By Andrew Russell with help from the ordinand peace protesting team.
It was the point in term where ordinand students can revert to groans and grunts in their communication! Yet through tiredness, thoughts of moving on and busy weekend schedules, a small group of us met last Sunday afternoon to paint some banners and plan our involvement in the “Stop Trident” Burghfield AWE Blockade on Monday the 2nd of March.
AWE (Atomic Weapons Establishment) Burghfield is a factory where they assemble Trident nuclear missiles from parts manufactured at AWE Aldermaston. The key faith-centred motivation for the six of us able to join the organised blockade was and is that in no circumstances can it ever be justifiable to create an explosion 100 times bigger than Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the consequent slaughter of people and destruction of God’s creation.
However we were no group of seasoned activists. Personally I was a bit nervous and fearful of what this non-violent confrontation with the authorities might bring. We had designated ourselves as ‘non-arrestables’, meaning we were not prepared to act in a way that might lead to arrest, such as ‘obstructing a public highway’ by locking ourselves together in front of the factory gate! We wished to show our solidarity as witnesses, encouragers; a praying presence for all, both protestors and the police presence.
So on the Sunday afternoon we made some banners with slogans such as ‘Peace be with You’, ‘Not in our Name’ and ‘Food not Bombs’. These were a great colourful way to put across a simple message to the police, traffic passing by and the employees of the factory who had to walk around us. They also were great for photos to be re-tweeted, blogged and news fed throughout the day on the web.
We were also greatly encouraged by how well organised the day was, with an online briefing pack available that included background info, logistics, advice and contacts. Pax Christi were attending and they had produced a brilliant liturgy booklet with prayers, songs and readings to be used throughout the day.
Our confidence grew on the day with a great send-off from Will Lamb at the Morning Eucharist in chapel and the promise of prayer support from the community. In fact we later saw photos of the brilliant prayer stations set up in chapel which reassured us of supporting prayers both for us and these issues of justice and peace. With all this prayer, mobile phones and a certain web map provider we made it safely to the protest site around 11am.
It was immediately apparent how well prepared the protest was as we were welcomed at a tea and cake station (with portiloo) near the site entrance. We were briefed on progress of the morning; protestors had ‘locked on’ blocking two of the three site entrances since the early hours of the morning. However the majority of police were at the main site entrance where we had arrived and were determined not to allow a full blockade. Protestors were quite outnumbered here by the police and they were preventing anyone stepping onto the entrance road. They were quite forceful with anyone who looked like they had ‘locking equipment’ that might help them block the entrance road.
What could we do? Well it is amazing how good it is to have supportive presence and encouragement when surrounded by police. We started chatting to those we met, smiles, handshakes, recognition of connections. I met a clergy partner from Manchester and an old friend from London. A group of French protestors had managed to sit in part of the road and this seemed to be a compromise the police could tolerate. So I sat down on the road and chatted to a few there. Others were singing, observing, filming.
A highlight of the day was the service held at noon led by Pax Christi and the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, who had brought a processional cross and portable keyboard! One of our group volunteered to read Micah 4:1-5, we sang, heard testimonies, read together prayers of repentance, commitment and longing. Those around us could join in or not as they chose. There was a great sense of unity in diversity.
Later people started chatting more with the police officers, men and women who stood around us as silent witnesses to our protest the whole afternoon. There were the odd smiles and banter. A group of us went on to the other gates and had a great time line dancing to ‘Don’t Want to Study War No More’ as police cars and employees drove past. I felt for the factory employees who had to be bussed to the entrance and then walk in a column passed our condemnation of what they worked for. There was no bad feeling, taunts or aggression, only that their normal working day was made more inconvenient by our presence, challenging.
Late-afternoon the protestors were getting ready to disperse; the day was just the first of a whole month of actions and blockades planned for March. Action-AWE will continue to gather protesters and take a stand as long as nuclear weaponry is with us. Before parting ways we finished with some ‘circle time’. A remembrance song from Japan sung by a Japanese student; a French protest song and then “We shall overcome” sung together to close. We all departed in peace, dismantling banners and cardboard missiles, not wanting to leave a mess for others to clear up.
From the Pax Christi liturgy:
In this Lenten season, O God, we come before you,
asking for courage to open our eyes.
We want to see ourselves as you see us: the empty and barren places,
the half-hearted struggles, the faint stirrings of new life.
We come, trusting your grace, waiting for your illuminating word,
longing for your healing light.
Do not let us be blind to your presence.
Shine upon us, O God, and make our paths clear,
For we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
All: Nuclear Defence declares our preference for security rather than life.
All: Nuclear Defence declares our enslavement to fear rather than freedom.
All: Nuclear Defence declares our preference for risking all life on our planet rather than facing our fears.