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Greenham and WiB blockade
it now seems a long time since we shared such lovely times here in Scotland.
Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you SO MUCH, dearest
Lieve, Marianne, Carla and Ria for sharing our women's action (and my
birthday) and for your lovely presence and presents!! :)
Article in the Guardian, Monday October 9, 2006
Protest and survive
October 6, 2006
Here is my initial report to go on the website - intentionally detailed with info about how we were treated that I hope will be helpful to incoming blockading groups, and I've spoken to several of them by phone as well. I do hope as many of you as poss will also post your stories and anecdotes and pix on the website.
News flash: 13 of the Sheffield block got arrested today, as they locked on at the North Gate this afternoon and held up traffic for over half an hour. They are also being held overnight, and it will be interesting to see if they get charged or not.
Thank You for making the Women's Action Happen!
As part of our objective of visibility, women camped on both sides of the gate and on the verge nearby. We put up a lot of banners and set up shelters where food and meetings could be shared. We crossed and recrossed the roads in front of the gate, learned Scottish dancing on the roundabout, enjoyed a chaotic ceilidh (ably abetted by some wonderful fiddle-playing), handed out leaflets on Trident, and held workshops.
On Monday morning, from 7.20 onwards (just before and during the shift change) 12 women were arrested as small groups conducting consecutive blocks over a period of about an hour. A 13 th woman was arrested much later in the day. All were charged with ‘breach of the peace’, although our actions varied from lying down and directly blocking traffic to impeding traffic with conga dancing – as well as crossing the roundabout equipped with a cup of cocoa, contrary to police instructions. The radio news said that traffic was backed up for over an hour.
The 13 arrested women were taken to Clydebank police station and held in separate cells for 30 hours before being informed that the procurator fiscal had decided not to press any charges. The thirteen were released around 12.00-1.00 pm on Tuesday October 3 rd, to be greeted by cheers and a song from the supporting group, who were at the police station with transport. On getting back to the base, we were greeted by the women who had held the camp while we were incarcerated, keeping up the visible presence at the North Gate. We held a debrief and took down the camp at around 6 pm, before closing with some more singing and dancing on the roundabout as dusk fell. See below for more detail and points to ponder that incoming groups might find useful.
Setting up, Camping and Visibility
It was pouring heavily with rain when the first few women arrived at 8.00 am on Sunday, so to begin with we set up gazebos on either side of the North Gate and decorated the fence with banners, photographs, placards and ribbons in the Suffragette colours. There was an enormous and jittery police presence, well over a hundred at the gate and police vans parked opposite the Faslane cemetery, around 100 yards past the North Gate. The police were anxious, wanting to know how many more women were expected. We played with them, keeping them guessing about numbers and whether some women might be going to the South Gate or even Coulport.
We had sent out a press release a few days before going to the base, and I did a radio interview from Faslane for BBC Radio Scotland’s morning ‘faith’ programme, which, according to the producer who phoned me back a couple of hours later, resulted in the station being ‘inundated’ with emails wishing us luck!
There were around 60-70 women on the first day, and because this group had come together in the ad hoc ‘Greenham’ way, Sunday was devoted to discussing the issues, reccying the terrain, doing nonviolence training and getting a detailed legal briefing, as well as getting to know each other and networking. Although we did not quite make the hundred, some more women came over the next two days, making the overall number who participated around 80-90, though some also had to leave early.
In addition to the banners and messages, we pushed the boundaries of visibility by setting several tents up against the fence by the North Gate, including a modest toilet tent with a bucket, and also on the grassy (somewhat boggy) verge by the cemetery turn-off, on the other side of the road. We were not prevented from parking cars, vans and a minibus in the cemetery car park, opposite the police vans.
No-one seemed to mind there being a short-term camp on the verge, including a campfire. The MoD did try hard to make us take the tents away from the gate, but since they seemed rather confused about who owned the verge between the A814 and the base fence, we faced them down and camped anyway. This was very important, as maintaining high visibility was part of the strategy for the women’s action, and meant that some of us were on hand in case anyone had tried to sabotage or take down the banners or gazebos overnight (they didn’t). Though a little noisy, a good night’s sleep was possible, and we encourage all groups to consider doing this. It is highly visible, upsets the base, and solves your accommodation problems! They will tell you you can’t, but they appear to be on shaky legal ground, so it is worth pushing.
Blockading on Monday
We had intended to start blockading after 7.30 when the shift change at the base increases the volume of traffic wanting to get in. However, with anarchistic women the best laid plans can go astray. Two women suddenly decided to kick off at 7.20, by sitting down on the roundabout. At that point (and not wanting them to become isolated) we made individual choices about what to do. Some women chose to sit down in front of the gate immediately.
Others waited until the traffic started moving again, and then found a section of the road near the gate where the police were thin on the ground and laid down. Others waited even longer and then made their moves, which apparently surprised the police who thought we’d finished. The police were very keyed up and seemed to have instructions to arrest immediately, so some women were arrested crossing or dancing on the road, without being given time to move. In each case, traffic was blocked for a relatively short period of time, though the radio reported that these serial mini-blockades had backed traffic up for over an hour (compounded by the fact that they took place during what passes for the morning rush hour at the base).
My personal experience was this: When the first two women blockaded, I was in the middle of breakfast. I had my cup of cocoa in one hand and four empty cups in the other as I was taking them across the road to set up breakfast for the others in the second gazebo, by our tents. I walked across the roundabout to take a look at the blockading women and check everyone was okay. One was being dragged to the side, and traffic was stopped. As I was walking back, where the A814 swings into the base, I was grabbed by a burly police officer who told me to get out of the road. Unfortunately, as he jostled me, he spilled my cocoa. Safety instructions for travellers tell you that when encountering turbulence you should sit down. So I did.
Immediately several police officers swooped on me and grabbed my arms, so I put down the empty cups (didn’t want them to break or risk hurting anyone) and asked one of the police to hold my cup of cocoa (which, bizarrely, he did). I then lay down gracefully, as whale-like and heavy as possible.
It has taken me decades to put on this much weight, so it took them some time and several tries before they managed to lift me off the road. I thought I would be moved to the side, since apart from the first instruction to get off the road, the police did not warn me or threaten me with arrest. In fact, I was carried, spread-eagled, down to the bus stop. They had to let me down a couple times to readjust their grip, during which I continued to sprawl. They were, however, doing their best to be respectful of my safety and modesty as they carried me. I was then taken to the police vans opposite the cemetery and ‘processed’, which meant they asked my name, which I gave, and various personal questions which I did not reply to. Together with several women who had also been taken to the vans, I was informed that I was being arrested for breach of the peace and would be photographed with my arresting officers and put in the van. I was not formally charged at this time (or, indeed, any other time) or given a chance to have my reply noted down.
Detention for 30 hours and released with no charge
When ten women had been arrested and the police van was full, we were driven to Clydebank police station and taken in to be processed two-by-two. While some of us were still waiting in the vans, another police van arrived with two more women who had been doing the ‘conga’ in front of the North Gate.
Clydebank police were going ‘by the book’. They took virtually all possessions away, including jewellery (though one woman negotiated to keep her ring). Belts or draw-cords had to be removed from trousers, though negotiating with the custody officer could get that varied if the cord was integral to the trousers and would have to be cut. I gave my word as a practitioner of nonviolence with no intention of harming myself or anyone else, and thus managed to avoid the options of wearing paper trousers (!) or having the cord cut out of my trousers. Footwear and jackets had to be left outside cell doors.
Unlike my incarcerations in the 1980s, they took away our watches, claiming that some people had used ‘sharp edges on their watches to cut themselves’. Time gets very distorted when you are in heavily soundproofed cells with daylight penetrating only very weakly and indistinctly through thick pebbled glass in the ceiling.
Apart from the custody sergeant telling me I was charged with breach of the peace, nothing was written down and I was never given any chance to reply formally to the charge. I was not once questioned about the circumstances of the arrest or given any formal interrogation.
It appears that some women had been charged more formally and had their replies recorded before being put into the vans at the base, but this did not happen to all of us. To my knowledge, in the police station, no-one was interrogated or formally questioned. I wasn’t even fingerprinted and photographed until around 10.00 pm, though a few women were fingerprinted earlier and one said that she thinks the machine broke down, which might have accounted for the delay. Vegetarian, vegan and halal food was made available and various cups of tea, but no coffee. Most of the cells and blankets were fairly clean, but a couple of women were put into cells with blood and faeces dried into the walls. Each cell had a toilet with no seat in the corner, with toilet paper provided on request. There was an instruction list for prisoners in my cell which informed me of various rights, including the right to request writing materials. I did, and was given a blunt pencil and some sheets of paper. As I was in the middle of breakfast and was not prepared to be arrested quite so early, I hadn’t properly equipped myself with a book and toothbrush etc. So the lesson is Always Be Prepared (and take a book)!
The cells were very hot and stuffy, so take moisturiser which they will let you use if you pester enough! On the positive side, they brought paper cups with water whenever I asked, which was often. The acoustics in the cell are brilliant if you want to sing, but the echoes make it very difficult to hear what anyone else is saying or singing in their cells, though you can hear a bit of what happens in the corridors. I sang periodically, interspersed with lots of quiet, managing as much of Camilla’s Trident oratorio as I could remember and some other beautiful songs, and then made up Faslane-related words to various songs of protest (mostly from Greenham) and songs of incarceration. The other women said it had been helpful to hear the singing, even though they couldn’t generally make out the words.
Around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, a lovely Scottish solicitor called Claire Ryan came by. We had to talk to her separately in a room in a different part of the station from the cells. She was strongly of the opinion that for some of us at least (including me with my cocoa), there had been no grounds to arrest and detain us for breach of the peace.
She told us that we would probably be held overnight to be taken to court on the following day. That came as a surprise – we had been arrested so early in the morning that we assumed they would charge and bail us or deal with us that day. However, we have been advised that in Scotland they are more likely to hold people overnight for court the next day than they do in England or Wales. The night was long, but next morning I received a lovely chorus of happy birthday from the other women, which I could hear echoing harmoniously and in several different tempos down several corridors, though the weird cell design meant that the women singing couldn’t hear each other. Cards of paper towels and a bouquet of white toilet-tissue roses were pushed under my door.
We were allowed out to wash, and could briefly communicate then with other women. We were still expecting to go to court, but the morning dragged on. Then suddenly, around noon on Tuesday, we were told we would be released. When being processed out, I was given back my belongings and a letter from Andrew Miller, the Procurator Fiscal, which instructed the custody officer to “please deal with the above person(s) held in custody following report for today’s custody court as follows:- liberate on the above case only, following service of attached warning letter.”
Returning to the North Gate
Women remaining at the North Gate had kept up a strong presence throughout October 2 and 3, with groups knitting, singing, doing ceilidhs, planning actions, and holding workshops on various topics, including Palestine and international Women in Black. They had continued to test the police by periodically appearing to head for the road, etc.
Some time on Monday, the MoD again insisted that the tents that had been put up against the fence by the North Gate should be taken down, but it turned out that their owners had all been arrested. The other women refused to take them down, but watched carefully when the MoD police took them down and packed them up, although it is still not at all clear that the MoD were legally entitled to do this. The camp on the opposite verge was allowed to stay for the whole period.
Once those who had been incarcerated were back at the base, we discussed what had happened, debriefed on the police tactics and legal developments, and then took down the camp at around 6 pm. We closed with some more singing and dancing on the roundabout as dusk fell, before women either left or went back to one of the rented houses in Garelochhead to celebrate, relax and have a party.
Points to note and lessons to learn
1) The police were prepared for much larger numbers. They removed blockaders as quickly as possible, with or without warnings or going through proper arrest procedures, although it appears that they improved their techniques with some of the later arrests.
Clearly, as this was the start to Faslane 365, the authorities had decided to ‘nip it in the bud’ and their quick arrests and holding overnight were both designed to deter other groups. It shouldn’t and it won’t.
2) Most groups will be better prepared in advance than we were, because in true greenham fashion we had put the call out as widely as we could, but didn’t know exactly who would turn up. We reckoned that women would come from lots of different places and we would not be able to plan until they got here. Also, we had put a lot of emphasis on being a visible protest at the gate over the three days, deciding that the nature of the actual blockading would be determined by the women themselves once they got to Faslane. As it turned out, only a small number were ‘arrestables’. More might have been arrestables if there had been a lot more women there, as the small numbers and anarchic scenario made it more difficult for some. On the other hand, the empowering experience of the whole action has resulted in many of the women wanting to come back and do another women’s block next year, and more have said they might be willing to risk arrest in the future.
3) It was really worth refusing to be corralled behind barriers, and pushing our determination to decorate the fence and camp. This gave high visibility to what was, in fact, a smaller number of women than we’d hoped for. When you have quality but not quantity it is important to be creative to maximise your impact, which I think we did.
4) All the arrested women were released with a similar letter, regardless of whether or not they had been sitting or lying down with the intention of blockading, and regardless of whether or not they had been warned or given an opportunity to move, and several of us were not. So, irrespective of how strong or weak the case (and the solicitor was convinced that the case against some of us was very weak indeed), we were all treated the same and released on the same basis. We were fingerprinted and photographed, but never questioned about the ‘offence’, which may suggest that they didn’t intend to take us to court – in which case arresting and detaining us may not have been lawful. We intend to look into this.
5) Being held overnight for such an offence was a surprise to many of us, and incoming blockading groups should make sure they are better prepared for this. The intention was clearly to get the blockaders out of the way and hope that the protest collapses. Therefore it is all the more important that groups have people prepared to stay at the gate(s) and remain visible, as well as having the support teams to run around after the arrestees.
6) Being held a long time is tedious but not scary. (I was 51 when we started the action and didn’t get released until I was 52! ) Those that had books with them were in a much better position that those who didn’t. Late in the evening, our support people put in some Peace News for everyone and a Guardian for one woman, which she read and then passed to another... possibly got around to 3 or 4 of us. Apparently the police refused to allow books to be put in for us. Peace News is of course lovely but very short even if you read it from cover to cover and backwards, so I would advise groups to make it possible for support people to put in a more substantial and numerous selection of newspapers and magazines – at least one per person, which can be read and shared with others in the cells. That said, our support people, legal support and drivers were all Wonderful, and did what they could – most especially, meeting us when we got out! This is important as after several (or 30) hours in police cells, people can feel quite disoriented.
7) Flexibility is the Watchword
Groups that plan with equipment such as lock-ons will probably be able to block the gates longer than we could. All the groups will be different, and the women’s action planning recognised that a traditional blockade was not going to be possible unless large numbers turned up, which didn’t happen.
Most blockades won’t be as anarchic as the women’s block, but however well planned, groups need to be prepared to be flexible and switch to plans B, C or D, depending on the policing and the circumstances on the day. Don’t be afraid to change planning or to nip round to a different gate or disrupt Coulport if the policing is too heavy at your intended location for you to be effective.
If numbers are relatively small, plan ways to maximise your visibility, particularly by decorating and camping up at the base for your 48 hours.
This is just my personal account, which I’m putting up quickly in the hope that it is useful to the other groups coming in. I hope that lots more of the women who participated from October 1-3 will write their own stories and give their pix to put on the website. Each of these blockades will be different, and both we and the police and base will be engaged in a dance of change and adaptation. Most importantly, stay positive and nonviolent and Enjoy Yourselves!
Enormous thanks to Everyone who participated, including local people who dropped off cakes and things!
lots and lots of love and sisterhood
more press about the Women start of Faslane365: Scotsman.com News - Faslane - Arms and the Women
October 5, 2006
Faslane 365 kicked off on Sunday 1st October with a group of Women connected with Greenham Common and Aldermaston Womens Peae Camp(aign). This is combined with the second group, Women in Black, to form one, three-day block.
UK Nuclear Weapons: Dangerous, Illegal, and Deployed in Scotland
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May 8, 2006
On October 1-3 2006, Greenham Women Everywhere and Women in Black will be gathering at the UK nuclear submarine base at Faslane in Scotland (30 miles from Glasgow, with nearby airports) to oppose military violence and violence against women. We will take our demands for real security, peace and justice right to the gates of the base in an active demonstration of women’s anger, hope and determination for the future.
This women’s action will be the start of Faslane 365, a nonviolent campaign to prevent the unlawful operation of the Trident nuclear base, using creative actions and interactions to oppose the madness and waste of nuclear weapons and war. By linking the success and vision of the Greenham Women’s Peace Camp of the 1980s with the passion and purpose of today’s international Women in Black against War, we will celebrate Greenham’s 25th anniversary – not with nostalgia, but with international solidarity and sisterhood!
The UK Women in Black groups invite our sisters from the international Women in Black network to join us during October 1-3. Since there is no international WiB conference in 2006, this can be an interim gathering to catch up and make links. Though we will not have conference facilities, we plan to combine our demonstrations at the base with workshops on feminism, war and resistence, politics and passion, with music, dance and street threatre.
Faslane 365 is an audacious initiative to blockade the Faslane nuclear base for a year, and already many peace and justice groups have committed to this action, with each taking responsibility for peacefully blockading the Trident base over a two-day period.
Nuclear weapons are irrelevant for defence, but could still destroy the world. They epitomise the ultimate in violence and threat, and women have been at the forefront of making these connections. Now the British government is planning to spend over £25 billion on a successor to Trident and we need your help to stop this madness and waste.
We have to consign them to the dustbin of history and focus resources on dealing with the daunting security challenges we face today, such as climate change, violence against women, poverty, wars for oil, greed or power, and erosion of human rights. As with our success against cruise missiles in the 1980s, we can make Trident undeployable by combining persistent, nonviolent opposition at the site of deployment with creative actions, political pressure and wide networking. A massive push now will make all the difference.
Running from October 1st 2006 for a year, Faslane 365 plans to bring diverse groups to witness and impede the Faslane nuclear base and demand an end to this nuclear madness. All groups that participate in this continuous blockade will agree a set of fundamental principles and guidelines that stress nonviolence and respect for all. All will also commit to the core demand that Trident be disarmed and taken out of deployment, and that the government rule out developing any new nuclear weapons and make a timetable for dismantling the existing weapons and facilities. Beyond these basic commitments, it is up to individual groups to make the links with their own priority issues and run the blockade as they see fit. Greenham and WiB plan music, workshops, redecoration of the base and so on.
Faslane is about 30 miles from Glasgow, along the north shore of beautiful Gare Loch, Firth of Clyde, just past Helensburgh. Faslane has two main gates on land and a long fence. We need thousands of women to join us, singly or in groups – this is a chance to reconnect with old friends and rebuild networks and groups in your town. This is decentralised and groups need to be as self sufficient as possible for travel, food and accommodation. Those not wanting to blockade directly or risk arrest can participate in other ways. See the website for ideas, information and advice on practicalities. There is a place for all of you, and all of you are needed!
Put the dates October 1-3 and plan to join us! For something this special, important and fun, we all need to participate. Help us circulate this call as widely as possible. Send this message to every woman you know and care about!
Dr Rebecca Johnson
The Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy
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|last updated: 9th of October 2006
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