In an interview in the French newspaper l’Humanité in August, lawyer Claire Rodier, co-founder of the Migreurop network, denounced the stranglehold that the security industries, new technologies and armaments are having on the politics of European migration. She said that Frontex (the European Border and Coastguard Agency) is the most well equipped and funded of all the EU agencies, and since its creation it has served as interface between the industrialists and the deciders, becoming a new windfall for the arms merchants. It quickly surpassed its initial mission of coordination and is now an agency with full latitude to work on its own initiatives.
She added that there was, however, some sign that Frontex’s impunity was being challenged: for the first time, a complaint against the agency, concerning the illegal driving of migrants back from the Greek coasts, has been judged admissible before the European Court of Justice. Also, some MEPs were starting to highlight the total absence of transparency and democratic control.
Are things as bad, or worse, in the UK? It is more than ironic that we have a UK Government that has taken us out of the European Union, where we might have acted more constructively on helping migrants, especially the asylum-seeking refugees from the Middle East and Africa. Instead, we have supposedly responsible ministers openly proposing similar actions in the English Channel.
It is not accidental that we are now in this terrible bind of insecurity, given the speed with which the British and the French divested themselves of their empires in the years following WWII, generally leaving the countries open for further exploitation. It is also important not to lose sight of the still-strategic importance of Middle Eastern oil.
But we can hope. In the 1970s, the Middle East was safe enough for many Westerners to travel overland to Afghanistan on the so-called ‘Hippy Trail’ (my young female cousin, for one). Young Afghanis aspired to travel themselves and were keen on things Western, despite what their parents thought.
At that time the US and the Russians were vying with each other to build factories and roads for the Afghanis, but two decades on, the ‘democratic’ countries of the West failed to show the attractive side of democracies, which they could have done by co-operating and building more (literally and figuratively). Another three decades on, with more US-led interference and imposition, with arms built and supplied by the USA and the UK, in the succession of wars in the Middle Eastern countries, what would have been the natural progression of young populations towards a more egalitarian future has been reversed.
It is now a much harder problem that must be resolved by patient diplomacy to help an Afghanistan ravaged by years of war. Dare I suggest it, as soon as Covid permits, I hope there will be a reflowering of tourism in the lands of the cradle of civilisation.
We were lucky with the weather this year; there was a veritable cloudburst of rain all day, continuing until well after 5pm, but then the sun came out and a sharp, cold wind blew the remains of the clouds away. So we were able to set up the tables without too much trouble and lots of helpers.
There was an immediate queue of people wanting to fold their own boats: young and old alike, friends and strangers, all successful, all pleased with their efforts. And for the children it ws a great opportunity to think about Peace, and to write their thoughts on their boats as they were being folded. The various readings and writings were moving, poignant and laced with an icy wind, as the sun sank below the horizon. A bit of a rush to get candles lit and boats floated, and then a beautiful stream of boats tacked their way across Rushmere, into the night: the souls of the departed. We picked up the boats later.
Thanks to everyone who helped with the Peace Table on 11th September. It was great to share our pavement spot with the Stand Up to Racism stall. Lots of interest and engagement in the issues we were highlighting: prioritising spending on the NHS and not more nuclear weapons, talking about the UN Treaty banning nuclear weapons, and the Arms Fair that was taking place at the Excel Centre. Lots of support for Refugees from young and old alike. A huge ‘thank you’, as ever to Gill McCall for producing a marvellous eye-catching display for the stall. See you on 9th October for the next one!
At the beginning of September we held a social event to raise funds for WDC/CND. Since Joanna Bazley died three years ago we have not had a Fete of the Earth, which used to be our main yearly fundraiser. About 15 members and friends gathered at Brigitte and David’s beautiful Arts and Crafts house in Raynes Park. Brigitte generously provided the venue along with bread and soup, and each guest brought a dessert. Prizes were donated for a raffle, which Gill organised.
It was a very successful evening. We not only had the opportunity to meet socially, which has been sadly lacking over the past year, but saw Brigitte’s amazing house. A total of £400 was raised from the entrance fee of £5 and donations. We hope to be able to hold similar events in the future so watch this space.
During an ongoing public health crisis, how could the government justify such a shocking misallocation of funds? In a TUC Fringe on-line meeting on September 13th, Samantha Mason (Public & Commercial Services Union) expressed disappointment in the Unions seeing the Green agenda as a threat rather than an opportunity, and failing to advance Defence Diversification. Although there was general agreement that something must be done, there was stalemate over the details of how to reduce emissions. Climate change is here and nuclear weapons do nothing to address that fact.
Dr John Puntis (Co-Chair of Keep our NHS Public) spoke about the Health & Social Care Bill now before Parliament: no attempt was made to consult healthcare staff or patients in drawing it up. It is the wrong bill at the wrong time, learning the wrong lessons and addressing the wrong priorities. Chronic underfunding, understaffing and insufficient capacity — all three were serious before but greatly exacerbated by the pandemic. The massive PPE contracts given to friends of the government were scandalous and the basic narrative needs to be changed: public services are not a drain on the economy but should be invested in as a national asset. Paying staff a decent wage would be a good start.
Kate Hudson (CND) added that the lesson from Afghanistan is clear: you don’t get security by bombing people and sending troops to occupy their land. Security comes from meeting basic human needs and social justice: jobs, clean air, safe streets and yes, decent pay for nurses.
Once again, we will be taking part in Merton’s civic ceremony of remembrance at the Wimbledon War Memorial. Alison and one other member of the group will lay our unique white and red poppy wreath (red poppies for remembrance, and white poppies for ‘never again’), after which we will hold our own short ceremony of readings and renewed dedication for peace. Please join us if you can, at Wimbledon War Memorial on the Common from 10·40 am on Sunday 14th November. White poppies will be available at the October and November Peace Tables.
The annual Remembrance Day lecture organised by the Movement for the Abolition of War will this year be given by Asad Rehman, Executive Director of War on Want. It will be on Zoom from 2·00pm on the 14th November. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/2021-maw-remembrance-lecture-asad-rehman-tickets-168973900485.
The overall message of a three-hour gathering in Conway Hall on 18th September was that the anti-war movement was right in 2001 and remains right now: military interventions are not the way to prevent terrorism or build democracies. The conclusion of the AUKUS Pact in the week of this conference shows that our leaders have not learned the lessons from Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. They invest £billions in a delusion of security through armed force while real security lies in meeting basic human needs in solidarity.
The Police Bill and its attempt to restrict civil liberties was condemned and attention was drawn to the incongruity of creating waves of refugees through endless bombing and refusing them entry to our safe space. A YouTube recording covers the whole event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWXCKHkQDOc.
The conclusion of the meeting was that “Hope and space” are what will bring real change to the world. Our investment should be in getting over Covid, protecting the environment, dealing with global inequality and providing water, sanitation and healthcare for everyone everywhere.
You will recall that, thanks to the efforts of Maisie and Gill, the group submitted a textile panel to the Loving Earth Project. Panels have been submitted by a wide variety of groups and organisations, and currently total over 300. They will be taken to the COP26 conference in November.
There have been various exhibitions organised throughout the UK already, and a selection of panels, including ours, will be on display in Wimbledon Library in the first half of October; we have no further details as of yet. Visit https://lovingearth-project.uk/ for more information and to see some examples of the beautiful work that has been submitted.
Representatives of London CND groups met on-line on 13th September to report: wet weather had threatened some of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki commemorations but like our own the poetry readings, peace picnics and vigils were encouraging and inspiring. The main collective ceremony in Tavistock Square was well attended with one big take away for Carol Turner (Chair of London Region CND): the statistics for the section livestreamed on Facebook had been “mind-blowing” — 47,000 had clicked onto the event.
The rest of the meeting focused on this year’s CND conference, its theme “No New Nuclear Arms Race”. Once again it will be an online event with one day (Saturday 16 October) for the AGM and policy matters and a second ‘public’ one with speakers and discussion on the theme (Sunday 24 October). Branches have submitted fewer resolutions than usual this year which will allow time for those there are to be explored in depth. Watch this space for a summary!
CND’s AGM and annual conference, this year entitled “No New Nuclear Arms Race”, will be held on-line on Saturday 16th October (AGM and Policy conference) and Sunday 24th October (public conference for discussion and debate). Alison Williams and William Rhind will be participating as delegates from WDC/CND.
A letter from WDC/CND and Merton UNA has been sent to the leader of Merton Council, Mark Allison, urging him to present a resolution to the Council supporting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. A suggested text was included, stressing the grave humanitarian and environmental threat that nuclear weapons pose to communities throughout the world. The letter was signed by 14 members (and friends of members) who were present at the Social Fundraiser on 4th September. In addition, Alison Williams has copied the letter with covering notes to her three Hillside Ward Councillors (she has received a polite but unsupportive reply from one of them). Other members of the Steering Committee will also be contacting their Ward councillors.
Our Common Agenda is the UN Secretary-General’s response to the 2020 General Assembly’s call for concrete proposals to address current crises. This new report has a comprehensive and honest analysis of global realities followed by a series of detailed and practical proposals for ways forward: https://www.un.org/en/content/common-agenda-report/
Our Common Agenda is a good read, all said, in accessible language with little UN jargon. There’s a strong emphasis on the need for trust-building and inclusivity. Governments, the private sector, trade unions, indigenous peoples, NGOs and community groups all need to be heard. Those who are marginalised need to be empowered by a new Social Contract.
Global cooperation is necessary now more than ever and, despite tensions, national and sectional interests must not prevent it. The Town Crier of mediæval times told people what they needed to hear, and in a similar rôle the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, tells the world, including its most powerful individuals and organisations, what they need to hear. He offers a Common Agenda based on global consultations. Let’s hope the General Assembly welcomes it and that the COP26 Summit shows it is taken seriously. As the Secretary-General recently said at the annual General Assembly gathering, “We are on the edge of an abyss and moving in the wrong direction, we must get serious, and we must act fast.”