Dear Tide turners,
Easter Monday and Carl and I abandoned the delights of the Cotswolds to go to Reading to prepare to blockade Aldermaston. We had debated this, at some length: was it going to be worth it? What would we actually achieve? Was it better to pick a campaign and stick with it? were we going to Aldermaston simply because it was there as a campaign and did we believe in it any more than say, climate change, or anti-consumerism or anti-capitalism? The ideological supermarket is open 24 hours, after all.
We had assumed that we’d find a tight group of seasoned protesters with precision organisation. What instead fetched up in Reading was a very small group of people indeed. We went through some training, which was similar in some ways to the Tide Turners sessions, but more chaotic. We were told of the importance of forming and affinity group: something that we were aware we didn’t have, but given no chance to form one. At no point was the impression of precision organisation given. More random chaos with all protesters deciding what they wanted to do and how. Many protesters seemed to have a few issues with working in groups and deciding on common policies and, apart from anything, there didn’t seem to be any common policies and no-one seemed to have a clear idea of what was going to happen. Or at least they didn’t tell us. On the plus side we were given some very interesting information about the progress of the nuclear project in Britain and some details about how convoys of nuclear material move around, etc.
We had powerful conflicting feelings about all this: to be brutally honest I think we wanted to be impressed and made to feel secure. On the other hand, why should we need others’ guarantees? We wanted to join an organised group who were focussed on achieving things, but there was a strong emphasis on individual decisions and the individual within groups. What also became apparent was that there were admirable and switched-on people doing dedicated research and observation of Aldermaston and their strong work was not reflected in the publicity and wider awareness of the issues. For example, they made that the official secrets act in the UK made it harder to find out information about nuclear material and dangers to public health than in the US, where government strictures on sensitive information are less tight.
The whole experience made us reflect on the further learning we had to do around this issue, and the issue of protesting in general: does process have to reflect content? What is the problem with organisation? Can we find an ‘affinity group’ which is prepared to act, or not act, to some effect? How can people be mobilised in large numbers? Is it necessary to cultivate media relations? Is it ok to doubt the wisdom of actions which appear to merely amuse/annoy passing motorists and not have perhaps much effect on the fearsome development of nuclear weaponry in this country?
Comments very welcome: anyone else had doubts? anyone else been Dazed and Confused?