Symon Hill reports on the campaign against renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system
Hundreds of campaigners brought the gates of the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in Aldermaston to a virtual standstill on Monday in the biggest protest to be seen at the site for some years. The blockade comes at a time of major political controversy over the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system and shortly ahead of a global summit on nuclear non-proliferation in May. Friends formed a significant percentage of the 800 campaigners who took part in the action. Many sat on the road or chained themselves to gates to prevent vehicles passing in and out of the site. Others stood nearby, showing support and carrying banners reading ‘No Trident renewal’ and ‘Use your skills for peace’.
The police struggled to keep at least one of the site’s seven gates open. Different gates became blocked, re-opened and re-blocked as police removed demonstrators only to find that others moved in to take their place. Police used cutting implements to detach protestors from gates and each other, but chose not to arrest most of those removed. Only eleven arrests were reported, including Penny Stone, who attends Edinburgh Meeting.
Speaking to the Friend the day before the blockade, Penny said: ‘I feel it is my duty as a global citizen to do everything in my power to prevent the preparation and use of these dangerous weapons’.
The blockade was organised by Trident Ploughshares, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and the Aldermaston Women’s Peace Campaign. The protests were entirely peaceful and many demonstrators gave favourable reports of the police’s behaviour.
‘Nuclear weapons represent a great idolatry that can only lead to destruction and chaos’, said Chris Wood of Christian CND and who attends Westminster Meeting, adding: ‘Christians are called, in discipleship, to peace and social justice’.
While the protestors aimed to disrupt AWE’s work for a day, they had a bigger purpose in seeking to highlight the level of public opposition to the renewal of Trident.
Trident renewal is supported by the prime minister and the Conservative opposition, but polls show a majority of the public are opposed and the cabinet is reported to be split on the issue, not least due to the multi-billion pound costs.
‘How can I pray for daily bread while our wealth that should feed the starving and heal the sick is spent on armaments?’ said Quaker activist John Lynes from St Leonards on Sea. ‘How can I expect other nations to abandon their nuclear ambitions when my own government continues to deploy these weapons?’
The Quaker presence was particularly strong at the Tadley Gate, where faith groups were encouraged to assemble and benefited from each other’s encouragement. Susan Clarkson of the Oxford Catholic Worker movement was sitting in the road when she told the Friend that she was carrying a copy of Quaker Advices and Queries in her bag, along with Luke’s Gospel.
Around 100 demonstrators at the Tadley Gate successfully kept it closed to vehicles all day. Police attempted to remove several demonstrators from the driveway before the number of people ducking between police lines to sit in the road became difficult to contain and the police retreated behind the gate itself.
‘This place belongs to the Lord’, the theologian John Hull, told the crowd, ‘and we are here to reclaim it in his name!’ His remarks were greeted by enthusiastic cheers.
A large number of Quaker banners were visible outside the Tadley Gate, where some sang and danced as others blocked the road.
‘There’s something strangely beautiful in the contrast between the life represented on this side of the gate – with the music, theatre and colour – and the death represented on the other side’ said Lorna Mundy of Bradford Meeting.
An interfaith service saw symbols of the Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh religions on display, as Quaker silence was alternated with readings from a range of traditions. Religious leaders including two bishops were amongst those who turned up to show support.
The AWE declined to comment on the protest.
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