2018: A year of Peace Pledge Union activism
2018: A year of Peace Pledge Union activism
Throughout 2018, Peace Pledge Union members and supporters around the UK took action in their own communities to promote peace and to resist militarism. They also came together to take a stand for nonviolence at a national level, and to support international campaigns against war.
This is a summary of some of the events and actions in which PPU members, and the PPU nationally, were involved. We can't mention them all. These are only the public events: most relied on lots of work behind the scenes, often for months or years in advance.
As the Peace Pledge Union is based in Britain, this summary focuses on action in the UK, but we are pleased to be part of international pacifist action in our role as the British section of War Resisters' International.
The year had barely begun before the army launched a new recruitment campaign, desbcribed by the Peace Pledge Union as "misleading and desperate". In an increasingly bizarre attempt to meet their failed recruitment targets, the army produced online adverts aimed at encouraging gay people, women, religious people and those who are open about their emotions that they would be welcome in the army. They weren't fooled, and recruitment targets were not met.
In February, the PPU was one of several groups observing a major court-martial at Bulford Military Court in Wiltshire, where 16 army instructors were accused of mistreating teenage recruits. At the PPU, we condemned the system that allows the armed forces to conduct their own criminal trials. No other employer would be allowed to try employees accused of abusing junior colleagues, rather than handing them over to a civilian court.
The PPU joined with the Campaign Against Arms Trade and other groups to protest outside Downing Street as Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and architect of the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen, met Theresa May inside.
There was outrage when the army abuse trial collapsed after it was revealed that the Royal Military Police had made a mess of the investigation. They had delayed investigating allegations of abuse due in part to what they described as pressure from "more urgent" enquiries. The PPU was quoted in several newspapers condemning the warped sense of priority that regarded investigating the abuse of 16-year-old boys as unimportant. The PPU worked with Liz Saville Roberts MP, who tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons, noting that the armed forces are the only organisations allowed to maintain their own police forces and criminal courts. It was revealed that there had been 50 allegations of abuse and mistreatment against 16- and 17-year-old recruits at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate.
Dozens of teachers expressed support for the PPU's concerns over militarism in education, while attending the annual conference of the National Education Union (formerly the National Union of Teachers) in Brighton. Many came to the PPU stand to join the PPU Teachers' Network and to take copies of PPU educational resources. Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson marked April Fools' Day with an apparently serious plan to spend yet more taxpayers' money on schemes to promote a "military ethos" in schools and to explore the setting up of "military academies".
On 14 April, Britain awoke to the news that the Royal Air Force had bombed Syria on the instructions of the Prime Minister without parliamentary approval. The PPU said the last thing that Syria needed was more weapons. Opinion polls suggested only around a quarter of British adults backed the bombing campaign.
In May, pacifists and other peace activists from around Britain gathered together for the PPU's annual conference, entitled Remember & Resist. Poet and human rights activist Ambrose Musiyiwa encouraged resistance to militarism in local communities. Participants heard of successful peace campaigns in cities including Glasgow, Leicester and Cardiff, before sharing ideas and plans with each other.
Events to mark International Conscientious Objectors' Day took place around the world. In Britain, there were events in places including Bradford, Brighton, Cambridge, Dartmoor, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Norwich, Sheffield and Swansea/Abertawe. Hundreds of postcards were handed in to the South Korean embassy, calling for the release of imprisoned conscientious objectors.
June saw a major success for the peace movement when people in Glasgow took nonviolent direct action at the Glasgow arms fair. As a result, Glasgow City Council - who had originally defended the event - declared that they would not allow an arms fair to take place in the city again.
In the same month, there were actions against everyday militarism in communities around the UK. The organisers of LGBT Pride in York announced at the last minute that armed forces would march in uniformed blocks on the parade, but local LGBT activists and PPU members moved quickly to organise a very visible nonviolent protest against military pinkwashing. Members of Leicester for Peace, who had successfully persuaded the Mayor of Leicester to prevent the armed forces from inviting children to handle weapons at events in the city, took speedy action when the army broke the principle in the city centre. PPU members in the Midlands took part in the Leamington Peace Festival.
On 30 June, Armed Forces Day was greeted by protests and alternative events in more towns and cities than ever before, with many people getting in touch with the PPU for the first time as a result. The PPU joined with Conwy County Peace Group, Cymdeithas y Cymod and other organisations for major protests at the "national event" for Armed Forces Day in Llandudno, where children of primary school age were repeatedly invited to handle real weapons and war was armed force was presented as glamorous and exciting. In Blackpool, members of Veterans for Peace were prevented from handing out lealfets to the public. In Southampton, a nonviolent activist was physically assaulted as he spoke out against militarism.
In early July, controversy continued over Armed Forces Day, with the PPU giving media interviews about what had happened on the Day: small children invited to handle weapons and peaceful protesters met with heavy-handed policing. Later in the the month, PPU members and supporters joined with the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and other groups in protests and vigils at the Farnborough Airshow in Hampshire, which includes an arms fair as well as glamourising miltary equipment.
PPU members Holly Adams and Richard Barnard walked from Canterbury to the Greenbelt festival in Northamptonshire to campaign for peace and to raise funds for the PPU and other organisations. The PPU drew attention to the fiftieth anniversary of the nonviolent resistance to the invasion of Czechoslavakia by Warsaw Pact troops who were disrupted and delayed by mass non-co-operation. Like other pacifists around the world, the PPU mourned David McReynolds, former chair of War Resisters' International and one of the first US war resisters to burn his draft card, who died aged 88.
Research published in September revealed that arms companies were spending millions on schemes offering lessons, events and educational resources to British schools. The PPU said it was the latest evidence of everyday militarism and followed years of growing involvement by armed forces in education in the UK. There was dismay among a number of Guides, ex-Guides and Guide leaders when Girlguiding UK announced a new partnership with the British army. The PPU joined in campaigns to urge the organisation to ditch the partnership. The PPU backed calls by the relatives of reservists killed in military training exercises in Wales for the Ministry of Defence to lose its legal exemption from being prosecuted for corporate manslaughter.
In October, a leaked document at Conservative Party conference revealed that the party expects to be accused of "militarising children" - a sign that campaigns against everyday militarism are making an impact. The PPU challenged several comments on "defence" policy made by Gavin Williamson, including his plan for sending more troops towards Russia and his claim that UK military policy has been "too timid". The PPU welcomed Labour Party conference's commitment to ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia but was disappointed that Labour stuck with its policies of renewing the Trident nuclear weapons system and supporting NATO. PPU supporters were among the members of Trident Ploughshares who blockaded the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire. The PPU condemned the Chancellor of the Exchequer's announcement of another £1bn for the armed forces, pointing out that the UK already has the seventh highest military budget in the world.
St John Ambulance announced that its workers would be allowed to wear a white poppy while on duty; the change of policy followed a campaign by Simone Ramacci, a PPU member and St John Ambulance volunteer. The build-up to Remembrance Day saw large numbers of white poppies being sold and a rise in the number of shops, schools and faith groups making them available. White poppies were endorsed by the co-leaders of the Green Party of England and Wales, the former Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood and Labour politicians including Councillor Maya Evans, the Armed Forces Champion for Hastings. Hundreds of people joined in knitting and otherwise producing textile white poppies for Collateral Damage, a new art project backed by a range of organsations including the PPU. Meanwhile, Johnny Mercer MP triggered increased media coverage of white poppies after an ill-informed Twitter attack on white poppy wearers.
There were white poppy-related events around the UK to mark Remembrance Sunday with a commitment to remember the victims of war by working for peace. Hundreds attended the Alternative Remembrance Sunday Ceremony in London, organised by the PPU and other members of the First World War Peace Forum. The Lord Mayors of Sheffield and Bristol wore white poppies for their official duties on Remembrance Sunday. The PPU reported that the number of white poppies soold this year was higher than in any year since white poppies were founded, in 1933. Over 100 shops and other outlets had sold white poppies and more than twice as many White Poppies for Schools packs had been ordered as in the previous year. The PPU thanked the hundreds of people who had contributed to distributing and promoting white poppies, in local communities and in the PPU office.
Also in November, Welsh PPU members were among the activists who protested at RAF Valley on Anglesy/ Ynys Môn, where Saudi pilots are being trained by the Royal Air Force. Later in the month, there were events to mark the International Week of Action Against the Militarisation of Youth. These included screeings of War School, Mic Dixon's new film about miltiarism in the UK.
In December, PPU members marked Prisoners for Peace Day with letters of support to people around the world who are imprisoned for conscientious objection and nonviolent peace activism. Women in the PPU slammed the armed forces' attempts to portray themselves as feminist, pointing out that even a panel debate on gender balance in the armed forces had involved an all-male panel. In London, the PPU participated in a protest against arms sales to Saudi Arabia, organised by a new grassroots group, Students for Yemen.
The PPU responded quickly to Gavin Williamson's announcment of 3,500 troops on stand-by to deal with a no-deal Brexit, insisting that he should rule out the use of troops for social control in the event of civil unrest. On the penultimate day of the year, the PPU challenged Williamson's announcement of plans for new UK military bases around the world and his suggestion that Brexit would lead to the UK being a global military power.
We've lots more to do in 2019! Want to join in? You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 020 7424 9444.