Christian activist: Combatting Trident
Joanna Frew describes a peaceful protest against nuclear weapons
As we lay there in the sun, surrounded by lush green hedgerows and listening to birdsong, it was hard to keep in mind that behind us, the final assembly of some of the deadliest weapons the world has ever seen was taking place. I and 12 others had got up at 5.30am to obstruct the construction entrance of Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Burghfield. On one of the first really warm days of the year, to stand up or lie down for peace next to brothers and sisters in Jesus, talk, laugh, pray and sing, felt like a gift from God. People say that happiness comes from believing in something bigger than yourself, a sense of belonging, and doing things for other people, and that’s what I experienced then.
Nuclear weapons are not what most of us lose sleep over, or what moves us to tears. And yet, the damage that they could do is incalculable. Using, or even threatening to use them, is illegal under international law. The transfer of nuclear technology is illegal between parties who have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, making the UK’s war heads illegal: they are “on loan” from the USA. Trident will cost billions to renew (between £15bn and £20bn according to the government, £34bn according to Greenpeace, and £100bn over its lifespan according to Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). The government has put off the official decision on whether to replace it until after the next election, but there is an awful lot of construction going on at AWE.
There was also another reason why our small group – mainly Christians – risked arrest to do this. We are convinced that Jesus teaches active peacemaking – not just praying for violence to end, but doing something about it. When Jesus saw injustice, he challenged it head on. He told us to build the kingdom of God, saying it grows from the smallest acts of faith like a mustard seed. A group of 13 peace activists is perhaps the tiniest of efforts in the face of Britain’s military industrial complex, but as Bishop Tutu said, we are on the winning side, even if that’s only moral so far!
On the day, we managed to significantly interrupt business at Burghfield. When we jumped out of the van there was barely any security in sight. We superglued our hands together, wedging them inside sections of drain pipe, and stretched out across the entrance. Traffic started queuing up. Our support group hung banners across the fences to explain why we were there, and throughout the day they covered us in sun cream, gave us food and water, and liaised with police.
The MoD police from the base said we’d be arrested if we didn’t move and tried to wash the glue off. But this stopped when Thames Valley Police arrived: they told us that as we were technically outside the base, they respected our right to peaceful protest and had no intention of removing us.
This was the one thing we weren’t prepared for. Not being arrested? Having control over the duration of our blockade? How would we deal with that? That’s why we spent the morning lying in the sun. I’m sure you can see now how easy it was to forget where we were.
It wasn’t an easy day off work in the sun though. Most of us were layered up in waterproofs, which we couldn’t remove. My recently fractured arm hurt inside the drainpipe. In the end, concerns of sun stroke and dehydration made us end the blockade at 1pm. We released our hands, slowly and painfully, and held a silent vigil facing the base. It was a poignant moment; and as we stood together facing a line of police, with an empty car park and quiet base behind them (thanks to our work!), it made me think about how empty the promises of the state, how hollow the rhetoric of security through weapons, and how ridiculous that it is done in our name, yet so heavily guarded from us.
As far as I can see, from a Jesus perspective, there is not one good thing about nuclear weapons. Trident is the exact opposite of everything the kingdom of God is about – putting our trust in military power and the ability to destroy, rather than acting justly and fostering cooperation. If we are to take Jesus’ call to put away the sword seriously, we have to be serious about getting in the way of violence.
But fortunately this is where we come back to happiness and the kingdom of God. Jesus calls us to be different, to let the work of shalom invade everything we do – acting out alternatives to violence and injustice. I am convinced our sense of joy was in part because we caught a glimpse of that by coming in the opposite spirit, up close, to the work of violence and domination.
Joanna Frew is a campaigner with Action AWE (Atomic Weapons Eradication) http://actionawe.org. She is also a PhD student researching colonialism
This article was published in the September 2013 edition of Reform.
Read more Christian activist columns