Bibi van der Zee
Published 30 July 2009 in New Statesman
There were no police at the Peace News Summer Camp, held in a field in Oxfordshire from 23-27 July: no stop-and-search, no barricade, no line of frowning coppers. "One policeman did drop by," said an organiser, "but we were in the middle of a workshop so he said he'd come back later, and I don't think he did."
But police intelligence is, as ever, faulty. Two of the organisers were breaking court dates to be there, and another camper, Susan Clarkson (in her sixties), had come straight from prison, where she spent 21 days for causing criminal damage to the Northwood airbase. "I painted a sign red and cut a wire fence. And then I wouldn't pay the fine." She had exacted a gentle vengeance by "spending some of the money they gave me on my release on my fare here".
Of the hundred or so people at the camp, many have done jail time, or at least been arrested. There were veterans from Greenham, and younger activists who have been at Faslane or Aldermaston, where arrest is all in a day's work. "It's not a badge of honour," they say, but more something they take for granted as part of the work of campaigning against war. It's true that they are not hardened criminals, but they do not shy away from confrontation. Workshops - on subjects ranging from Chomsky and protest camps to Iraq and non-violence - were energetically argued, and the discussion of non-violence reportedly got a little fraught.
There are plenty who wonder what, really, is the point. After I was ejected from one meeting because there were objections to having journalists present, several people approached me to register their dismay: "We spend all our time moaning about not getting any support or coverage, and
then we go and do this!" Another long-time campaigner described the peace movement as a series of peaks and troughs. "Is the movement on a peak or in a trough at the moment?" I asked. "Um. A bit of a trough, I suppose."
The general consensus was that the failure to prevent the Iraq war had been a huge blow, and that the wind had gone out of the sails of attempts to shut down US and UK military bases around the country. It hasn't helped that a lot of young campaigners are gravitating towards the environmental movement: Jamie, who lived outside Faslane for a couple of years, has relocated to Mainshill, an anti-opencast coal mine campaign in Scotland where, he says, the protesters are welcomed by local people, rather than disliked because they are perceived as campaigning against much-needed jobs.
But the result of the peace camp was a visible renewal of confidence and energy (plus a talent show which, apparently, nearly brought down the marquee). "Our aim," said Milan Rai, one of the organisers, "was community-building, getting people together. I've had people coming up to me with suggestions for another event all week. I think it will go forward both as a national network, and as a renewed focus on events such as the Aldermaston blockade in February and the DSEi arms fair in September. We'll definitely do it again next year."
This article was originally published on 30 July 2009 in the New Stateman ("Obama's Empire" issue)
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