‘Readings in Nonviolence’ features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)n bringing together different sectors.
By Leonna O’Neill, Faslane Peace Camp, who is originally from Belfast
Faslane Peace Camp is a protest site against the Faslane Naval Base, home to Trident, the British Nuclear Weapons Programme situated on the Gare Loch, 30 miles from Glasgow on Scotland’s west coast. The British Nuclear Weapons Programme consists of four nuclear powered Vanguard Class submarines, at least one of which is on patrol at all times as a continuous at-sea deterrent, armed with up to 16 Trident missiles and around 48 nuclear warheads.
As I sit down to write this I get a text from a friend saying “Vanguard Class submarine coming your way”. We (all three of us who are here this week) go down to the Gare Loch to watch. We take a canoe, just in case, and some flags and banners but it’s pitch black and I doubt that they even know we’re here. Something we could use to our advantage if there was only a few more of us.
I don’t know why I go down to the Loch and watch them come in and out. They make me feel sick in my stomach. A big, black, visceral reminder of why the Peace Camp was founded 29 years ago and why it is important that it is still here. That we are here.
The camp has had many ups and downs over the years and with the exception of Faslane 365 (a year long blockade of the Naval Base in 2007 choreographed by Trident Ploughshares) I would have to concede that most of the last decade has been a period of relative inactivity in comparison to the camp’s auspicious past. “Faslane Peace Camp” and being a “Peace Camper” can sometimes conjure up negative responses from the wider peace movement as a result of this. But the fact of the matter is that there is no organisation known as Faslane Peace Camp; it is merely a collection of caravans by the side of the road leading to the naval base with the potential of facilitating action. The activity (or inactivity) emanating from this place is merely the sum total of the efforts of those living here at any given time. It is true that in recent years the camp had fallen into the wrong hands but the new group of us here now are working hard to move the camp in the right direction.
Certainly when those of us here now arrived there was a lot of D.I.Y work to be done to redress a long period of neglect. We were also faced with the task of raising money to pay the substantial water and phone bills that had been run up by the last inhabitants. All of this is now in hand and the sole task that remains is for us is to attract the right people here and send a renewed message to the Scottish and U.K government that we can no longer tolerate their blatant disregard of their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and, more importantly, that we will not be silent as the foundations are surreptitiously being laid for a Trident replacement.
Sometimes, because there is so few of us, being powerless to do much Direct Action, we feel like glorified caretakers of the site. We paint things, mend fences, patch roofs, dismantle and rebuild in a constant and repetitive cat and mouse game with Scotland’s west coast weather. As we live without electricity, much of our days in these winter months are spent simply keeping on top of the wood that we need to cook and keep ourselves dry and warm.
It is true that we could make life much easier for ourselves with a few mod cons, but all of us here are concerned with more than just nuclear weapons and a balance between an environmentally low impact lifestyle and a functioning campaign against the greatest evil in the world is a tough nut to crack, especially with the four or five of us permanently living here at the moment.
Though, although numbers are low, our spirits are high (like the recent winds!). We have adopted residency and alcohol policies to ensure past mistakes are not repeated and recent technological developments, such as the reconnection of our phone line and a bicycle generator have enabled us to get the internet which will greatly enhance our ability to network and mobilise and we will be using this to proliferate our efforts against Trident in 2012. To this end, our new website is currently under construction. We are forging new friendships through holding regular skill share and D.I.Y events and inviting groups to come here and take action and we can feel our support growing slowly but surely as the months pass by.
In October, the formidable and mischievous women of Aldermaston paid us a great compliment in deciding to forgo their usual camp spot at Aldermaston and, instead, hold their monthly gathering at Faslane Peace Camp (a sign that our efforts to change the reputation of the camp in the peace movement circles is paying off). It was wonderful to have such positive and interesting characters around. We decided to do an action but to avoid arrest. We held a banner march to the North Gate, partly blocking the road and then blocking the gate itself.
The theme was Domestic Extremists at Large, the message: “we are witness to your War Crimes”. Donning rubber gloves and headscarves, shammies in hand, we took to the road. The mood was light-hearted and jovial in spite of the weather and the weight of our cause. In our pre-action discussions we outlined our mutual safety agreements and personal boundaries and agreed that to avoid arrest we would get off the road as soon as we were prompted with an arrest warning. Such a warning never came, and so we successfully blockaded the North Gate of Faslane Naval Base (at one point preventing the entry of NATO trucks) with just a minor telling off by the MoD police Inspector.
Another group to pay us great compliment in coming to visit in recent months was the World Council of Churches Group who came in early November accompanied by John Ainslie, secretary of Scottish CND. Our motley crew of odd dwellings and colourful artwork, juxtaposed with bicycle generators and piles of wood, conjured up a mixed response from those present, ranging from the impressed to the somewhat bemused!
In the coming weeks, we will be hosting a skill share for some members of Occupy Belfast who were quite taken by the thought of paying Faslane a visit when one of the peace campers, whilst visiting family in Ireland, gave a workshop on non-violent direct action and the illegality of nuclear weapons. They will be coming all the way from Belfast to directly express their own concerns on the cost of a Trident replacement. Something only too relevant in light of recent developments that the MoD is spending £2billion on new nuclear weapons plants (www.guardian.co.uk) despite the democratic decision to replace Trident having allegedly not yet been made.
We hold a weekly vigil at the North Gate every Wednesday from 4 to 5, attended by the Peace Campers and a few die-hard veterans of the Peace movement who are our inspiration to do better. This week’s vigil saw us huddled under an umbrella, battling with the sleet to sign cards for the six Peace Prisoners currently serving a variety of sentences up to 15months in the US for trespassing at Y12 nuclear weapons complex. A poignant reminder of worldwide dedication to this cause, our cause, but also perhaps of our own failings as a national movement. In a country where public opinion and, hitherto, legal proceedings are on our side, we fail to push the boundaries in order to have our voices heard.
On November 27th 1300 protesters were detained by German police for blockading a train carrying nuclear waste from France. I continuously ask myself why our anti-nuclear movement lacks this kind of momentum and, moreover, why we are not attracting a generation of younger people? Standing with a placard in the rain, laying on the road “locked on” or even living somewhere like Faslane Peace Camp is not everyone’s cup of tea, but quite frankly, nor is it mine on a wintry day. But even less so is a world categorised by a continuous threat of nuclear war or an accident in the handling and transporting of this abhorrent technology.
Every time I have a terrible dream about the devastation that is stored in the beautiful hills that I can see from my caravan window, I wake up with a renewed belief in what we are doing, in what I am doing, as little as it is. But there is a foreboding sense of needing to do more. It is with all of us here at the Camp and dominates much of our conversation and every day worries. We need more people, more interest, more activity.
For now we content ourselves with the maxim “nobody made a greater mistake than s/he who did nothing because s/he could only do a little” (Edmund Burke). The anti nuclear movement, our anti nuclear movement, is not one that has failed but one that simply hasn’t yet succeeded.
We will be touring around and hosting workshops on the issues surrounding the British Nuclear Weapons Programme and Non-Violent Direct Action in the coming months. If you would like us to host a workshop near you please contact us.
If you would like to visit the camp, we can facilitate individuals or groups who wish to demonstrate or take Non-Violent Direct Action. We can host Direct Action workshops and have all the information on the consequences of taking Direct Action at Faslane. We are wheelchair accessible, have hot running water and comfortable sleeping arrangements and camping space. We are non-hierarchical, decisions are group consensus based and we share all chores. Visitors can experience a hands on approach to environmentally low impact, communal living. Contact us on 01436 820901 or 07511793227, e-mail Faslane30@riseup.net or write to us at Faslane Peace Camp, Shandon, Helensburgh, G84 8NN. We have a Safe Space, Residency and Alcohol Policy.
See also Editorial in this issue