Coordinator Trip Report from Britain
28 Aug - 10 Sept 2007
From: Bruce Gagnon
This report covers the period of August 28 - September 10 as I travelled to England, Wales, and Scotland for a speaking tour.
I was picked up in the Manchester, England airport by Dave Webb who serves as the chairperson of the Global Network and also for the Yorkshire Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Dave is a professor of Engineering at Leeds Metropolitan University and is now, to his great delight, teaching a peace studies class at the school. It was Dave who initiated and coordinated my speaking tour. In addition to all the rest he is doing in his busy life, Dave also serves as the web master for the Global Network's website.
My first talk was in Hebden Bridge, a beautiful hilly town in Yorkshire, that was once a major textile manufacturing site. Before the talk Dave and I walked along the canals that run through the community and he showed me the ancient locks that are still used to raise and lower boats. Helen John and Sylvia Boyes came to hear me speak. They both go on trial soon for walking onto the U.S. spy base at Menwith Hill (in Yorkshire) in violation of the new "anti-terrorism" law. They face one year in jail.
On August 31 Dave and I took the train to London and stayed the night in the home of Bruce Kent and his wife Valerie. Bruce is a renowned peace campaigner in Britain and former clergyman. The next day we attended a day long conference hosted by national CND entitled "Missile Defense: U.S. Plans to Divide Europe andSurround Russia". The event was attended by key activists from throughout Europe including key leaders from the movements in Poland and the Czech Republic that are organizing to oppose the Bush administrations plan to deploy "missile defense" interceptors and radar facilities in their countries. The mayor of the small village of Brdy in the Czech Republic, the place where the Pentagon wants to deploy the Star Wars radar, reported that everyone except one person in his community had voted against the radar in a recent referendum. He has now formed a "league of mayors" in his region and already 85 have signed up. I addressed the conference on the current U.S. military strategy of "pre-emptive attack" and "space control and domination" and then also facilitated a workshop, along with Menwith Hill peace campaigner Lindis Percy. You can read the conference statement at this link: http://www.cnduk.org/pages/1septst.pdf
That evening I was escorted on the train to Oxford by Gawain Little and the next day spoke at an event in the Oxford City Hall. The Lord Mayor of Oxford showed up during the question and answer period of my talk and afterward he and I were taken 30 miles from Oxford to a U.S. high-tech space military communications relay base called RAF Croughton. There the Lord Mayor and I planted a tree in preparation for Keep Space for Peace Week that this year will run from October 4-13. Local organizers wanted to use the tree planting as a news story to promote awareness about the space week protest planned at Croughton.
Next I took the train to Cardiff in Wales and spoke that evening at the Temple of Peace which is used by many non-governmental organizations as offices and meeting space. Stephen Thomas, the director of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs which is housed inside the Temple of Peace, took me to dinner at a wonderful Turkish restaurant before my talk. Stephen was a delightful and thoughtful man and his quiet humor easily won me over.
My next day was spent in the hands of a kind Quaker couple in Bridgend, Wales. Pete Thompson and his wife Ann took me for a picnic lunch at the seaside and then a wonderful walk along the towering cliffs overlooking the water. That evening I spoke at the Quaker Meeting House in their community.
The next leg of the trip was to Aberystwyth, Wales which sits right along the Cardigan Bay. I was driven to Aberystwyth by CND Cymru (Wales) worker Jill Gough who clearly explained to me the fierce Wales independent streak and corrected my use of the words "United Kingdom" and "Great Britain." We are not "united" she said and we don't think Britain is "great." If you are referring to England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland then call it "Britain" she instructed me. Jill also delighted in sharing wonderful stories about the amazing Welsh country side - pointing out the working class mining communities and the magical mountains and rivers.
When we arrived in Aberystwyth Jill took me to the home of Lotte Reimer and her husband Kelvin Mason. They live in a beautiful stone farm house by the incredible cliffs overlooking the water. Lotte took us for a walk through the rolling hills, watching our step as we went to avoid the sheep droppings that were as plentiful as the woolly creatures. That evening my talked was welcomed by a political community choir called Coe Gobaith that was singing as people entered the hall where I was to speak. Their rendition of Finlandia brought tears to my eyes as they sung the words:
I knew this group in Aberystwyth was a special bunch because afterwards about 30 of the nearly 100 who had attended my talk went to a near-by pub for a beer and more discussion. Beautiful Welsh folk music could be heard from a corner of the pub. Lotte and Kelvin are leading activists in the peace and environmental movement. They had recently helped to organize "Climate Camp" near Heathrow airport in London where 1,500 activists gathered for training and a series of non-violent actions at various key targets. They used "clowning" as a way to bring a lighter side to the protests and publish a local newsletter called the Cambrian Snooze.
Next I spoke in Oswestry, which sits right on the border of Wales and England and from there was taken back to Leeds by my old friend Jo Berry from Liverpool and her husband Bill. Jo, on a previous visit to Liverpool, had made sure that I went on the Magical Mystery Tour that retraces the roots of The Beatles.
On September 7 Dave Webb took me to RAF Fylingdales in the North York Moor national park. We were joined by local activist Jackie Fearnley and the three of us went for a pre-arranged meeting with the commander of Fylingdales. Fylingdales has been the site of a U.S. early warning radar for the past 44 years and is now being upgraded for Star Wars. Commander Nick Loveday gave us a tour of the facility as well as a 40-minute PowerPoint briefing on the history and current role of the facility. Similar U.S. radar bases are also located at Beale AFB, California, Clear AFS, Alaska, Cape Cod AFS, Massachusetts, and Thule Air Base, Greenland. All of them are being upgraded for a role in Star Wars. Other U.S. and NATO radars are also to be brought on-line for the space weapons warfare program.
Our meeting with the commander was quite cordial and I was surprised to learn that she was going to come to listen to my talk later that evening in the nearby seaside town of Whitby. So indeed later that night the commander did show up and took notes while I spoke. After my talk she was asked by one man in the audience for her reaction to what I had to say. Her answer was, "I did not hear anything I disagree with, but I did not agree with everything he said." I think that meant that she had no disagreement factually with anything I said but then did not necessarily agree with my political analysis of what is going on. Fair enough.
My last stop was Scotland - the British Faslane Trident nuclear submarine base. Dave drove us the five hours north to the base, just west of Glasgow. For the past year there has been a campaign underway at the base called Faslane 365. The goal has been to have daily protests and non-violent civil disobedience actions to highlight the current plans of the British government to upgrade the Trident nuclear missile. So far 950 people have been arrested. Dave and I had been invited to come and do a Global Network day at the base to highlight the connection to U.S. plans to move the arms race into space. After speaking to assembled supporters we both took our Global Network banner that said Keep Space for Peace on it and we blocked the entrance to the base briefly halting traffic. We were quickly handcuffed and removed from the area and taken to the jail in Clydebank some 30 minutes away. This being a Saturday we were told we'd be in jail until Monday which created a problem for me as I was to fly home early Monday morning from Manchester, some seven hours away. I told the jailers of my dilemma and as a result we only spent one night in jail as we were released before noon on Sunday.
After a quick meal prepared by Faslane 365 organizers Dave and I were off in his car back to Leeds. We hoped to make it back in time to hear Cynthia McKinney speak at Leeds Metropolitan University that evening. We made it and Cynthia was surprised to hear me call her name when she entered the hall as we had just had a series of email exchanges the week before and neither of us knew that we'd run into each other in Leeds. At that time Cynthia was considering seeking the Green Party presidential nomination in 2008 but just days ago she decided not to run. A severe disappointment for me.
This was an exciting, whirlwind trip and one that I will long remember for its wonderful walks, beautiful sites, and making contact with dedicated activists. I am grateful to Dave and CND for having me come to Britain and to all who hosted me.
One last thought. After each of my talks people would ask me what the peace movement was doing in the U.S. to oppose the occupation of Iraq and the likely attack on Iran. They said they did not get any real information about our movement, just as we in the U.S. don't hear much about the movements in Britain. I told them to regularly check the web site called AfterDowningStreet.Org This site has become one of my favorite sources to monitor the grassroots movement in the U.S. around Iraq and impeachment of Bush-Cheney. I check it several times a day. Please do the same.
My next trip will be during Keep Space for Peace Week as I go to Omaha, Nebraska from October 4-12 to participate in protests around StratCom. The Global Network affiliate group Nebraskans for Peace is organizing a series of events during that week that will include their annual conference, lectures, and protests.
Please consider organizing a local event in your community during our space week of events next month.