We were at the Manchester anti-war demonstration on Saturday 23rd September — and we’ve got proof! The BBC chose a photograph of our group’s banner to illustrate its website report of the national demonstration: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/manchester/5373128.stm
Our group assembled outside Wimbledon Station in the early morning, five hours before we were due to arrive in Manchester. The WDC/CND banner had been especially prepared for the occasion using an assortment of tent-poles to hold it up instead of its usual sturdy wooden supports; the jury-rigged nature of the arrangement meant that one pole was actually longer than the other! However, the important thing was that in this guise it could be taken to pieces for easy storage during our long journey, a decision which turned out to be a very wise one — a bonus was that it was lighter than usual to carry, even if the marchers did have to hold the poles at different heights....
When we arrived at Euston Station, well ahead of time, it was to find Wandsworth Stop the War Coalition already in full possession, with an assortment of placards and banners prominently displayed. Early-morning commuters were left in no doubt as to the purpose of this assembly, as the concourse filled up with groups from across London and as far afield as Watford. We set up our own banner as a rallying-point for those members of the group who had travelled independently to Euston, and waited for our chartered ‘special’ to arrive — the twelve-coach “Peace Train” hired for the day to carry hundreds of protesters non-stop to Manchester.
Personally, I was quite surprised to learn that you could still hire special trains for a day’s outing — this one clearly hadn’t been in regular service for some time! The carriages were provided with ash-trays in the arm-rests (plus tables, cushions and luggage accommodation of a pre-privatisation standard of luxury, I might add), the buffet car looked as if it had come out of a steam-age excursion train, while the engine at one end (‘by special appointment to Her Majesty the Queen’) had seemingly been retrieved from the Royal Train for our benefit: it was the oddest collection I’d seen in years, but it was all very well organised and a great improvement on travelling up the motorway in a series of hired coaches. The organisers’ gamble paid off, as our group for one certainly wouldn’t have made it up to Manchester otherwise.
Our energetic neighbours in Wandsworth Stop the War Coalition had reserved an entire carriage for their group, and having bought a dozen tickets from them in turn, we were welcomed to join them. Soon the inside of the carriage was lined with posters, leaflets were being distributed up and down the train, and newspapers were unfolding right, left and centre as a trainload of campaigners settled down to make themselves at home for the next 3½ hours. We sped rapidly northwards through alternate mist and sunshine, accompanied by constant reminders of an earlier age in the shape of the nearby Grand Union Canal. I spent much of the journey rehearsing with the Socialist choir who were practising in the centre of the carriage; from time to time passers-by on their way down the train to the buffet car would stop and join in enthusiastically, while the two small children belonging to the family opposite could be heard singing along, note-perfect, to the strains of the Internationale! ...
(The remainder of this account can be read on our website, at http://www.wdc-cnd.org.uk/Manchester.html)
This autumn sees a new campaigning initiative: working with other organisations, CND is launching a new website specifically to promote debate about Trident renewal.
There is an on-line declaration to sign (demanding “full and informed” public and Parliamentary debate) and then space to do exactly this, via an on-line forum which invites discussion from all shades of opinion. The website will also serve as a campaigning resource with a range of articles and features about Trident Replacement and details of events and meetings. So please use it!
Very little media publicity was given to the highly significant decision by last month’s TUC to reject government plans to replace the UK Trident nuclear weapons system. The anti-Trident motion proposed by Bob Crow of the RMT was supported by six other unions and opposed only by a minority who were concerned about the employment prospects of their members (many of whom work in remote parts of Britain).
The latest issue of the CND magazine ‘Campaign’ (Nº3 2006) carries an article on this subject by Dr Stuart Parkinson of Scientists for Global Responsibility. He concludes that as the nuclear weapons workforce is highly skilled, most would be rapidly re-employed elsewhere, and as nuclear decommissioning is a slow process, decline in employment could be sensitively managed. Some facilities would be retained to support international disarmament work (monitoring, verification, decommissioning) and some facilities (e.g. computers) could be transferred to civilian use. In summary, our society could put the skills of its scientists and engineers to much more constructive use.
We now have both video and DVD copies of this excellent short film produced by MAW (Movement for the Abolition of War). High-profile participants include Archbishop Tutu, Bruce Kent, Sir Joseph Rotblat, ex-MP Martin Bell and TV presenter Jon Snow, and it forms a stimulating starting point for discussion. Maisie hosted a successful showing at a coffee morning at her home in Raynes Park last month, inviting just her immediate neighbours.
We need volunteers to repeat the exercise in different parts of Wimbledon so that the message is spread as widely as possible. Please get in touch if you can help.
MAW will be producing an advert suitable for your local church magazine (text from Lesley.Docksey@abolishwar.or... or 1 Court Farm Cottages, Buckland Newton, Dorset DT2 7BT) and is also writing to church leaders, promoting the mention of the abolition of war in Remembrance Day services. Christine Titmus is currently producing a booklet for use in services. (Contact: email@example.com...)
The following letter from our Chair, Maisie Carter, was published in the Wimbledon Guardian on 29th September:
Members of Wimbledon Disarmament Coalition/Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament very much welcomed Merton Council’s decision to take part in London’s Week of Peace. We assumed that organisations such as ours, which promotes justice, equality and respect in all its activites, would be invited to take part.
But this was not to be. Our proposal to show the film provided by the Movement for the Abolition of War, “War No More”, whose footage included comment from such diverse personalities as Martin Bell, Archbishop Tutu and John Snow, was deemed “political” and rejected.
It seems strange indeed that the organisers could not include the participation of what is probably the longest standing peace organisation in the area. I joined Wimbledon CND in 1958 and have been actively involved in work for peace ever since. Wimbledon Disarmament Coalition/CND was formed in the early eighties since when it has organised countless activites for the abolition of nuclear weapons and wars.
These have included our annual commemorations of Hiroshima and the Fete of the Earth, a monthly peace table, and since 9/11, our cooperation with the Quakers and United Nations Association in the weekly Peace Vigil in St.Mark’s Place, Wimbledon. We are sure that many of the people targetted in the Week of Peace would welcome the kind of work that we do.
Political? It is difficult to imagine any action which could contribute to a more cohesive and just society which is not political. Surely to be political is to be involved in society, to make it more cohesive, secure, generous and equal. This has nothing to do with party politics but simply with the life of the community in which we are proud to be dynamically involved.
Maisie Carter (Chairperson, Wimbledon Disarmament Coalition/CND)
Kate Hudson (Chair of National CND) feels that the campaign against Trident has now reached a critical point: so much so that she has arranged to take four months’ unpaid leave from her academic job in order to devote herself to CND full-time. The Preventing Trident Replacement Strategy Conference at Congress House on 2nd September gave an indication of the breadth of opposition so far. Speakers included General Sir Hugh Beach, Jon Trickett M.P., Jean Lambert M.E.P., the Bishop of Reading, Bruce Kent, Medact, Scientists for Global Responsibility, Pax Christi, the Methodist Church, the Communications Workers Union, War on Want and journalist and historian Edward Pearce.
The range and diversity of these speakers was fascinating, and clear conclusions were reached: we need to expand the existing anti-Trident majority (59% of the population now opposes Trident replacement when made aware of the cost) to build an even broader coalition, and we need to use this mass backing to exert even greater pressure on the government. Edward Pearce (biographer of Dennis Healey) told us that we are pushing at an open door. He himself had supported nuclear weapons during the Cold War but was now completely against replacing Trident; to do so would be “as foolish, profligate and stupid a thing the UK government have done since Suez”.
He said that middle-ground people are out there just “waiting to join us”. By avoiding the least hint of extremism we shall be able to “look the Daily Mail man in the eye” and say “Do you really want to spend £25 billion on something we will never use?” Live TV pictures from Iraq and Lebanon have contributed to a public awareness of the horrors of war in a way not seen for years (perhaps not since the fading of memories of World War II). “Bush and Blair have led us into a bellicose and arrogant position which the public has rejected.”
Part of the day was taken up by group discussion and I chose to go to the Faith Groups workshop. I learned how much radical new thinking is taking place within the churches, with the Pope now unequivocal in his condemnation of all weapons of mass destruction. (The Pope’s World Peace Message of January 2006 described nuclear weapons as “malign” and “fallacious”.) The ecumenical report ‘Churches Together in Britain and Ireland’ deserves to be more widely known (http://www.ctbi.org.uk) and the Church of England is expected to produce some sort of document of its own in the next year.
Much discussion in the workshop centred around the means by which we might tap into all the energy devoted to development issues (Jubilee 2000, Make Poverty History etc.). Louise Richards of War on Want clearly spelled out the common ground for us, even suggesting that the fight against world poverty becomes “meaningless” if Trident replacement goes ahead. There is a clear and direct conflict between war and development. Social and economic justice are the best way of getting peace and security, but UK arms exports are now even greater than when Labour first came to power. We must tackle the “real enemies” (climate change, hunger, poverty and preventable disease) and work together to build a better world.
This was the message delivered by Marina Faggionato, President of the youth and student wing of the United Nations Association, in an inspirational address to Merton UNA on 15th September. Marina is an exceptional young woman. After graduating from Oxford University she completed a Masters degree in the USA and will shortly become a pupil barrister. But alongside the demands of her studies she has found time and energy to work with Sam Dawes (the new national Director of UNA) to raise the profile of the work of the UN amongst the younger generation, a task which had already taken her into 6th forms and Colleges all over the country and would shortly be launching her into an exhausting round of University Freshers’ Fairs.
Her message was simple. The UN matters. The work done by the international UN agencies is irreplaceable and the UN offers the only hope of peace and justice for everyone. Young people are our future, and people and governments can work together to make the world a better place.
If you have links with a local college or secondary school please consider whether you can help UNYSA to promote its message. Alison Williams (local UNA secretary) will put you in touch with all the information you need (020 8944 0574 / firstname.lastname@example.org...)