Four weeks prison, suspended six month, and £201 in restitution, for the Vine & Fig Tree Planters.
Who is responsible for disarming and transforming the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston?
On Saturday 6th August I found myself in front of three Reading magistrates for planting vines and fig trees at the nearby Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston. It felt an appropriate place to be on the sixtieth anniversary of the mass incineration of one hundred thousand civilians in deliberately hitherto undisturbed Hiroshima.
Along with ten others from the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands, Ireland and Australia I had, the previous dawn, planted five small vines and fig trees both outside and inside Aldermastons perimeter fence. Arresting Ministry of Defence police were offered a choice of grapes or fig rolls; some accepted.
The vines and figs came, so to speak, from the prophet Micah. Many will be aware of the first lines of the prophecy that inspired us swords into ploughshares being a direct prophetic crib of the words of Isaiah made particularly famous by their inscription on the Isaiah Wall near the UN Headquarters in New York. Micah fleshed out Isaiahs vision into a poetic manifesto that still burns urgently thousands of years beyond its writing:
In these times of mutual threat and violence, in which unexamined fears seem capable of manifesting themselves with uncanny precision, its worth considering any advice, however old, for getting to a place where no one will make [us] afraid.
First up: disarmament. The nuclear swords should be hammered, the cluster-bomb-tipped spears too. Taking that responsibility upon our shoulders and within our elbows means risking prison.
Second: the military economy should be converted, into ploughs and pruning hooks, into peaceful and appropriate technologies and skills, into health and education and leisure into whatever tickles our fancy. To update the postcard that adorned so many fridges in the eighties: It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the military has to collect Tesco vouchers in order to buy a new bomber.
Third: no more fighting. And no more threats of fighting. Theres enough understanding and experience of creative conflict resolution, enough good people willing to offer their services, enough will and imagination in the world to sink the need for battleships once and for all.
Fourth: no more training for war. Demilitarise our culture, de-glorify war for our children, teach ourselves basic emotional literacy and conflict-solving skills, offer working class men and their higher class superiors genuine forms of travel and adventure.
Fifth: give people back their vines and fig trees. Especially in Israel/Palestine. Were all longing to eat your surplus grapes and figs with a clear conscience. Two of our arresting officers wore Make Poverty History bracelets; one of them chastised us for not offering him fairly-traded grapes. Quite right. Fair trade means fair land ownership resources in the hands of the people who handle them.
Sixth: dont forget to spend time sitting underneath your vine or fig tree.
Theres a seventh step we noticed in the prophecy too: no protest. Protest has for me involved too much complaining and asking others to act on my behalf. It reinforces both my passivity and the hierarchys power. It leaves us, at the end of the day, with dog-eared placards and our fate still in the hands of distant leaders invariably seduced by the heady culture of power. A healthy and democratically fluid definition of leadership is: whoever takes responsibility for this situation.
If you spell-check the word nonviolence, Microsoft will suggest a hyphen.
In the anti-war protests of 2002 and 2003 a dominant slogan was Not In My Name. The powers that be concurred, and launched a war that wasnt committed in our names. Just imagine if even a tenth of the million of us who marched in London had crossed out the Not and instead had engaged in creative nonviolent action
Literally as I write the C.I.D. officer in charge of our case phones and says the Scene of Crimes Officer is happy to look after the plants we left inside.
Let a hundred thousand vine and fig trees bloom.
Editor: Treena Lenthall, Web slave: Per Herngren