From Helen Dymond
It is now 7pm, six hours since I got home from the Action this morning and I want to get my thoughts down on paper while its still in my short-term memory, so this is a personal story and not necessarily factually correct in every detail. Especially as I got home feeling extremely cold and tired, I immediately crashed out and am still fuzzy-headed. I just hope the wonderfully brave, inspiring people who formed the blockade and were arrested, have all got home, had hot drinks and food, and maybe caught up on some sleep too.
I guess it started on Sunday when we waved the other RP’s off at Thatcham station after a brilliant weekend together that was both understanding how we work as a group, , and preparing us for NVA whether today’s or in the future. After a short rest, four of us, Chris, Alison. Denise and myself met in the now very peaceful sitting room, and after some silent worship, Chris took us through some questions we needed to think about: what kind/size of group did we want to participate in? What were our goals and objectives within that group? What kinds of action did we feel able/unable to do? Which AWE site did we want to protest at, Aldermaston or Burghfield? The outcome was that we decided we wanted to stay together as a TTT Affinity group but in a direct supporting role to the Muriel Lesters (sic?) Chris’s own Affinity group, some of whom would be likely to be forming the Blockade at Burghfield, whereas we for various reasons did not want to risk arrest on this occasion. We brainstormed some kinds of support we could offer, including doing mad dancing and creating an artefact, but we decided to offer singing as our form of encouragement, and in addition I wanted to offer readings on the Testimony to Peace from ‘Quaker Faith and Practice’. After tea we went to the Quaker Meeting House at Newbury where 40-50 people gathered from Block the Builders and many other groups. We looked in their library for protest songs and as we didn’t find anything exactly suitable for the occasion, started to re-write some well known tunes with our own Protest words; we wrote out several copies and practiced them with some of the Muriel Lester’s group. The organizers of the Action told us about what the Government was doing at the two sites, the symbolic and to some degree strategic purposes of the Blockade, and the risks/conditions for arrest, the procedures/phone numbers if arrested. After supper there was a great deal of self-organizing of people into groups and vehicles, and a great perusal of maps looking at the best spots for blockading and routes for getting there. Chris had by now agreed to be part of the blockade with three of the Muriel Lester’s group, and after discussion the best spot was agreed; we also agreed to get there by 7 a.m. to prevent workers from getting onto the AWE site., which meant getting up at 5.a.m and meeting the M.L. Minibus down in Woolhampton village en route to Burghfield
In fact I woke up at 4 .m. and spent some time choosing texts from QFP chapter 4 on the Peace Testimony to read out to encourage the Blockaders and hopefully reach out to the hearts of the Police with the truth of the testimonies. It was weird, indeed, that the police had followed the Minibus from Newbury, they must have an informer or some way of knowing which vehicles to follow – anyway, this police van proceeded to follow our convoy of three vehicles for about half an hour round and round the country lanes, and even though we stopped at Aldermaston to let some people off there, the police van continued to follow our group to Burghfield where, we understood, the Trident warheads are being made, and we wondered if a convoy was going to arrive there today. When the Minibus got to the lane that had been chosen, it was totally BRILLIANT the way the four (you could call them elderly, if they weren’t so youthful in spirit) blockaders LEAPT down from the van and laid themselves across the road locking on, it all seemed to happen in about three seconds and took the police completely by surprise. They managed to pull at Chris’s arm, I think, as he was last out of the van, to try and stop him locking on but he fooled them by lying down on the grass verge with his hand invisible in the sleeve of another blockader, so it looked as though he was locked on even though he was in fact holding on. It was a bright and beautiful morning but extremely cold – it must have been the coldest day of the year so far- and the four of them lay on the freezing ground for two hours as the unlocking team dealt with the three blockades at Aldermaston first and did not reach Burghfield till 9.a.m. All those gathered in support supplied them with as much warmth as we could, sleeping bags to cover their legs, biscuits etc. and though we could all have done with hot drinks, they did not want to drink as they could not go to the loo. Dan was the legal observer and many photographs were taken of all of us both by supporters and the police. I heard someone say that Radio Berkshire had sent reporters to the Aldermaston blockade.
Strategically it was a great success, the police blocked off the lane and there was a long queue of traffic on the perimeter road so that workers were delayed in getting to work in the site. Meanwhile we sang our protest songs, another guy called Chris played the violin which was great, and I read out excerpts from the Quaker Peace Testimonies and the police had no choice but to hear them and some of them appeared to be thinking about them. We engaged the police, who were friendly and good-humoured, in discussions about the purpose of the Blockade; a fairly senior officer I was talking to said he had assumed it was a political protest and I emphasised the spiritual and moral purpose of the Action ,which I saw as not affiliated to a political party but to an ideology of the spirit and a way of seeing the world. I heard one elderly gentleman Blockader called Ray explaining calmly and with great authority to the policeman who had come to cut him free, that he felt he had to do this action for the sake of his children and grandchildren. The four were then arrested and taken to a police van, we believed they were going to Newbury police station, and the supporters dispersed and went to a transport café for greatly needed hot drinks and food.
It truly was inspiring to witness this courage and commitment, the macro- and micro-teamwork that went on, and the opportunities it offered for constructive engagement with representatives of the law. I feel that I have learned some valuable lessons from my first experience at an NVA Blockade. On another occasion I would still want to sing and would prepare a lot more songs in advance and I might also play my recorder. I hope that on a future occasion I would feel able to get arrested but could see that we were all playing our parts interdependently and drawing strength from each other.