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Articles from the Peace News log: Reportage

Articles from the Peace News log.
For articles in this category from the whole site, look here

Natalia Grana writes from the occupation in the city centre.

ImageSince 2 October, a group of around 30-40 people have made an Occupy camp in Manchester city centre which is still growing. Its conception started at the same time as the TUC march against the Tory conference (which was held in Manchester from 2-5 October).

The camp began by taking over Albert Square and a few days later, when a food festival came to the square, occupiers negotiated with authorities to peacefully maintain a presence in one corner of the square with a stall and a tent. They moved the camp to the Peace Gardens in St Peter’s square just 200 yards down the road, which is right by a tram stop, so is still very visible to the general public.

The diverse group of motivated and committed occupiers may stay indefinitely. They have had good relations with Manchester police so far. The one exception was on the night of 15 October, when police did not show up despitebeing asked to be present when right-wing “English Defence League” supporters were in the city. Luckily no-one was hurt, although a board was lobbed at a tent, which stayed up.

The Occupy MCR group hold regular general assemblies open to the public in which anyone who wishes to is free to speak. Public meetings are held daily at 1pm and 8pm. Topics covered include how society is dehumanising us, how the system worldwide is corrupt and keeping down 99% of the population while 1% live it up and control the banks, corporations and are even now trying to demolish our NHS and our other public services.

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Jill Gibbon reports from Britain's biggest arms fair.

Appropriate clothing for selling weapons

A sign at the entrance to the Defense and Security Equipment International arms fair warns that visitors must wear business dress. The pinstriped suits, school ties and polished shoes shroud the event in sham respectability. However, the dress code does not extend to sales staff. Here, the main aim is to entice.

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Patrick Nicholson gives a view behind the barricades of organising resistance to the Dale Farm eviction

After much dithering, we ended up driving North on Sunday night heading for Dale Farm, ducking under the Thames at Dartford, and emerging in Essex, new and alien ground for us. Breaking right towards Basildon and then onto back roads, we were anticipating blocked roads and searches, and parked discreetly some distance from the site. We needn’t have worried. Walking in, there was an extraordinary air of calm, with a few quiet words of welcome and thanks from Travellers as we walked in the growing darkness up the approach road to the main gate, below the looming scaffold towers and banners. Just a few hours later, that same route in would be blocked by an array of barricades, several massive lock-ons, and a young woman chained by the neck to the outer gates.

With no time to get bearings, we caught the tail end of a legal briefing within the walls of Camp Constant, the activist hub, then joined our friend at the Red Team meeting. Different colours were used to designate the different areas of the site for the co-ordination of the defence: Red Team, we found out, covered the main gate and a substantial length of the rather exposed-looking right flank of the site. The main gate scaffold tower gave way to an extended scaffold, tyre and wire wall, plugged with anything heavy and rigid from doors to sofas to fridges. The red team meeting was a pretty efficient affair, well-facilitated, and as inclusive and indulgent as the time and situation could permit, but with a fair few of those overenthusiastic and totally infeasible last minute suggestions that only 20 year old guys seem to capable of coming up with. Ah, to be young again! We talked about the lock-on crews and their “guardian angels”: folk whose role was to look after the locked-on with food and support, and make sure the bailiffs and police understood their precarious situation. We talked about rotas, communications, possible scenarios, the availability of blue boiler suits and masks for those wanted to remain anonymous, the presence of legal observers, about the shields that would allow us to form mobile barriers, and protect ourselves, as and when needed, and the need to stay calm and act together.

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ImageThis is the first of a series of drawings from DSEi 2011.

As the world’s largest arms fair, DSEi is part of a wider shift in the commercialisation of war. Although arms companies have always profited from conflict, military production was previously linked to the perceived needs of the state.

In the 1990s this changed. Arms companies responded to the reduction of military budgets at the end of the Cold War by expanding beyond state boundaries, merging into multinationals and selling to almost any country willing to buy. Caught between the national and multinational, promising defence while selling war, the international arms trade is riddled with contradictions.

Arms companies sell military equipment to opposing sides of border disputes, to developing countries at inflated prices, and to repressive regimes for ‘crowd control’. Many of these deals take place at DSEi.

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Adam Weymouth on his walking from England to Istanbul, challenging xenophobia, the fear of strangers.

ImageAs I walked along the European bank of the Bosphorus, I stumbled upon a small group of fisherman who were coming to the end of their dinner. They called me over, offering me grapes and raki, and I explained in my smattering of Turkish what I was up to. “Londra, Istanbul,” slap legs, mime walking. “Sekiz ay” (“eight months”).

Throughout my whole journey I had been offered hospitality to an extent I could never have imagined before I left. I had been invited to sleep in peoples’ homes, in bars, in barns, in churches and in mosques. I was fed in restaurants and at mountain passes. I was given friendship and support at times when I really needed it. Yet I assumed I would have been anonymous in a city of thirteen million people. But as we finished eating they told me proudly that the only way to see their city was from the water, and invited me out in their boat. For Muslims, they told me, the duty of hospitality is not a duty only to the stranger, but one to God.

One intention I had when I began, 3,500 miles earlier, was to challenge the culture of fear, the distrust of strangers, that seems to be a given in a world where we are increasingly denied the opportunity to interact with the unknown. With its speed and its fear, our culture robs people of the very chance to offer hospitality. Walking through villages I felt like a rare beast, and found people almost eager to invite me into their houses, to hear my story and to tell me theirs.

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Bill Hetherington on his activities on (and around) 6 June 2011 - PN's 75th birthday.

In the month leading up to 6 June a major pre-occupation was preparation for International Conscientious Objectors’ Day, 15 May.

For the past ten years I have prepared a list of representative COs of as many countries as I can find a name for, to be read out at the annual COs’ ceremony in Tavistock Square, London, whilst white flowers each bearing the name of a CO are laid on the Commemorative Stone. Each year further research expands the list, and this time there were 75 names, ranging from Maximilian, beheaded in 295 AD for refusing service in the Roman Army, to COs recently imprisoned in South Korea and Egypt., and Michael Lyons awaiting court-martial in Britain for refusing as a volunteer medic in the Navy to undertake weapons training preparatory to assisting Allied forces in Afghanistan. The same list was also read out at ceremonies in peace gardens in Birmingham and Manchester, and these actions gave impetus to a ceremony at the peace plaque in Oxford.

I have been much involved in the case of Michael Lyons, having attended his unsuccessful hearing by the Advisory Committee on COs in December 2010, and included his case in a written submission by the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) to the Commons Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 2011.

On 20 May I attended a preliminary hearing of Michael’s court-martial, in which his counsel raised issues as to the validity of the disobedience charge against him, in relation both to his status as a medic under the Geneva Conventions and his appeal as a prospective CO being pending at the time of the order which he disobeyed. The judge having ruled against counsel’s submissions, I shall attend the full court-martial in early July.

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PN invited activists from around the movement to record what they were doing when Peace News turned 75.  Our birthday was on 6 June.

Arrested for Attempted Street Theatre

It was 5.30 pm on the eve of the royal wedding. “The Government of the Dead” street theatre troupe had just built a 12-foot high guillotine, topped with the banner headline “Some Cuts Are Necessary”.

We’d added an effigy of Prince Andrew with a rather long neck – easier to chop through. We’d pinned on him the knight grand cross of the royal victorian order, the bauble his mum had given him four weeks earlier. And then there were Andrew’s friends – cardboard cut-outs of a whole bunch of arms dealers, dictators and torturers on the guest list for the joyful occasion. Our banner read: “‘BAE Systems: Exporters of blood across the globe, by Royal Appointment”.

These theatrical props had been packed away in our van, but we were so ahead of time we decided to celebrate with a drink at our local pub. On returning a little later, we noticed someone loitering around: evidently a plain-clothes cop.

I was just getting my keys out ready to drive off, when 25 uniformed officers swooped on us from five vehicles. A woman police officer announced: “You are under arrest!” “Why?”, I asked. “For conspiracy to cause a public nuisance.”

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PN invited activists from around the movement to record what they were doing when Peace News turned 75.  Our birthday was on 6 June 2011.

ImageOn 5 June 2011, the day after a Peace News 75th anniversary celebration was held nearby in North London, I attended a panel discussion at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival. It was 90 minutes on “The Age of Dissent”, featuring Laurie Penny, Dan Hind and Dan Hancox. Despite the overarching title of the festival, the panel had practically no literary content (other than that the panel were writers and journalists), and only the most tenuous of connections to Stoke Newington.

In the seventeenth century, Stoke Newington was a village sufficiently beyond the bounds of the city of London so that nonconformists could legally worship (under the Five Mile Act, 1665), and thus later a home of Defoe and Quakerism. There is currently a quarter-of-a-million-pound campaign to erect a statue of Mary Wollstonecraft there. So I wondered: is it only in Stoke Newington you would get 150 random locals turn up on a wet Sunday afternoon to listen to a talk about the state of activism?

But the “age” it focussed on was very much the present, in particular the anti-cuts march of 26 March. The first Dan (Hancox) spoke about “kettling” [holding demonstrators in a pen for hours], and the effect of police tactics in stopping many people with families (or weak bladders) from demonstrating, but radicalising those who could afford to be less cautious.

I wasn’t convinced by his idea of turning kettles into “autonomous spaces”, feeling it could ignore the illegality of disproportionate detention and deprivation. (He also mentioned an attempt to start a local group via megaphone.)

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PN invited activists from around the movement to record what they were doing when Peace News turned 75.  Our birthday was on 6 June 2011.

The week of 6 June 2011

It’s mostly been a week of paper. Those who try and marginalise us as only interested in “action” have no idea just how much paper NVDA (nonviolent direct action) can generate!

I start the week helping Brian with preparing his international law defence for his court case for blockading the Trident refit area of Devonport in November last year. So it’s copying, collating, stapling and labelling new information found on the internet, while out of the cupboard come piles of documents used in past cases. And with them the memories of many days in court supporting people attempting to use the very strange process we have for judging what is right from wrong to explain that if murder is considered wrong then threatening mass murder must surely be very wrong. It’s amazing how many bits of paper that takes.

While Brian is off in Plymouth, I haul out more boxes of paper. The revived Faslane Peace Camp are having a week-end gathering to celebrate their  29th birthday and I have promised to bring some old photos etc as some of them weren’t even born when the camp started!

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Angie Zelter on what she was doing (and thinking) on 6 June 2011 - the day Peace News turned 75.

I was 60 on world environment day – 5th June 2011 and a few days later took a 2-day hike along the Offa’s Dyke path, with panoramic views of the welsh borders, a contested area for so many centuries, I had time to reflect on years of campaigning for peace and environmental justice.

I often feel despair, and wonder what’s the point of all our protests when Britain is still threatening mass destruction by renewing its nuclear arsenal[1], still sells weapons to repressive regimes, still supports Israel despite its criminal occupation of Palestine[2], and is embroiled in wars in Afghanistan and Libya that are killing in the name of democracy and human rights. I think how our foreign policy has not changed in hundreds of years[3] and how little human beings have progressed in their relations to each other over the millennia.

We have still not learnt to truly respect all peoples and treat others as we would like to be treated, we have not learnt how to prevent the abuse of power, nor prevent vast disparities of wealth building up. We have no idea how to implement true democracy.[4] Our technological progress has been at the expense of wisdom and compassion.

I go and tend my allotment because at least I can see the tangible results of my labour in the fruit and vegetables there. But I wonder how long it will be before private enterprise takes away even these little patches of soil, when it will try privatising the rain and the sun. Yes I have been “down” some of these days. I look around and I see such wonderful potential in people and our beautiful planet but despair at the various capitalist, hierarchical, patriarchal, fundamentalist, ideological structures that distort and prevent its fruition.

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