Stop Trident: a tale of two demonstrations

By Jill Segger
March 1, 2016

Last Saturday (27 February), what has been described as the “biggest anti-nuclear weapons protest for a generation” took place in central London. Around 60,000 people gathered to march in protest against Trident renewal and to hear speeches from Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood, Bruce Kent and Tariq Ali, among other luminaries of the nuclear disarmament movement.

Protesters had came from around the world. Some were from Australia, others from the west coast of Scotland where the UK’s nuclear deterrent submarines are based. It was significant that a BBC journalist asked a participant if they were “disappointed at the turnout”.

The attempt to turn a specific point of protest into a numbers game is to miss the meaning. Unfortunately, supporters of both sides of the argument fell into this trap, as evidenced by those photo-shopped aerial photographs of Trafalgar Square which filled all available space with fictional crowds and others which showed a more sparsely populated space, without context as to whether these were taken pre, mid, or post-assembly.

On the previous Sunday, (21 February) a very different act of witness took place. Around 30 Quakers from Bury St Edmunds Meeting held a silent vigil against Trident renewal on the windy market square of a Suffolk market town. I would suggest that this small gathering has a light to cast on the larger manifestation of popular disquiet at the essential immorality of holding and investing in nuclear weapons.

The numbers in London may legitimately be multiplied by those who were – in Quaker parlance – 'prevented'. By distance, frailty, other obligations, poverty or anxiety about crowds, to name just a few. Two of the Friends present on Bury's Market Hill took part in the London demo. So many more – both from our own Meeting and from all who sent us messages of support – were with them in spirit and heart, and that is not to count the passers-by who gave us encouraging smiles and thumbs-up signs of solidarity on that chilly, blustery afternoon. All great changes in the cause of humanity, justice and mercy have had small beginnings.

And what is small, despised by the worldly-wise or scoffed at by those who think they have a more sophisticated grasp of real-politik (like the young man who told us we were “naive” because he had knowledge he could not share due to his 'security clearance') has been repeatedly shown by history to be the advance guard of transforming change. Empire is ultimately overthrown by the meek, the faithful and the steadfast.

Listen to Arundhati Roy: “Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen

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