I spent most of yesterday, the feast of the Epiphany, in Newbury Magistrates Court waiting to plead ‘not guilty’ to charges of criminal damage and criminal trespass following a peace witness at the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment in September.
It was a strange day – not least because the MoD police had forgotten to bring the paperwork, statements etc. and so we had to wait around the court for hours for the papers to arrive. But the day for me was also about remembering my ploughshares action on the Feast of the Epiphany exactly eighteen years ago. In my statement left at the scene of disarmed BAE weapons systems, I said “The Epiphany remembers when three men presented gifts to the infant Jesus. My gift of disarmament is for all the infants who are threatened with BAe weapons, from Northern Ireland to East Timor.” Eighteen years later and, thank God, the children of Northern Ireland and East Timor do sleep more safely in their beds but of course other children are desperately threatened, not least by the nuclear warheads built and tested at AWE Aldermaston and the lethal weapons that BAE Systems continues to develop and ply around the world.
So the question could be asked – and I’ve been asked it many times – what does NVDA achieve? Is there any point to spending hours and days hanging around courts, not to mention the weeks and months spent in prison? Susan Clarkson one of my fellow defendants this week, reminded me of Ammon Hennacy’s reply when asked what effect his NVDA had on the world, “I’m not trying to change the world”, he said “I’m trying to stop the world from changing me”. And for me there is an element of undertaking resistance that is about not to being ‘conformed to the world.’
But, as Fellowship of Reconciliation member Margaret Mead said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” That’s not to say it’s easy – far from it – and it’s hard to see how any specific ‘action’ or piece of work (or blog post!) does make a specific difference. Nevertheless actions, and work and people resisting injustice together make up a movement and movements do make a difference. It may be mostly about faith and hope, but also, as one of the one of the great unsung heroes of the 20th Century nonviolence movement, James Lawson, would say, it’s also a question of persistence…..
So here’s to another eighteen years of faith, hope and persistence.