese custom to remember the dead in that way. I also wrote the article entitled, ‘Call to Action’, which was in the briefing which accompanied the demonstration. We try very hard to ensure that no one is hurt or injured on these demonstrations by training and briefing people.
Bonhoeffer wrote that it is our task as Christians to ‘not only bind up the victims beneath the wheel, but also to put a spoke in that wheel.’
In January, I along with three other defendants were found ‘not guilty’ at Preston Crown Court (though you might not think so from the Plaintiffs’ description). The following day we went back to BAe Warton to place ourselves on the runway, again to interrupt BAe’s murderous work. We were there for about 10 or 15 minutes, or 20-25 minutes as the plaintiffs’ witnesses testified to, and then left when asked.
Again a symbolic action. And so that brings me here. I think it should be noted that the injunction was asked for by the plaintiffs in response to disarmament actions for which I was convicted of criminal damage. These breaches are not of that order. I ask you also to note the unwarranted delay of the plaintiffs in bringing this action — five months since the November demonstration and two-and-half months since the most recent.
I hope that I have communicated to you the reasons why I and many others feel that we must interrupt BAe’s work. It’s not for personal gain in any way. We act nonviolently on behalf of BAe’s victims, perhaps clumsily, but certainly honestly and sincerely.
January 1995 Newsletter
January 1995 Newsletter
We invite you to participate in our next Lenten witness at the MoD.
As in the first few years we will be starting the Liturgy outside. Church premises are not as available this year due to cost or timing.
But never mind, a witness will be made and Lent will be observed in a matter appropriate for a nuclear weapons state.
Join us in the Embankment Gardens (between Embankment Station and the MoD) at 12:30, on Ash Wednesday, 1 March. Sarah Hipperson will give a few good words by way of a homily.
So far only Dan and Pat will be marking the building. Pat once and Dan several times during Lent; we could use some company! How about giving it a go? Your friends and family will thank you for doing so, if not right away then eventually. If you would like to discuss the possibility of marking the MoD come to the preparation meeting on…
The Bailiffs have not knocked on the door of the Martins, so they wait with some vigilance and try to get on with their lives.
Contact us for details of Bible study and reflection evenings.
Yours in peace
Dan and Carmel Martin, Pat Gaffney, Sarah Hipperson, and Ray Towey
A Time for ‘Foolishness’
A Return visit to NATO Headquarters, Northwood,
after 11 years
By Sarah Hipperson
On 5th January 1983 a large group of London-based Christians, gathered opposite the NATO Headquarters on the Watford Road, Northwood, to take part in a ‘Prayer and Liturgy service, and to hand out leaflets calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons, especially the planned siting of Cruise missiles on Greenham Common. (The Missiles arrived on 14 November 1983 and after 7 1/2 years of resistance were removed under the I.N.F. Treaty.)
The gathering was called by Catholic Peace Action, a newly formed group of Catholics, who were greatly concerned that the hierarchy of the Church was not speaking out decisively against the policy of ‘Nuclear Deterrence’, which we believed to be incompatible with the will of God. Almost 12 years on we continue to resist this policy.
We had been drawn to the existence of the NATO base during the Falklands War; it was from here, that the sinking of the Belgrano warship was ordered.
I recall how nervous I felt at the thought of such a public expression of our rejection of nuclear weapons, and during the ‘Intercessional Prayers’ I felt the need to ask for guidance and strength, so that I would not mind looking ‘foolish’ on this journey of resistance on which we had embarked.
I felt that within certain quarters of the Church and the Christian Peace Movement we would not be understood. And believing that this was what it would take to really challenge the evil of nuclear weapons, I instinctively knew I would have to overcome my inclination to self-consciousness. Over the years I have been grateful for the insight that was revealed to me on that important day. On each occasion when called upon to take non-violent direct action, I try to remind myself of that prayer, and of how the answer to that prayer has sustained me.
On the 19th of November 1994 I returned to the NATO base, this time with six women from the Women’s Peace Camp on Greenham Common. We entered the base through the fence to protest against the introduction of the Criminal Justice Bill and, inspite of this added threat to our work, to continue our commitment to non-violent resistance to the Trident programme.
As soon as we were all safely through the fence we unfurled our banners and started singing to alert the military of our presence. We were aware that those who guarded the base were armed with guns, so we wanted to create a calm, non-violent atmosphere, and we were successful. After a short walk we met a naval officer who stopped to ask, “Is this a joke?” We answered, ‘No’ and walked on. We then saw a building marked with an imposing sign saying ‘Command Centre’ and quickly walked towards it; just managing to enter as the heavy metal gate closed across the entrance. We found ourselves in the heart of the operations room where the plotting and planning takes place for the Trident Nuclear submarine system. We announced calmly that we were from the “Women’s Peace Camp’, that we were non-violent and that they had nothing to fear from our presence. One of our banners confirmed these messages.
There was only short, initial period of confusion caused by a young Marine Soldier screaming at us to get out and inciting his guard dog to attack us. Having been in this situation on other occasions with the military, through our experience at Greenham, we brought calmness to the dog and told the soldier to behave. The sergeant in charge supported our efforts to calm things down, and we settled in to do our work of disrupting and undermining the preparations for mass murder carried out in this building. We remained there for more than 1 1/2 hours. For all that time the military work stopped and the soldiers listened to our singing and the facts about the destructiveness of Trident. I believe that the power element within this building was altered, even if only for the time we spent there. The power of non-violence was palpable. I believe that we left behind in that room the essence of that power.
When the police arrived, accompanied by some high ranking military personnel, we were in the middle of a picnic spread; after singing for more that an hour we were hungry and in need of a break. The dog had very quickly become friendly and was looking longingly at us and our food. I remember thinking that that poor creature would rather be going off with us than being left under the control of the soldier, who demands behaviour determined by the military mind, obsessed with security.
We were not charged, this no doubt, as a result of the decision not to expose the military personnel to the embarrassment of revealing in open court that their security had been breached by non-violent women. We left as we had arrived, singing and displaying our banners but with an audience this time made up of very surprised members of Her Majesty’s Forces.
Remembrance Day 1994
By Pat Gaffney
Shortly before 1l.00 a.m. on Friday 11th November, a small group of us gathered at the MoD, with our placards, bearing such messages as No More War Graves, “Choose Life, No to Trident,” to keep watch, pray and leaflet in memory of all those who have died in wars. Our leaflet, a copy of which is enclosed with this newsletter, offered accounts of other, nonviolent ways of confronting and resisting evil as a positive way of remembering the dead and the living, a way which we believe to be consistent with the Gospels.
This time we were joined by Clare (8) and Matthew (5) Martin and for me, their presence brought with it a new urgency and clarity for being there on that day. Clare and Matthew came to stand with me and helped to hold the placards I was carrying. After a few minutes the questions started to come. “What is Trident”? “Well, it is a special kind of nuclear weapon”, “What is a nuclear weapon”?. “A very powerful weapon that can do a lot of damage to people”. “Why not just say nuclear weapon then”? “Well, because this one, Trident, is being built by our country and we are asking them to stop building it.”
These came from Clare before she offered to help give out leaflets to passers-by. Then Matthew started: “What does it say on your poster Pat?” “No more war graves.” “What’s a grave?” “When people die and we bury them the hole we put them into is called a grave.” “What is a war grave?” “In some wars, when soldiers die, they are put graves too”.
“What is war”. “Sometimes people or countries disagree about something, or one person or country wants something that another has and they fight about it. When a lot of people fight and are killed we call it war”. “Who gets killed?” “Well sometimes soldiers but often it is ordinary people, poor people.” “But I thought we were supposed to help the poor people.”
At this moment a number of workers came down the steps of the building and how I wished they could have been frozen in time for a few moments to listen in to this conversation. How might they have responded to them? The conversation ended at this point but I had already been challenged by the children. Their questions called me to account for the world we live in. This occasion has raised even more questions for me, some of which I offer here. Perhaps they will trigger some thoughts from you too which you may want to share with us.
1995 is a year of anniversaries. The liberation of the concentration camps, the ending of World War II, the first use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the opening of the Nuremberg
Tribunal and so on. These are events which are loaded in every sense of the word. They mark colossal events in modern history and they have coloured and influenced much of what has
happened since 1945. They are events which have prompted both the military/state and the peace movement to say ‘never again’, but to act on that commitment in very different ways. How these events are presented to our children in the coming year is going to be important. Whose story will be told, whose interests presented and protected?
Like Clare and Matthew, there are thousands of children in this country who do not know what nuclear weapons are. They do not know about war graves or about the Second World War, (and it is not just small children, many adolescents have no sense of what happened in 1945, talk about Hiroshima or Nagasaki or Death Camps and they look back at you blankly.) Do we let things ride and wait for questions to be asked like those of Clare and Matthew? Do we take an initiative and openly talk about the history of our time, its wars, death, suffering? Children cannot be ignorant of the reality of war today — so much comes to them through the television, but what sense do they have of past events that are to be remembered this year? It is natural that we want to protect children from things which disturb and distress them – in a sense it is their innocence and happiness that gives us jaundiced adults a sense of hope for the future. But we are a people of faith, who constantly recall a life that was full of questions, contradictions, suffering and challenge – all of which are also calling us to account for the way we live, just as the chidren’s questions had done. Do we welcome questions or do we want a quiet uncomplicated life?
Today’s newspaper carried a story about young children from German families being afraid to go to school because they were being called Nazis. Recently I heard that some groups in America were trying to develop a commemorative stamp that showed the bombing of Hiroshima as a symbol of victory of Japan — thankfully the idea was rejected. Do we want our children to ‘learn’ enmity towards whole nations people not from any experience they may have had themselves but through what they have heard or been taught? Do we want our children to believe that the best way of challenging wrong-doing or evil in the world is by building and using bigger and more horrific weapons? The challenge is ours. Do we have other stories to tell and actions to recall that are both faithful to all those whose lives have been lost in warfare and faithful to Jesus who invites us to live by the nonviolent message of the Gospel?
(Below is one of the leaflets handed out at the MoD)
A Viable Alternative to War
Jesus calls us to non-violent, active opposition to evil. Living by faith means believing that there is no situation in which it is impossible to be faithful to the gospel and the gospel is non-violent.
Jesus said, Put your sword back, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword (Mt. 26:52) Non-
violence should not be confused with passivity–it requires a commitment to resist evil, an acceptance of the consequences and sacrifice.
Here is an incomplete list of non-violent achievements that brought forth change for the better to oppressed people:
Mahatma Gandhi’s campaign for independence of India;
Martin Luther King, jr. ‘s, Civil Rights struggle;
Caesar Chavez and the Farm Workers of the U.S.A.;
South African Anti-apartheid movements;
Chilean urban slum dwellers;
Mothers of the Disappeared;
Solidarity in Poland,
The ousting of dictators like Marcos in the Philippines and Erich Honecker in East Germany;
The Collapse of the Soviet Empire;
Peace protesters in Britain to rid this country of cruise missiles, particularly Greenham Women and Catholic Peace Action members and others who made it known publicly their commitment to non-violent direct action and served time in prison as a consequence.
The Works of Mercy
To feed the hungry
To give drink to the thirsty
To clothe the naked
To visit the imprisoned To shelter the homeless
To visit the sick
To bury the dead.
For the true children of God, mercy is a duty.
A clean heart create in me O God.
An African Woman Weeps
By Ray Towey
I knew her name was Theresa. She was an African woman waiting for an operation in an African hospital and as the patients were so many she would have to be postponed for another day or week or perhaps month or months. Such postponements are commonplace and the patients usually quietly wrap their covering sheets around themselves pick up their medical records and make their way back to the wards. Disappointed, as most patients are when this happens, they are usually hopeful because to have got at least this far means that ultimately they will get their operation.
But for Theresa this day was different. She had lost hope and she began to cry in way that I had never seen an African woman cry before. As I passed by her I could see the tears just roll down her cheeks as she sat quietly and waited resigned and dignified. I had seen and heard many women cry in Africa. When the children die the mothers weep and wail and throw themselves on the floor in a way that is very disturbing but Theresa`s tears were of a different kind and I was perplexed and curious.
From her medical history I could easily work out a large part of her story. She was probably from a remote part of East Africa living in a village where adequate medical care has never existed for many diseases. Married at a young age her pregnancy and labour would have been very poorly managed. When she went into labour and could not deliver her child, many hours of obstructed labour followed before some form of delivery, most likely of a dead baby, was carried out. By that time the pressure of the baby’s head on the mother’s pelvis had damaged her bladder so badly that now she leaked urine continuously. She now had a vesicoavaginal fistula that only delicate surgery by the African surgeons could cure.
In some ways she was a fortunate woman. She had not died in obstructed labour as so many thousands of women do in Africa. Eventually she had managed to find the means to travel perhaps over one hundred miles to our hospital where she was now waiting for some chance of cure. Today for some reason Theresa had lost hope and the tears quietly rolled down her cheeks but I could not see why on this day she should be so disturbed.
I called one of the nurses over to translate for me and to find some explanation for her weeping. The nurse explained that Theresa knew that the next day there was to be a plan by the government to start charging fees for operations. She was a poor woman without money. She now felt that as her operation had been postponed this day then she had lost hope of a cure. All her previous waiting would be in vain and hence the tears.
Under pressure of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank many powerless African governments have been forced to introduce cuts in health care and education and introduce charges for treatment. Theresa`s tears that day were the human consequences of these policies. No doubt there are many people like Theresa in Africa. The poorest of the poor are bearing a burden with their lives for the policies of the banks. The debt repayments, and also the arms trade and the unjust trade policies rob Africa of any economic progress. A new brutal and insidious slavery is being perpetuated.
(Ray Towey is a member of the Volunteer Missionary Movement and recently returned from East Africa as a missionary doctor.)
October 1990 Newsletter
Newsletter February 1989
Peace be with you,
Ash Wednesday witness of repentance and resistance will continue on 2 March. As we are still in the season of Lent the symbols and theme used on Ash Wednesday will still apply
We invite you to come and lend prayerful support to the renewed marking of the Ministry of Defence with blessed charcoal and the scattering of ashes.
We will meet in the Victoria Embankment Gardens…
1989 began with flurry of activity. After a ten-month wait, Carmel received a final warning notice from her local court relating back to non-payment of costs and compensation for her part in the Ash Wednesday 1988 witness. She was eventually sentenced to five days in prison but was soon out. (see enclosed article.)
January also saw the final planning for Ash Wednesday this year. You will remember that we had evolved, with the other organisations supporting the witness, a set of guide
lines to help everyone taking part maintain a spirit of nonviolence. A great deal
of effort and thought was put into the day. About 500 people took part in the service at Westminster Cathedral hall where charcoal and ashes were blessed for later use at the MoD. Sr. Doreen, co-ordinator of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in England, preached the homily, which is also attached with this letter.
The witness at the MoD was very controlled and prayerful. Without barriers it was easy for affinity groups to make their way to the wall and mark the building. The police had been briefed to keep a very low profile and while they were present in large numbers only made three arrests (and these people were released without being charged.
Instead, they removed charcoal from people as they marked the building and then left groups to pray as they wished. In parallel to the acts of marking that were going on all around the building, a vigil was maintained from 12:15 to 4pm on the river side of the building. Over 200 people took part in the vigil, which took for its focus nine miracles of healing in a nuclear age. Friends in Liverpool and Aldermaston engaged in similar activity and were dealt with in the same way by the police.
If you attended the Witness in whatever capacity you are invited to an evaluation on Saturday 4 March at Heythrop College, Deans Mews, Cavendish square, London W1, from 11-4pm. A reflection and proposals for the way forward is attached.
After 2 March our next witness will be the Low Week, 72 hour, prayer and fast and vigil at Westminster Cathedral and the MoD. You are invited to join us in anyway you can. There may also be civil disobedience on 6 April, to conclude the prayer. Contact Dan or Pat for more details. If you would like to consider risking arrest ring a.s.a.p.
Over the weekend of 19-21 May we invite you to join us for prayer, gospel reflection, and discussion. (Being involved in civil disobedience is not a criterion for participation.) We haven’t found a venue yet but it will be in London and cheap, that we can assure you.
Another great Summer School is planned for 27 August-3 Sept ember. Jim and Shelly Douglass from the Ground Zero Centre for Nonviolent Action in Washington will be the main speakers. Washington is also the Pacific home base for the U.S. Trident fleet.
Thank you for your continued support.
Peace and love,
Catholic Peace Action
Ray Towey, Pat Gaffney, Sarah Hipperson, Fr. David Standley, Dan and Carmel Martin
A Busy Week in January
By Dan Martin
‘I am not interested in your conscience. Thus spoke the magistrate. She could have easily added: ‘only your money and obedience, ‘ such was her tone of voice and demeanour as Carmel tried to explain why she would not pay the £18.45.
But the magistrate was having none of it. ‘Either pay the £18.45 or in seven days you will be arrested and imprisoned for five days.’
This was two days less than the maximum Carmel had expected so she was relieved, but not by much!
Five days prior to her meeting with the magistrate on 23 January, Carmel received another final notice to pay £15 court costs plus 3.45 compensation for cleaning the MoD after Ash Wednesday 1988. A year later, the slow arm of the law finally reached out and nabbed her. The notice said that if she did not pay up by 23 January an arrest warrant may be issued.
The thought of the police knocking on the door at anytime and arresting her in the presence of the children who also would be taken into custody until I returned from work to fetch them was too much to bear. To prevent that, Carmel began packing her bag for a seven-day stay at Holloway. The seven days leading up to 23 Jan were full of anxiety, turmoil and fervent prayer to be given the strength to carry through with her initial act of nonviolent resistance, and thereby preserve it integrity and meaning. It was a difficult wait.
Carmel said to the magistrate: I would like the matter to be dealt with now.
I’ve made arrangements for the care of my children and my decision will be the same in seven days time.’ ‘Very well,’ the magistrate said, ‘I sentence you to five days beginning now.’
In the middle of the courtroom I handed Carmel her Hollow bag, gave each other a quick kiss good-bye, then she went one way and I another.
But alas! someone else was to have as much regard for Carmel’s conscience as the magistrate. Just before going into the court Carmel told a “friend’: “Do not pay.’ As soon as the sentence was passed this same person went immediately down to the fines office and paid. Within an hour Carmel was out, barely enough time finish her cup of tea and conversation with the jailers.
While it was good to have Carmel home so soon it would have been better if the friend had taken her, her action, and the need for peace more seriously. True there was a difference in motivation. The magistrate acted in the best interests of the State.
The friend acted in Carmel’s best interests. But I can’t help thinking of a quote from Thoreau who was released from prison early because someone had paid his tax bill.
‘If others pay the tax which is demanded of me, from a sympathy with the State, they do but what they have already done in their own case, or rather they abet injustice to a greater extent than the State requires. If they pay a tax (fine) from a mistaken interest in the individual taxed, to save his going to jail, it is because they have not considered wisely how far they let their private feelings interfere with the public good.
This same week in January was also memorable by two more public events, one bad and one hopeful. The day that Carmel received the notice to pay up was the same day that a 100 police broke down several doors of the Church in Manchester, which was a sanctuary for Viraj Mendis for two years. They cut telephone lines and dragged Viraj out and down to London in three hours. In three days he was back in Sri Lanka. The government showed as much regard for his safety as the magistrate did for Carmel’s conscience. As 23 January loomed closer mercy was not expected.
The hopeful event occurred on the day Carmel appeared in court. Liz Yates, Stephen Hancock, Jean Dreze and others occupied a long disused hospital near the Oval. They invited homeless people to join them. Our friends soon made themselves redundant. At last count over 100 formerly homeless people are living there, making their own decisions, organising their meals and other living arrangements, pooling resources and relating well with the locals.
A good friend, who works with homeless people, said she dropped by there for a visit, to say hello to some friends. She met one man who she had never heard speak before. To her amazement and joy, he came up to her, with a smile on his face, and said, “Hello, let me show you my room. Off they went. In his room they had a great chat, he was so happy. He then offered her what little bread he had.
When he broke the bread, dirty hands and all, and gave it to her she said it was as powerful and meaningful as receiving the Eucharist.
The theme of this week in January could be ‘Home.’ One person was forced to go home, a home he didn’t want to return to; Another person was allowed to return home early, a home she loves but was willing to be separate from for awhile; and many scores left their cardboard homes for a more real home, allowing one person at least to find his voice, to smile, and offer hospitality and food to a friend.
Homily, Ash Wednesday, February 8, 1989
Westminster Cathedral Hall
By Sr Doreen Tobin
Ashes….Charcoal….marking the forehead…Repent and believe the Good News. Simple symbols, simple actions, and simple words to begin a season of repentance.
Ashes are a symbol of both than repentance and mourning. It seems they more spontaneously remind us of mourning than repentance. The burnt city is left in ashes. The loss is mourned. But for the prophets, such mourning was also a call to repentance.
In Biblical times disaster was so easily seen as a punishment from God, and so the ashes of disaster were vivid reminders of Israel’s deviation from God’s law. The response was repentance and conversion to God.
Today we do not so easily make the connection between mourning and repentance, because we consider it both psychologically and theologically bad, to interpret disaster and loss as a punishment from God.
But there is a connection, for repentance can be the response to mourning if we know that the loss or disaster could have been prevented. We can learn from the past to change our behaviour toward the future. When death and destruction are the results of something we could have prevented by changing our behaviour, then repentance is called for.
Repentance does have to do with the prevention of destruction. When we remember the ashes of Hiroshima we have cause to repent for what was done. When we imagine the destruction contemplated in deterrence, we have cause to repent. We need to be able to see the ashes before they are produced. Then we might repent of what is intended and change our behaviour, i.e. stop making the weapons. When we see our reality in this way, the message of the prophets is as valid today: Repent. Turn to the Lord your God again, for God is all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness and ready to relent.’
We mark the walls with charcoal as we mark our foreheads with ashes. Charcoal is but ashes that are less completely burned. It is like ashes we can write with. By marking the building with charcoal we transfer the sign of repentance from our forehead to the place that is likewise called to repentance. Our personal act of repentance is carried to a public place, to the house of death. In this way, we unite our personal act of repentance to the more general call to repentance. Those who call to repentance are themselves marked with the sign of repentance. ‘Repent and believe the good news.
In Joel, the trumpets sound and an assembly is called (2:12 – 18). Must we wait till the weapons are used to sound the alarm? And has not the destruction already been caused by the lost resources, by the poor who starve, by living on a planet held in hostage, by creating enemies to support a profitable arms trade? Food is taken from the mouths of the poor to put into the voracious jaws of the war machine.
Come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning. Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn.’ The external sign is to be measured by the heart. It is the heart that is marked by ashes. Where is the heart? Is it broken at the realization at what we are constructing in the name of defence and security? Weapons that destroy what they feign to protect?
How clear does the trumpet sound for Christians? Do we waffle and wobble, or is there and a clear “Yes’ to life? How can we who confess to life continue to abide in a world of death images and images of hatred? The Reformed (Church) Alliance of the Federal Republic of Germany wrote in its
Confessional statement: “The confession of our faith is incompatible of with all life-threatening
enmity between people all hostile images of others… In obedience to Jesus Christ means of mass destruction are not appropriate or necessary instruments with which a state is entitled to frighten off potential military opponents or in the event of war, to join battle against them…They deserve on the part of Christians an unconditional “No” to weapons spoken out of a confessing
without any kind of “Yes”. This Christian Church has proclaimed a clear carion in its response
commitment to God the Creator, Reconciler and Redeemer, of mass destruction and war-making. Should we be less clear?
As Christians, we seem gradually to have shifted so far from what Jesus had in mind that the abnormal begins to look normal. We normalize the abnormal so that the normally abnormal looks normal. Christians are called to resist the normalization of the abnormal and see the Emperor in his bare nothingness. The role of prophecy is to continue shouting as did the prophets before, that what is accepted as normal is quite not so.
It is the communal call to repentance that leads us to move from here, from our enclosed moment of prayer and reflection, to mark not only our foreheads but also the commonly held property that cloaks the abnormal as normal — that acts and plans and intends the possible mutual annihilation of human beings, as though it were normal to do so.
For, to borrow the reflection of Daniel Berrigan, what is the property of the Ministry of Defence? Who is it proper to? Is it proper in any human sense of the word to plan and prepare tools of mass destruction?
To mark the building is to call public attention to the fact that the building is not real property, because it is not proper to any human being. It is a non-property.
By moving the liturgy from here to the streets we invite those who pass by to become a part of the collective vigil. The communitarian mourning becomes public. The ashes are spread on common ground.
If in the process we are jailed it should not seem strange, if we remember the Acts of the Apostles. Christians do not seek to be in jail. We look to affirm life and call attention to the House of Death. We enter the House of Death to affirm life.
Everyone who attends this liturgy in some way expresses his/her affirmation of life. Some will carry the message in writing on the walls of the Ministry of Defense and experience bodily their witness not only today but in the days, weeks, and months to follow. The follow-through on the call to repentance is more than today. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent. This initial act of repentance is the announcement of a season of repentance.
The personal act of receiving ashes on the forehead is extended to the community of believers here, but it is also extended to the community of our fellow human beings at the Ministry of Defense and fellow Christians elsewhere. It extends also in time, through the season of Lent and in the follow-through court or in jail for those who are arrested. There are different ways in which we are called to repentance and how we express our response to that call. The total liturgy moves from prayer, reflection, and song in this location through the procession and action at the Ministry of Defence and the consequences that follow through the year. It is a liturgy shared by all, each walking at a different pace or in a different way, but all called by the same Spirit to speak the Truth in a bodily form and act publicly to express our hearing of the words: Repent and believe the Good News.
Sr. Doreen Hudson-Tobin
(Co-ordinator of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in England)
Reflections on Ash Wednesday 1989 and Proposals for 1990
By Dan Martin
What does it mean when Christians are allowed to publicly mark the main Ministry of Defense building in Whitehall, just a short walk away from the Houses of Parliament and across the street from No. 10 Downing Street, and NOT be arrested? (Well, three people were arrested but later released without charge. Their arresting officers must have been a bit more zealous for the law than their comrades were. ) The police have ignored such activity in Liverpool the last two years and again this year. The road was partially blocked at Aldermaston AWE as nine Christians knelt and prayed amongst sack-cloth and ashes, and again no arrests were made.
Could this be what the police are thinking: ‘It is simply not worth the expense and paper work to arrest over forty people for doing something as harmless as using charcoal and ash on the building. Last year we arrested over 60 of them and all but one pleaded not-guilty. And even when they were convicted many refused to pay up and eventually spent time in police cells and prison. We, the courts and prisons, have better things to do then to pander to the offended consciences of a few Christians. So let them have their day of daubing and graffitti. And probably if we refuse to arrest them, we will reduce, if not eliminate, their publicity, which is why they engage in such antics anyway. They measure their success and are encouraged in direct proportion to the column inches that appear the next day. PulI the publicity rug from under them and they will soon get bored and go on to something else.’
Without knowing for sure why the police changed their approach to us I would like to believe that what occurred was of greater significance than perhaps even they realise.
Our work of twice-monthly communication and periodic resistance at the MoD since 1983 can be described in two words: fidelity and conversion. We cannot predict nor programme conversion. 0ur hope, however, is that through our efforts to be faithful peacemakers the Spirit will lead us all including those who may disagree (e.g. the police, courts, etc.) into a deeper understanding. In other words we always hope that the police, among others, will recognize the legitimacy of our activity and cooperate with us.
For example, the police could cooperate by not arresting us when we challenge the laws which protect the smooth daily working of the MoD. In effect, we did achieve this on Ash Wednesday 1989.
Now I can’t say that conversion has taken place, but some significant change has occurred. Since we began our work at the MoD we have met police, prosecutors and even a magistrate who have expressed their cooperation and agreement with our message and activities in different ways, though all stopped short of risking their jobs.
The decision to avoid arresting people was a major change of policy. There can be no question that what we did was illegal. It has been illegal for the last five years and found so by magistrates.
Friends who are sympathetic with our work, but not in full agreement, describe it as ineffective. ‘What you do is good for your own conscience but not practical, not effective. Well who knows for sure what is effective (whatever that means) but last Ash Wednesday is evidence that we have had an effect, on the police at least.
Has the State recognized the Ash Wednesday witness as a legitimate Christian witness? Hardly. Though the behaviour of one part of the State has changed a little there is no evidence of agreement or change of behaviour from the military and politicians who will still push the button. The police are on the front line protecting them from the likes of us. So perhaps they are just making their job easier, thinking at the same time we will just go away eventually.
When considering a way forward it is important to not let the police or anyone else interpret where we have been or why. To respond in their terms would deny the spirit and reduce our peace work to merely political and tactical considerations. A way forward needs to be rooted in the concepts of fidelity and conversion.
In a spirit of friendship we should welcome what cooperation the police showed on Ash Wednesday 1989, apparently it is now acceptable for Christians to mark the MoD on Ash Wednesday. I believe that we now: need to create other opportunities for the front line of the State to cooperate with us. The police have moved the perimeter closer to the centre, which leaves us more freedom of movement and expression. The extent of State control has been reduce. They have stepped back and so we must step forward, always mindful of the need to non-violently challenge and confront a legal system which protects nuclear war preparations. By a policy of not arresting people, the State defines what is acceptable protest, or what is acceptable Christian activity. But what is permitted is not a challenge.
To step forward is not to seek arrest for its own sake but to say, ‘Okay, State, you’ve come this far with us after six years of our activity, and for that we rejoice, but we will not stop there. We will keep coming forward until we reach the weapons, and even further until we reach the enmity that supports these weapons.
Let us enter the work places where the nuclear bureaucracy neatly files, organizes and compute nuclear war. Let the police stand aside completely. We are a disarmed people and by our persistence and willingness to suffer in challenging injustice we will, with God’s help, convert a nuclear armed nation.’
During Ash Wednesday at the MoD I thought of a scene from the film Gandhi. In setting out on his great march to the sea to launch the salt tax resistance campaign a reporter asked him: what if the government does nothing and lets you pick up the salt and distribute it? Gandhi replied: ‘The initiative is always with the nonviolent resister.’ I forget the rest of what he said but the sense of it was that the possibilities of creative nonviolence are so immense there can be no dead ends for those guided by the spirit of nonviolence.
To paraphrase Sr. Doreen who preached the homily: As Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent let it also announce a season of resistance. Catholic Peace Action suggests that the Ash Wednesday witness become a Lenten campaign of public repentance and resistance. We propose that the witness be expanded in time and place.
In regards to time–In London for the last two years 400-600 people attended a prayer service and over 60 and 40 people risked arrest. Surely we can arrange things so that during every week of Lent, if not every day, a group of Christians will appropriately pray at and mark that Building. A major service can still be part of the Ash Wednesday event and also include the marking of the MoD. All the charcoal – used during Lent could be blessed then. The weekly or daily witnesses could begin with a liturgy using symbols which link with the Ash Wednesday service. These could be organised by different affinity groups and/or by each of the sponsoring organizations. The support of the London-based people and organisations would be there to help provide what may be needed (e.g. overnight accommodation, liturgical space, materials, press work, etc…)
In regards to place — we encourage resisters to act locally, at their near-by nuclear establishment. People in London would be available to help coordinate a national Lenten campaign.
There are so many possibilities. Finally we (CPA) hope that the guidlelines accepted this last year would still be acceptable to all participants.
Direct Action – A Challenge to the State
A Way of Living Our Lives for Peace and Justice
By Sarah Hipperson
Taking on direct action against the State should not be taken on in any spirit other than, the commitment to a full examination of the consequences. If the full consequence is not part of the reflection and discernment then the preparation is inadequate for this very serious challenge to the State.
I believe that Dorothy Day stated clearly that ‘The State is the enemy’ so when you take on the State you have to be that clear – This is not an easy option – it means the full consequences will take you through arrest, police cells, court and prison and therefore each stage has to be developed in the full spirit of commitment. If the action is not followed up by a court appearance and well prepared submission and defence statements, to the magistrates then the action may appear as an act of random vandalism and cast doubt on the real work of Resistance, and indeed hinder that work. If, on the other hand, the action is followed by well reflected reasons for the action to the court, with biblical references – reference to conscience, responsibility to creation and humanity, a voice speaking for tire poor etc, then where does that all go when a deal is made to pay fines and compensation? Prisons are full of people who cannot pay for their particular challenge to the State. They cannot produce cheque books, credit cards or well off friends to buy them out of prison. Part of the discomfort for me in prison, is meeting the powerless, who the State and society just roll over, and feeling powerless myself, I am unable to help. The least I can do to take a stand with the powerless is not to opt for privileges that would relieve me of my time in prison.
Helen Woodson, in an earlier letter sent out from prison when being ‘persuaded’ to appeal her 18 year sentence said, and I paraphrase her words here: ‘Jesus wanted out when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane – but he didn’t!’ We are all in that dilemma when we take on the State.
When people pay fines and compensation, they don’t ‘break the law,’ they merely dent it. The law remains intact – even when that law protects the keeping, for intended use, of nuclear weapons.
When asked for my opinion on whether to pay or not to pay a finer I always say. ‘I never support the paying of fines” and always that stand has been demeaned and downgraded by the pat answers, “not everyone is as strong as you Saraha.’ How do they know how strong I am? How do they know what the cost has been to those who have chosen not to pay fines? Prison is difficult for everyone. Women who are in prison are not in there to test their strength or endurance – they are there not out of choice but because the state has imposed its authority on them.
When we are serious about taking on the State we must take them on, on every issue that creates injustice. Many in the ‘Peace Movement’ pretend otherwise — they confine their activity to the anti-nuclear protest, by-passing all the other issues of racism, sexism, poverty and immigration. By doing this there is no need to change our personal lives. The protest can be kept at a social level, under control and out of the real struggle for justice. The socialization of protest, denies resistance, which is the root of all serious protest, and is an instrument of corruption, which modifies and reduces commitment to non-violent direct action, both as a tactic and a way of living our lives as part of the struggle for peace and justice.
When others decide to pay our fines for us, they have to know that their action props up the State, and authenticates the policies, on the issue that we found so abhorrent when we embarked on our protest and challenged the state in the first place. Those who decide to keep us out of prison by paying fines, even if done anonymously, deny us the right to our resistance to evil through the full consequences of the protest. All the preparation, all the reflection and discernment, the time spent on overcoming the fear that’ rises up in us, when we are taking action, time in the cells, the court preparation and presentation which should be a challenge to all in the court ‘for the enshrinement of nuclear destruction by the protection of law, all become invalid, we become powerless. We have been neutralised and the State is strengthened.