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Diary of a peace campaigner

Rhiannon Rees recalls her busy week of meetings and actions in October 2010.

Peace campaigners in the London area have had a busy week, and I have been fortunate to get around and meet some fantastic people. Last week was also ‘Quaker Week’, and I went to two of the talks at the Quaker Centre in Euston that illustrated how Quakers are involved in working for peace.

Tuesday 5 October: Andree Ryan spoke at the Quaker Centre about the time she had spent as an Ecumenical Accompanier in Israel/Palestine. These are trained volunteers of all faiths, who spend several months living and working alongside Palestinians and Israeli peace activists, observing and reporting on the daily brutality and hardships of the Israeli occupation and helping to negotiate some mitigation of the hardships and defuse some tense situations by their presence. The programme is co-ordinated by Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) under the auspices of the World Council of Churches.

Inspired by the courage of the Ecumenical Accompaniers, I took the rather less brave step of joining the monthly vigil against Trident in Parliament Square, which is organised by London Region CND and takes place from 5-7pm on the first Tuesday in the month. Since the Peace Camp was ejected and the green has been blocked off by hoardings, we have to display our banners on a narrow strip of pavement close to the rush-hour traffic, but we gave out 350 leaflets and I hope reached some MPs.

Wednesday 6 October: As usual, I worked as a volunteer in the CAAT office with Anne-Marie, supporting local campaigns. The shabbiness of the office, run on a shoe-string, shows that nothing is wasted on administration, but, as always, I am impressed by the dedication and optimism of the staff and their friendliness and patience in training and developing volunteers.

Friday 8 October: Back at the Quaker Centre, I heard a talk by Sam Walton of QPSW about Quaker work for Peace and Disarmament. He communicated the passion that Quakers have had for peace, from the Quaker Peace Testimony, which was presented three hundred and fifty years ago, to the current work that QPSW supports.

Nowadays they work with other Christian denominations, for example on the ecumenical petition around the negotiations on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. They campaign for an alternative approach to human security internationally, based on building better and more just relationships, rather than militarism. They are involved in trying to influence decision-makers, in the dialogue for a nuclear-weapons-free world, and through their offices in Geneva and New York. As well as working with other Christians, they are actively looking for opportunities to work with other faith groups. Quakers have been active supporters of CAAT since it was founded.

Saturday 9 October: Kaye, the CAAT press officer, and I ran a CAAT stall at the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)  International Conference. As well as minding the stall, I was able to hear an excellent speech by Jeremy Corbyn MP about the prospects for stopping Trident replacement and the need to link anti-militarism with social activism in the current climate of severe cuts in public spending. It was heartening, too, to hear good speeches by Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee and Rieko Asato, a Japanese peace activist, to remind us that people all over the world are campaigning for peace.

Tuesday 12 October: I went to a showing of ‘Beating the Bomb’, a film about the history of the British peace movement, organised by Croydon CND group. It started with a horrific sequence about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and then showed how campaigners in the UK responded with the Aldermaston marches in the 1950s and the forming of CND, through to the Greenham Common women’s peace camp and the current campaigns against Trident replacement, the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq and climate change. Although it was mainly about CND, both Kate Hudson and Mark Thomas referred to the links with the UK’s corrupt and immoral involvement in the arms trade. Although these issues are all inter-linked, it is impossible to cover them all in depth in a short film, so it was inevitably rather a whirlwind trip through the last sixty-five years.

It was good to have Pat Allen, a veteran CND activist, with us, who had kindly come from North London to give a talk about the period between 1945 and the foundation of CND in 1958. He explained how the revulsion against the war crimes in Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to an international anti-nuclear movement, originating in France. It was good to be reminded that the British peace movement portrayed in the film is only part of an international movement.

I was left full of admiration for him and for the other veteran activists shown in the film, such as Pat Arrowsmith, Helen John and Walter Wolfgang, who have campaigned and made sacrifices for peace doggedly and tirelessly for so many years.

These were just a few of the fascinating peace-related events going on in London this week. It has been a week to celebrate so many ‘ordinary’ people who have shown such courage and determination in standing up to the power of the military-industrial complex over the years. At the same time, we despair at the continuing tragic waste of the war and militarism that make the struggle necessary. Although the odds against us sometimes seem overwhelming, we have not gone away and will continue at least to be a thorn in the sides of the powerful.

Now for the CAAT London group and East London against the Arms Fairs’ protests against Clarion Events, who put on ‘cuddly’ events such as the Baby Show and the ‘Spirit of Christmas’, but plan to bring arms dealers from all over the world to London next year for the largest international arms fair in Europe, if not the world. And I am looking forward to the CAAT National Gathering on 6 November.

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