Beyond Protest

by Stephen Hancock

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 Aldermaston’s perimeter fence. Arresting Ministry of Defence police were offered a choice of grapes or fig rolls; some accepted.
The bottle of wine we carried with us was bagged as evidence.

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 Isaiah’s vision into a poetic manifesto that still burns urgently thousands of years beyond its writing:
“They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Every [one] will sit under [her] own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid.” (Micah 4, 3-5, NIV)

In these times of mutual threat and violence, in which unexamined fears seem capable of manifesting themselves with uncanny precision, it’s 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. There’s 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. We’re 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: don’t forget to spend time sitting underneath your vine or fig tree.
When we first arrived at AWE Aldermaston we actually lay underneath our small plants and looked up at the clouds in the sky. With the full potential and fear of the base right there next to us, it was a naïve act, a sweet and wishful glimpsing.

There’s 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 hierarchy’s 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.
But its hyphenlessness is a deliberate compression and synthesis on our part. The “non” to violence is a good start, but we have to go further, beyond protest, into the realms of resistance and creation. Gandhi used such terms as satyagraha (loosely, Truth Force) and constructive programme. We’re also making it up as we go along.

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 wasn’t 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.

Stephen Hancock

Vine, figs and links

Home garden
Hiroshima planting 2007
Easter planting at Ericsson 2006
Ulla Røder on proactive resistance
Figs on trial and in prison
Statement for Aldermaston
To Go Beyond Protest-Resistance
Vine & Fig Tree Disarmory
Les’ reflection from prison
Beyond Protest
Proactive Resistance
Martin’s reflection on planting
Manual for civil disobedience
Theory of Resistance
Photos Hiroshima 2007 planting
Liz’s art exhibition
Photos from police evidence
Arrest photos Aldermaston 2005
Photos of Aldermaston planting 2005
Figs at Aldermaston photos
Queer trans-forms community
Planting at Ericsson
Bofors Easter 2006
…………………………more resistance
Vine & Fig Tree in the Netherlands
Vine and Fig Tree song

Four weeks prison, suspended six month, and £201 in restitution, for the Vine & Fig Tree Planters.

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