Thursday, November 06, 2008

Peace campaigning at Aldermaston

by Ray Davies

THE SUCCESS of the blockade of Aldermaston Weapons Establishment on 27th October 2008 exceeded our wildest expectations. Sunday was spent in non-violent direct action training, where the emphasis was on no drugs, alcohol, no abuse of the police, no carrying of implements which could be construed as weapons, and show respect to everyone concerned.
Amongst the 350 who turned up, there were many young people from 18-25 and many others who had never been on any actions before.
Our task was to blockade the Construction Gate, through which much of the heavy material for building the new laser facility is transported.
A perfect strategy was developed and each gate was to be manned by those who were prepared to be arrested and those who would be legal support.
We spent the evening practicing training for the following morning, and discussing the reasons why we were there.
For me it was obvious, having two young children – Tad and Carwyn, both at school, who want a future, and who represent all the young people throughout the world who also want a future.
The financial crisis crippling the country, people losing their homes and their jobs; yet this Government was determined to spend over £50 billion to build a new generation of nuclear warheads to add to the obscene number we already have and violated Britain’s policy of non proliferation.
The warehouse in which we were stopping held 150 people, and by the end of the night sleeping bags filled every nook and cranny in every available room. Other facilities in Reading and Newbury housed yet more demonstrators.
Many people came early in the morning to join the blockade. At 4:15am the whole place awoke to the loudest alarm clock I’ve ever heard. By half-past-four, everyone was having breakfast.
Outside, the police were already searching the vehicles with their torches, taking masses of photographs.
On the 20 minute journey from Reading to the AWE, it was agreed that Marcus, Hutt Diane and myself would lock on. Six others would also be arrestable, locking their arms around the four of us.
The non arrestables would rush out with the banners to create a diversion, whilst we with our tubes already locked on would rush out and blockade the construction gate.
As we approached Aldermaston, the police were everywhere, reporting our progress. Mike, our driver from London, was brilliant; he slowed down just enough to allow people to rush out to create a diversion, while we followed a few seconds later and planted ourselves flat out on the floor before the police could stop us.
It was quite obvious that we had better preparation than the police. For the first hour, the adrenalin kept us warm, but the temperature was dropping rapidly, and by 10am, legs and feet were numb with cold.
We were cheered by the fact that all the other gates had been successfully blocked. The peace campaigners who could not be arrested were absolutely wonderful, pushing bananas and cereal bars into us, keeping our energy and spirits high. We sang a croaky We shall not be moved and Down by the riverside.
Some asked, “Where is Côr Cochion?” They thought when I arrived with my red beret the night before, that I had brought the Red Choir with me.
At 10:30am two large vehicles came from the base, and out poured an army of police in riot type gear. They immediately brought out heavy screens to isolate us from the rest of the protestors.
Two Reading policemen who had arrested me at Burfield a year ago came up to me and told me that they had checked up on their notes from last year – I lived at 172 Pandy Rd Bedwas, and this information would be passed on to the appropriate authorities.
This new bunch of energetic police, armed with equipment to cut away the arm locks, were extremely polite, with “yes please”, and “no thank you sir”.
One came up to me and said, “Mr Davies, I’m just going to put my fingers down the tube, sir, to see how you are hooked on”. He rammed his two fingers into the tube and twisted it around, giving me an excruciating jab of pain, and smiled and said he was sorry.
Suddenly there was pandemonium. The inspector called everyone away from the operation, and within 10 minutes the blue plastic barriers were removed and they all disappeared from the scene.
Shortly afterwards our gate support woman told us that 20 youngsters on Tadley gate had superglued themselves together and had all been arrested – a painful operation – and the gate cleared.
Most of the police moved away. This was immediately followed by people using tall tripods and stilts, who attached themselves to Tadley Gate, blocking the entrance and stopping the traffic which had only just started moving again.
Meanwhile at the construction gate, Diane felt ill, and had to disentangle herself from the lockon; but the three of us remaining were sufficient to block the entrance. All of us had gone through the pain barrier of our need to use the toilet, and our numb hands and feet.
We were told that the base was expected to be blocked until 12 o’clock, by which time most of the base would be cleared of protesters.
The police themselves expected to finish well before then; but by three minutes to 12 the police had barely cleared the tripod from Tadley gate, and we started the countdown to 12.
The police whistle went and they all left the gate. It was a total victory for the protesters, a wonderful achievement by Trident Ploughshares, CND, and all those who participated.
We had totally blocked the whole base for three hours, and no traffic had gone through; and we partially blocked it for a further two hours.
We beat the police tactically; they had obviously underestimated the number of protesters, and did not have the resources to deal with determined peace activists.
I shall look back with a great deal of pride on this day of action and wonderful memories of fantastic people, who more than make up for the Blairs and Bushes and Camerons of the world.