Re-reading WDC/CND literature from the 1980s, which surfaced as the result of a major re-organisation of my loft, is a reminder of how much (and how little) we have achieved, and how much (and how little) has changed. Many of you are still loyal members after over twenty years and some sadly missed friends have passed away, but I was encouraged to discover how our campaign has been reinvigorated over the years by a new membership. (Of course we always need more new members so please encourage all your vaguely sympathetic friends and colleagues to get round to joining!)
In the 1980s we were concentrating on raising the profile of CND among the general public and we held a lot of public meetings, with speakers such as Bruce Kent, Dorothy Thompson, Ron Todd and Rebecca Johnson all coming to Wimbledon within twelve months. Have the days of big public meetings passed? Perhaps we should give it a go again.
In March 1983 Don Wood wrote “Many of you came to our wonderful meeting on Tuesday 25th Jan. — one of the best attended ever [about 90 people were there]. Ms. Rebecca Johnson spoke in moving terms about her experience at Greenham Peace Camp and her recent resulting prison sentence. She reassured a large number of questioners in the audience by her confidence and cool determination.” Of course Rebecca is now Dr Johnson and the very eminent director of the ACRONYM institute, consulted by UN agencies and governments all over the world.
“Urgent — Blankets for Greenham” ran the headline in March 1984. “The women at Greenham Common need blankets. Each time they are evicted they are forced to leave most of their belongings behind. A quick and easy way to produce blankets would be if lots of people were to knit squares which could then be sewn together”. [I don’t think we ever did this....] And now the missiles are gone and Greenham Common is once again public open land, and it is quite impossible to imagine any government suggesting trundling live missiles around the lanes of Berkshire with the intention of outwitting the enemy!
In 1984 the Government was attempting to organise a Civil Defence campaign to alert the general public to the “safety measures” appropriate in a nuclear war. In response, we held a march through the centre of Wimbledon, starting from the Town Hall (remember that?) and including a band — “bring your own instruments”.
But some things never change: “Last Saturday 3rd March  there was a good response at our new [Peace Table] site outside Wimbledon Library. We collected a generous number of signatures to a letter to Sir Michael Havers, our local M.P....” At the Fête of the Earth we raised £634·41, “a tremendous effort on everyone’s part. Joanna has spent many months growing the plants and she made a wonderful job of selling them... and she raised an amazing £82·66.” We seem to have devoted less time to lobbying politicians, or at least to have lobbied in a less sophisticated way; I think we can all feel that we now have an impressive body of expertise in the field of nuclear disarmament when we write letters on the subject to our current M.P.
There are some interesting (and fun) ideas in this archive that we might resurrect. Does anybody remember that we purchased a stock of CND “Give Peace a Chance” rainbow kites (at £2·00 each) with the intention of having an airborne demonstration over Wimbledon Common — I wonder what happened to them? It is perfectly possible to make home-made kites, so how about it?
Note: the Newsletter Archive for the past ten years is being made accessible via the WDC/CND website at http://www.wdc-cnd.org.uk/Newsletter/index.html
Thank you to Edwin who travelled to the Labour Party Conference in Manchester on 20th September to bring the Wimbledon banner to the Stop the War Coalition/CND protest against the cost of war. (His hand-painted placard contrasting the ‘mountain’ of money spent on world weaponry with the ‘molehill’ addressing world poverty — well-known on the Wimbledon vigil — was also very much admired.)
Edwin says “the day was exhausting, involving a 6am start and an 11pm return, but there was a wonderful spirit of comradeship on the coach (organised by Wandsworth StWC), the weather was perfect and the rally was brilliant with inspirational speeches.” How about more of us making the effort next time?
“Pacifists paying Council Tax in the borough are set to celebrate” trumpeted the local paper (Wimbledon Guardian 11/9/2008), evidently not quite getting hold of the right end of the stick, but Merton Council is to be congratulated on the ambitious extent of its Peace Week festival this year; a mega-step up on the timid events of previous years. Peace Week, now commemorated by all London Boroughs, originated in response to the World Trade Centre massacre on September 11th 2001, but it has now expanded to be an important part of local community cohesion strategy, and in Merton the climax was the UN’s International Day of Peace of September 21st.
In the Civic Centre there was an impressive display of poetry on the theme of peace, written by pupils of Abbotsbury Primary School in Morden, and in many local schools the children created garlands and ‘walls’ of peace with their hopes, fears and aspirations for the future entwined in a riot of decoration. It was also an opportunity for debate: some of the older children were reported to have been cynical about this essentially passive exercise — leading to valuable class discussion. (Our young people need more opportunity to challenge the adult world, if the next generation is to build a less militaristic future. Does anyone have the influence to invite a CND or Movement for the Abolition of War speaker into any of the local schools?)
Merton’s advance publicity explained that “Peace Week is an event for the whole community, celebrating diversity, equality and social harmony”. To this end the borough Safer Neighbourhood Team bus toured to a different venue each day, culminating in its presence at an afternoon’s entertainment in Wimbledon Piazza with lot of music, children’s activities and a repeat performance of the Rainbow Bird of Peace (Dundonald Primary and Ricards Lodge High School — see May Newsletter). Marianne Zeck who devised and carried out this project once again explained that its value lay as much in the process of its production as in the end product: it had brought together a very disparate group of young people, in many cases leading to better individual understanding and a huge increase in self-esteem. (N.B. Marianne will be talking to us about her work on November 11th at the Community Centre.)
A new Peace Garden has opened in the grounds of the Canons (Mitcham). At the moment there is little in the way of explanation or direction to make it clear that representatives of many different parts of the community were involved in its design, but there are plans to work on this, and maybe there will be room for another Hiroshima cherry tree?
At the final civic event on Sunday September 21st representatives of many different faith and community groups assembled in the Council Chamber at the Civic Centre and contributed to a “Celebration of Peace” Day — and both Alison Williams of Merton UNA and Joanna for CND were invited to take part: probably the first time that CND has ever been included in a civic event in Merton.
Alison read from the preamble to the UN Charter with its reminder that in 1945 “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war...” and “for these ends to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security and to ensure by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest”. Joanna read a sobering poem about Hiroshima and finished with the beautiful lines by Anne Garrett:
VisionOn each morning
Of each day
We all share
The same dawn
But do we all share
The same vision?
Some day we will
Share a new vision
A nuclear-free dawn
On the Tuesday of Merton’s Week of Peace, Cllr David Williams — Leader of Merton Council and Deputy Chairman of the Wimbledon Magistrates’ Bench — spoke at a meeting of the local UNA branch. His topic in this 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was “Human Rights and Responsible Citizenship”.
Most of Cllr Williams’ presentation related to how the Council addresses its obligations in the new “Human Rights Culture”. It was clear that some of the language irritates him. For example, all reports to the Council are required to show how Human Rights are being protected and promoted, in line with the acronym FRED: Fairness, Respect, Equality, Dignity. The instructions say if the author is unable to include a positive Human Rights slant, “you are probably the wrong person to be writing the report”.
The Council’s Charter includes 5 key goals, all relevant to Human Rights: a shared sense of belonging, mutual respect, personal safety, life opportunities and good relations between people of different backgrounds. Merton’s “Community Cohesion Toolkit” is a self-help manual designed to encourage individuals and groups to organise events themselves, promoting the concept of ‘responsible citizenship’. “Tools” can be as simple as access to English lessons or as ambitious as the recent government-funded series of Muslim seminars in Merton on “Preventing Violent Extremism” (see July Newsletter).
Cllr Williams is proud that Merton’s externally assessed rating for Equality is Level 4 out of 5 and they aspire to achieving Level 5 by 2010. Another positive figure was the result of a survey where 80% of the respondents think that this Borough has harmonious relations among its very diverse population.
As a Councillor from 1974, he is unconvinced that the local government ‘reforms’ introduced by Act of Parliament in recent years increase local democracy — he suspects the reverse is the case....
The discussion following Cllr Williams’ talk was wide-ranging and interesting, tackling such difficult questions as what makes a spokesman for a community ‘truly representational’ (Are such people self-selecting? What about young people? Does officialdom have a tendency to talk to the same individuals all the time?) We also broadened the discussion to include the concept of responsibility to the environment (both at individual and civic level).
Every resident, business and voluntary organisation in the Borough needs to be aware of human rights and the way in which each and every one of us is responsible for social cohesion. In fact Cllr Williams said that the post of “Cabinet Member for Equality” had been abolished under his administration because of his belief that equality should be all-pervasive and not “just one person’s job”.
Civil Society is more important than ever.
Report by Alison Williams and Joanna Bazley
The all-party committee of MPs whose brief includes exploring the causes of nuclear weapons proliferation asked for Evidence to be submitted by the end of last month (see September Newsletter). Evidence submitted on behalf of WDC/CND consisted of a copy of a letter written to us in May by junior defence minister Bob Ainsworth in response to the launch of ICAN http://www.icanw.org, the International Campaign to promote a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC).
It was suggested that the committee explore further the logic behind his claim that “present political realities mean that negotiations toward a NWC are unlikely to make headway” and “it is difficult to see how a NWC could not undermine the credibility of nuclear deterrence which has been a major part of the security calculus of the nuclear weapons states for over half a century. Attempts at negotiation would therefore prove fruitless in the current security climate where nuclear deterrence plays such a key rôle and significantly focus diplomatic efforts away from the international architecture already in place.” Such remarks deserve to be probed further, and perhaps (thanks to our Evidence) they will be.
An interesting footnote to the makeup of this Select Committee is that it is chaired by Mike Gapes who spoke to us in Wimbledon in the 1980s about the urgency of nuclear disarmament: in those days he was on the national CND speakers list and had not yet been elected M.P.