Merton’s Week of Peace 21–27 September was not a high-profile event (indeed even many Merton Councillors turned out to be quite unaware of it) but several local schools incorporated ‘peace projects’ into their daily curriculum and Merton is to be congratulated in its efforts to celebrate “diversity, equality and social harmony”, however cautiously. We part company with Merton over their contention that allowing events in the wider world to intrude on this ‘celebration’ would destroy this harmony. In our view it is simply unrealistic to attempt to separate the local from the national and international in these matters, because in today’s mobile societies, people bring with them their experiences, fears and hatreds wherever they settle. Often religion and ethnic loyalties transcend the boundaries set up by government and local government and it is not helpful to pretend otherwise. Merton Council needs to be less afraid of the ‘political’ and to see debate and discussion as the civilised alternative to a simmering culture of hatred and violence, and we shall continue to press this point with gentle persistence.
This year there was something of a breakthrough with Merton Council in that Alison Williams (Branch Secretary of Merton UNA) was invited to run a short seminar in Morden Library. Publicity was poor and very few people attended, but a lively discussion developed under Alison’s leadership, exploring the concepts of civilisation, culture and democracy and the importance of a historical and non-judgmental perspective when criticising the ‘other’. “Building bridges between religions and cultures” was the title of her talk and all those present will have been stimulated to extend their intellectual horizons.
Local Pugwash member Peggy Pyke-Lees approached the Merton Peace Week steering committee in early August with the suggestion that it would be appropriate to show the beautiful Canadian film “The Strangest Dream” celebrating the life and work of Nobel Laureate and founder of the Pugwash Conferences for Peace, Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat. The officers on the Steering Group took fright at this suggestion (deeming the film “too political”) but to their credit they did at least take the trouble to view the film before rejecting it. Undeterred, WDC/CND hired a room in the Mansel Road Centre and arranged to show the film ourselves, preceded by a powerful excerpt from a Japanese animated cartoon (“Barefoot Gen”) depicting the human experience of the victims of the Hiroshima bomb. At the end of the film the audience burst into spontaneous applause.
The following day Merton UNA held its AGM with a speaker on climate change followed by discussion on sustainability and real human security (in contrast to an illusionary faith in weaponry). Perhaps this will be the future pattern of Peace Week; a core programme surrounded by a more challenging Fringe?
Children, what do you do there
Playing your games innocently in the park,
Smiling, laughing, with others,
Who have a different colour skin,
Who come from many lands.
Do you in all your innocence
Know that some older people,
Some with lighter skins, and evil minds,
Think that you should not exist,
Did not these people take many from the park
For train rides to concrete camps,
Heated by huge ovens —
The trains returned empty,
Those children were innocent too,
The park became a lonely place.
The ball you played with
Was for joy and laughter,
The ball some older people have
Is made of fire and sadness,
Should they drop it
They could not play with it again,
For there would be no park left
For the innocents to play in
Whatever the colour of skin they had.
— Children, when you grow up,
Do not play with fireballs and sadness
That closes parks forever.
I chose to read this moving poem at the final Civic Event of Peace Week in the Council Chamber. Thank you George.
Agenda Item 5 at the Council Meeting on September 16th was Questions from the Public, so I took the opportunity to ask the following of Councillor Henry Nelless (‘Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Engagement’):
“Please will you clarify the grounds on which the Canadian film ‘Strangest Dream’ (celebrating the life and work of Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat) was rejected for inclusion in the programme for Peace Week?”
The written reply (prepared by officers) reiterated the generalised aims of Peace Week and listed all the official Peace Week events, before claiming that the suggestion that the film be included had arrived too late, i.e. after the steering group had already agreed the programme. (“Economical with the truth” in the view of a member of the steering group!) Only then was it stated that “the view of the officers was that this film was overtly political in its stance on nuclear weapons”, which we gather was the main reason for its rejection.
After submitting a written question, and getting a written answer, one is allowed to follow this up with a brief supplementary response, and this is what I said:
“Professor Rotblat devoted the whole of his long life to furthering the cause of peace and this film is a celebration of his life. Professor Rotblat was part of the research team which developed the first atomic bomb and founded the Pugwash Conferences which brought together scientists from East and West during the Cold War: the views on nuclear weapons and nuclear abolition in the film are Rotblat’s own views. I feel that it is a pity that the decision to reject the film was taken by a small group of officers and not by the steering group as a whole.”
In reply, Councillor Nelless claimed again that it was primarily “the logistics of the decision” that had determined the outcome and that he fully supported the action that was taken. He then went on to say that “there is nothing we can do in Merton to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction” — and it is up to all of us to prove him wrong!
Dear Gordon Brown,
Congratulations on your decision on three, not four, Trident replacement submarines.
But this is not enough. As long as Britain goes on telling the rest of the world that ‘security’ depends on nuclear weapons, other countries will want the same. Global insecurity will inevitably increase.
The world needs negotiations aimed at the elimination of all nuclear weapons. This is not an option — it is a legal obligation.
The Cold War is over. Nuclear weapons make no sense — military figures call them useless. They are massively expensive. They are no protection against terrorists or the effects of climate change. And there is always the possibility of catastrophic accidents — there have been many near misses.
I urge you to scrap Trident and cancel the replacement programme entirely and to spend the billions saved on the real needs of our people.
You would thus give constructive meaning to the ‘special relationship’. President Obama needs our help to achieve his positive vision — a nuclear weapon-free world.
This is the text of a full page advertisement in the national ‘Guardian’ newspaper published on September 26th: the simple language and straight-forward message that we associate with Bruce Kent. Bruce (unbelievably) celebrated his 80th birthday in June, and we in Wimbledon were among the many of his friends and supporters who contributed towards the cost of the advertisement as a tribute to his many years of campaigning.
The next series of discussion workshops organised by Alison Williams of Merton UNA in November will focus on disarmament, including three sessions on nuclear disarmament. The first of five weekly sessions will be on Monday 2nd November, 7·30–9pm at 11 Wilberforce House, 119 Worple Rd, London SW20 8ET, and will address the question of why nations — including our own — give such value to weapons.
RSVP to Alison: 8944 0574.
We have been busy this summer with a presence at many local events, displaying our new Wimbledon banner, handing out leaflets and collecting signatures as well as raising funds for the group. Collaboration with colleagues in the CND Umbrella group has extended the geographical range of these activities and conclusively proved the value of joint action as we pool people and skills. On August Bank Holiday we were even able to be at two events simultaneously, with CND stalls at both the huge Ecolocal environmental fair in Carshalton (London Borough of Sutton) and at the hastily arranged Merton event in Morden Park which took the place of the traditional Lions Club Fair. The Lloyd Park World Fair on August 1st and the Heathfields Ecology Centre environmental fair on September 19th (London Borough of Croydon) provided the Umbrella Group with further opportunities and a small event at Mitcham’s ‘Hub’ on September 20th (raising money for Cancer Research) enabled us to ‘fly the flag’ in new territory. Thank you to the essential transport volunteers and stall helpers who rallied round on all these occasions. The bright orange Umbrella Group brollies have proved their worth in both sun and rain but are a serious liability in strong wind! (See our website for pictures: http://www.wdc-cnd.org.uk/Photos/photo3.html)
Christmas catalogues are beginning to arrive in the post so we make no apology for giving our CND stock a plug. Please consider buying the attractive London Region Christmas cards at only £4·50 for ten cards plus envelopes, or the slightly more expensive witty Leeds cards (“Snowmen against global warming” etc.) We also have a stock of very reasonably priced goods that would make excellent and unusual Christmas presents: cushion covers, purses, scarves, wallets and bags of different sizes and descriptions, general-purpose greeting cards, notelets, fridge magnets and sets of nesting ‘Russian dolls’ depicting owls and cats as well as people of various nationalities. Nothing is more than £10 and most items are below £5.
Visit our stall at our November 10th public meeting, bring your purse when you come to one of the WDC/CND Sunday films or get in touch with Joanna (8543 0362) to arrange a mutually convenient time to view.
WDC/CND and vigil member Jill Beauchamp spent a weekend recently at the monthly Aldermaston Women’s Peace Camp. She was given a warm welcome and found it a worthwhile and interesting experience but evocative memories of her teenage self at Greenham Common inevitably kept intruding (“a bit creepy,” she felt; “a bit like going back in time”). In fact two of the regular Aldermaston campers had carried on ‘direct action’ campaigning without break since Greenham Common days. Jill was met at the railway station, given the use of a spare tent and included in the communal catering arrangements.
The previous camp had taken the form of a party to celebrate the women’s court victory in defeating attempts to impose bye-law legislation that would have closed the camp, so this month it was ‘down to business’ as they discussed future actions and strategy for outreach in Reading, their new blog and website, and general financial matters. “Definitely 21st century campaigning,” reports Jill, with memories of an IT-free Greenham.
The level of commitment shown was “awesome” with the women “prepared to take risks, confront and challenge — and relish it”. But one of the other visitors to the camp was a local resident who had started a petition against radiation and leukæmia 24 years ago when her own children were born, and is quietly supportive of the camp in many ways (as well as being an excellent source of local information).
Modern peace camping does not involve roughing it. You certainly do not have to be a ‘hard core’ full-time campaigner as you will be made very welcome for the whole or part of a weekend. “Go and see for yourself” urges Jill — but women only, we’re afraid!
2nd weekend each month, Aldermaston Women’s Peace Camp, AWE Aldermaston. Info: 07969 739 812. http://www.aldermaston.net/camp/visit.php
We have nominated the plane tree at the entrance to St Mark’s Place, the site of our weekly vigil since 2001, as our entry for this year’s Merton Tree Wardens ‘favourite tree’ competition.