Coordinator Trip Report - Great Britain

1-10 October 2005

From: Bruce Gagnon

This trip report covers the period of October 1-10, 2005 as I traveled to Great Britain to attend a conference and do a speaking tour of the country.  The trip was timed in conjunction with the Global Network's annual Keep Space for Peace Week.

After an overnight flight I landed in Manchester on October 1 and quickly grabbed the train north to Leeds just in time to speak on a panel of U.S. activists at a conference at Leeds Metropolitan University called "Knocking on Heaven's Door: A Conference on Space Security."  Also speaking on the panel were Stacey Fritz from the Alaskan anti-Star Wars group called No Nukes North and Denis Apel who runs the Guadalupe Catholic Worker House near Vandenberg AFB in California.  The conference was organized by Yorkshire Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

The conference was attended by key space activists from throughout England and the level of discussion was excellent.  Kate Hudson, national chair of CND, reported that at the recent Labour party conference Prime Minister Tony Blair had made a speech saying that "Britain must remain the U.S.'s strongest ally."  Blair also told the assembled that it was "Right for Britain to be at the forefront in these conflicts [Iraq, Afghanistan wars and participation in Star Wars]."

During one part of the Labour party conference, that took place right before I arrived, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was defending the Iraq war.  Founding CND member, 82 year-old Walter Wolfgang, stood up and shouted "Nonsense" at Mr. Straw.  Wolfgang, who had escaped Nazi Germany during WW II, was thrown out of the Labour party conference, arrested and detained by police.  This became a huge media story and throughout my travels across the country during the next week it was a constant topic of conversation.  The media attention to the strong-arming of Mr. Wolfgang was so big that Tony Blair had to go on national TV to apologize.  The incident heightened concerns about the growing restriction of civil liberties in Britain.  People recalled that in its heyday, the Labour Party was the scene of intense and vigorous debate.  Now, after years of Tony Blair's deadening influence, the party conference has primarily become a public relations event.  (Much like the Democratic Party conventions in the U.S.)

Following the conference, Global Network leaders Dave Webb and Dave Knight, along with their wives, took me to a concert in Newcastle to see my all-time favorite musician Ray Davies, the singer-songwriter extraordinaire from The Kinks fame.  In my many years of following Davies, I had only seen him perform once before, and that was in a huge arena.  This time we sat in the lower balcony of the intimate Journal Tyne Theatre.  Davies mixed many of his old hits with songs from a forthcoming album.  I was delighted to be there as I sang along.  I conclude my new book with two of his songs.

Next up was a whirlwind speaking tour of the country as Dave Knight drove me over 1,500 miles from Leeds to Coventry, London, Cardiff in Wales, Manchester, Glasgow in Scotland, Menwith Hill, Grassington, and finally to Fylingdales.

In Cardiff I was invited to meet with several members of the Welsh National Assembly and their staffers.  There is interest in bringing a resolution to the assembly that would speak out against the weaponization of space.  Jill Stallard, from CND Cymru, skillfully facilitated that meeting as well as my evening talk at the Temple of Peace, one of the best attended during my trip.  At each stop I would speak about the latest developments in U.S. space control and domination planning and Bush's "military transformation" program that is now underway.  Then, after I spoke, Dave would give the audience the latest news on the Blair government's growing involvement in the U.S. Star Wars program.  That evening Jill took us to her home and we sat around over food and wine discussing what it meant to be political activists in these trying times. 

On October 8 Dave drove through the rain to the U.S. spy satellite base at Menwith Hill which is located in the Yorkshire Dales.  Surrounded by rolling green hills of cows and sheep, Menwith Hill stands out with its huge white golfball looking "radomes" that are used to intercept all phone, fax, and e-mail communications from the European continent.  The base is now being upgraded for participation in Star Wars.  Outside the base we found a group of over 60 persons in a large circle pounding on drums and using various noise makers.  Led by Lindis Percy from CAAB, the protest was watched by a large contingent of British police.  Separating the base from the demonstration was a long line of upside-down American flags with messages written on them - like NO STAR WARS - planted by the activists.  There, in the cold and rain, I told the assembled about many of the other Keep Space for Peace actions being held that week.  I reminded them that this symbolic holding of hands around the world strengthened us all.

On October 9 Dave drove me to the North Yorkshire Moors where the U.S. has a phased-array radar facility at Fylingdales.  The radar is a key part of the U.S. Star Wars infrastructure and has been the site of protest by British activists for many years.  On this weekend there was a peace camp set up just across the road from the Fylingdales main gate and I had been invited to come and plant a tree in honor of a recently deceased American jazz musician who had moved to the area years ago and was a loyal supporter of peace activities at the base.  There I met a group led by Sylvia Boyes, Helen John, and Jackie Fearnley who themselves are key space protest leaders.  After the tree planting and some brief words, we "nipped around" to Jackie's wonderful old stone home in nearby Goathland.  This was the second time I had visited Fylingdales and then gone to Jackie's for tea and biscuits with others.  As we sat around the her large kitchen table I remembered how important the human dimension is to organizing.  We must, I feel, always make time to share food and relaxed time with other activists.  It is these moments of joy, laughter, and heartfelt sharing that sustain us through the difficult times we now face.

While on the trip, during the Q & A following my talks, I was always asked why the American people allow the U.S. to go around the world doing preemptive military invasions, and now sit back and watch plans for domination of space.  How do the American people respond to your message I was asked over and over again?  What are they doing to stop this "nonsense?"  How can they let Bush get away with this?  Why does the U.S. think they have the right to destroy the U.N.?  Why don't Americans speak out more about corporate globalization?

I had answers for each of these questions, as you can imagine.  But how would you answer them if you had been in my shoes?  What would you tell a room of questioning Brits?  How would you respond when asked why Americans let the corporations take over our democracy?

My thanks to all those who made this trip back to Great Britain so special for me.  We should all be proud of the determined efforts of activists there to keep space for peace.


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