2021: A year of peace campaigns amidst Covid and climate chaos
2021: A year of peace campaigns amidst Covid and climate chaos
War and militarism have continued throughout 2021, despite the Covid pandemic and the climate emergency.
But throughout the year, the Peace Pledge Union challenged war and promoted a pacifist response. We have worked alongside many other groups and activists on shared campaigns in the UK. We are pleased also to have worked with other pacifists around the world through War Resisters' International, of which the Peace Pledge Union is the British section.
Much of our work continues throughout the year, including our educational work and our support for members and local groups. But as we approach the end of the year, it's a good time to look back at some of the campaigns and actions in which PPU members have played a part.
Days after the UK went into a new lockdown, UK ministers said they would spend £550m on new surface-to-air missiles. The Peace Pledge Union again joined with other groups to call for military budgets and resources to be diverted to tackling threats such as pandemics, poverty and climate change. Later that month, we celebrated with people around the world as the Nuclear Ban Treaty formally took effect. While the lockdown restricted physical activity, we joined an online global day of action against war in Yemen.
Young women in the Peace Pledge Union expressed their disgust at the UK army’s attempt to appeal to young women by claming to promote female empowerment. As the PPU supported members and allies taking action against everyday militarism around the UK, we backed people in Cardiff campaigning against a new military museum whose official aims include the promotion of armed forces recruitment.
The PPU was one of several groups to denounce Boris Johnson's plans for the largest percentage increase in UK military spending since the Korean War. We predicted a rise in nonviolent direct action if Johnson went ahead with plans to increase the number of nuclear warheads owned by the UK government. The PPU backed protests against the draconian new Police Bill, which threatens the right to protest. We highlighted the role of an arms company in administering the census for England and Wales. People from all corners of the UK and beyond joined our online event on Challenging Militarism in a Pandemic, sharing ideas and learning tactics from each other, including on how to challenge online events run by armed forces and arms companies.
Military visits to Welsh schools were exposed as as a fig-leaf for armed forces recruitment, based on research by the PPU, Cymdeithas y Cymod and Forces Watch. The news came ahead of elections to the Senedd. When Johnny Mercer resigned as UK Minister for Veterans, we drew the media’s attention to Mercer's claim that Boris Johnson had offered to intervene in a criminal process to prevent an upcoming trial of soldiers accused of war crimes. As a result, Mercer and Johnson were challenged on the issue by opposition politicians from several parties. Our online event, Resisting Militarism in Your Community, saw PPU members and allies forging links and making plans to challenge everyday militarism in their own areas as the lockdown eased.
We joined with people around the world to celebrate International Conscientious Objectors’ Day, with a large turnout at an online ceremony. We called for armed forces personnel to have the right to leave the forces when they choose. The call was endorsed by former sailor Michael Lyons, who was imprisoned in 2011 after developing a conscientious objection to war and being refused discharge from the Royal Navy. We challenged Education Secretary Gavin Williamson after he misrepresented research about the supposed benefits of cadet forces. There was also sadness in May as we said goodbye to inspiring pacifist activist Penny Walker, who died at the age of 70.
There was good news and celebration as the Supreme Court overturned the convictions of four peace activists, including PPU members, who had been convicted of blocking a road while taking nonviolent direct action against the DSEI arms fair in London. The Supreme Court declared that blocking a road during a protest can at times be legal. Two days later, PPU members around the UK spoke out against Armed Forces Day, which drums up support for war by the back door. When the “Bus Stop Leak” revealed that the UK government had misled the public over a naval spat with Russian forces, we called for all the leaked documents to be published. We ran another online event, Resisting Militarism This Summer, with campaigners and local groups sharing their news and ideas about upcoming campaigns and actions.
We found ourselves in the unusual position of agreeing with the House of Commons Defence Select Committee: they called for the armed forces to lose the power to conduct their own criminal trials in cases of rape and sexual abuse.
We expressed our dismay as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, confirming the failure of war to bring about democracy and the need for alternative approaches to global problems.
The PPU joined with many other groups belonging to the Stop the Arms Fair coalition to resist the DSEI arms fair in London. Many people took nonviolent direct action to impede the event, while others protested in various other ways. The PPU held a remembrance ceremony at the gates of the event, reading out names of victims of war as the arms dealers walked in. PPU activists were among the people who blocked a road to the arms fair on its opening day by lying in the road for hours in the rain. We condemned the AUKUS military pact between the UK, US and Australia, saying that the only thing it would protect would be the profits of arms dealers.
The PPU joined Greater Rushmoor Action for Peace in protesting against the DPRTE arms fair in Farnborough. We responded to horrifying revelations about the sexual abuse of young women in the army by demanding that the armed forces lose the power to police themselves. We expressed dismay (but not surprise) at the decision of the authorities to drop all investigations into alleged war crimes by British troops in Iraq. PPU members joined in protests at the Liverpool arms fair. As we launched this year's white poppy campaign for Remembrance, the BBC confirmed that they would allow their presenters to wear poppies “of any colour”. We reported that the number of outlets stocking white poppies had more than doubled in five years. We were quoted challenging the use of imagery that trivialised war, such as “chest wound” red poppy T-shirts.
With the COP26 climate summit underway in Glasgow, the PPU joined with other campaigners to call for an end to rules that exempt armed forces from counting or reducing carbon emissions. PPU members travelled to Malvern to support two local groups in resisting the Three Counties arms fair. Our National Alternative Remembrance Sunday Ceremony was attended by hundreds of people in person and online, while white poppy wreaths featured in an unusually large number of Remembrance ceremonies around the UK.
On Prisoners for Peace Day, PPU members and allies wrote to conscientious objectors and other peace activists in prison around the world. As the UK and US governments talked up war with Russia over Ukraine, we made clear our opposition both to Russian militarism and to western militarism, and our support for people who resist militarism anywhere.