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Remember Greenham 2

Bearing witness -in word, song or art- is a direct way to convey the truth when global -injustice runs amok. This was as true for Sophie Scholl from the White Rose group (guillotined for co-writing and distributing leaflets encouraging resistance to the Nazi regime 75 years ago) as it was for the Lakota performing the Ghost Dance to invoke their murdered ancestors and resist assimilation under the Dawes Act.

Amongst many creative actions, the Greenham Women invented Cruise watch: every time a weapon was moved from the base, at least one of them would show their face as witness to the drivers of the missile convoy.

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To put this in context, historian Bethan Sian -Jones (see my ink sketch above of her talking at Peace March earlier this month) points out that Welsh Women – along with those who joined them -contributed significantly to the removal of Cruse and Pershing missiles from Greenham Common. She also pointed out that WFLOE (Women For Life On Earth) organised a similar march to Broadene (a US underwater microphone facility) which they occupied for 4 days. This would have made the U.K. a prime target and the women’s action brought attention to this possibility.

Another method of bearing witness is songwriting and performance. During the recent Peace March Frankie Armstrong (see my pastel sketch of her below) performed one of the many powerful songs she penned in support of Greenham: Out of the Darkness.

Frankie A

There is no compromise here, nor are we soothed with peaceful musings; the searing lyrics compare the darkness of the womb and tomb, keening the universality of birth and death along with a plea that we are not thrown into a premature nuclear death. Mixed throughout though, is a message of hope relevant to the nature of our present struggle for global equality and peace, as:

Out of the darkness comes the hope we’re not too late
And out of the darkness come the songs that we create.’

Listen to Frankie Armstrong sing it here: http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/abase/sange/greenham/song6.htm

Ultimately, we need to pay tribute to anyone prepared to risk present ease or comfort to highlight injustice, lies and violence; Greenham Women left jobs, families and economic security to protest against what they perceived to be a global threat to life . One protester- Helen Thomas – was killed in 1989. 

Many thanks to Archif Menywod Cymru/Women’s Archive Wales for organising the Commemorative Peace March.

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Remember Greenham

“She is like a mountain”, the lyrics from one of the songs of Greenham (created by the women themselves along with lyricists such as Holly Near, Peggy Seager or Naomi Little Bear Martinez) rang out from the group of women – and a few men -who met at Cardiff Museum on August bank holiday Monday to commemorate the Welsh women who marched to Greenham Common in 1981.

Marilyn & friends

Many of us knew the lyrics – led by the great Côr Cochion Caerdydd (Cardiff Reds) Choir – because many had either been on the march itself, or visited the camp. We had met to reminisce and re-enact a historic part of the march -across the Severn Bridge.

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Ann Petit (left) and Karmen Thomas were so worried when Thatcher allowed the United States to store 96 cruise missiles at Greenham Common Airbase that they decided to take action.

On arrival at the base four women (including Ann and Karmen) chained themselves to the fence, their gesture inspiring a peace protest which lasted nearly 20 years and led to the removal of cruise and Pershing missiles in 1991. Other notable actions included Embrace the Base in 1982 when 30,000 women (me included) encircled the base holding hands and a Teddy Bear’s Picnic, entailing 40 women dressed as teddy bears climbing inside the base to have a picnic in 1983! Speakers at the initial rally in Cardiff spoke of the march and subsequent camp’s effect on their lives.

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Steff Greedy (left) said the hiraeth (a particular type of home-sickness experienced if you have ever lived in, then left Wales) she felt at seeing the Welsh flag on the march whilst she was stationed at Chepstow led to her questioning why she had joined the army. As a result she bought herself out and joined the peace camp.

The bus then took us to Chepstow where we were regaled with sandwiches and welshcakes – something else that referenced the first march and the hospitality the marchers experienced en route to Greenham. The Drill Hall- in Chepstow -was packed with memorabilia and banners from the march:

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Banner from original march by Thalia Campbell and Lucy Higgs showing the route of the march.

Banners

The banner (far left) was created for our march by Lucy Jauncey, nee Campbell – daughter of Thalia Campbell who made the original banner shown earlier.

See my ink and wash portrait of her below:

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Women changing the world

‘If you don’t like something, change it’ advised the brilliant poet Maya Angelou. Women in the UK have been doing a lot of that during the last year and I have been amazed by the drive and commitment of the following activists (who I caught in ink recently):

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Shen Batmaz- a ‘McStriker ‘and right, Eleanor Peterson- a Windrush activist on stage at Marxism 2018

Shen (top left) was one of the first McDonald’s workers to go on strike in September last year after seeing too many workers going off shift crying either because they had been bullied by management or didn’t have enough money to live on. They now have a pay rise of £8 – £10 per hour but the fight continues as fast- food workers everywhere are inspired to expect more.

Eleanor (top right)  then told of how she had been saved by the support of Labour after she lost her job and came near to being deported (after living in the UK for 52 years) because she could not ‘prove’ she had lived here. She now has a new job and is helping others from the Windrush Generation assert their rights.

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Shia & Mary from Women’s Right to Choose- Southern Ireland

Shia (above) cleverly encapsulated the oppression of women in Ireland by reference to the experiences of three generations of her family all of whom had been sold the idea that they shouldn’t control their own fertility. The recent repeal of the 8th Amendment – in favour of women’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion -she therefore perceived as seismic. Mary (above right) pointed out that dissemination of real facts around this issue was crucial in swinging the vote and was done door to door by women of all ages – at great risk  from bigots who wanted the oppression to continue – in the weeks just prior to the vote.

Elsewhere Muslim women were talking about having to challenge Islamophobia day by day and clarifying issues around the veil and its different forms.

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A panel of Muslim women discuss Islamophobia and explain the difference between the Niquab, Khimar, Burqa, Hijar and Chador

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Latifa, a citizenship teacher

Latifa (above) is a Citizenship teacher in London. She discussed how Prevent is a racist stratagem causing division between our children and implored us to unify against the damaging effects of the current government.

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Moira Samuels from Grenfell Survivors

I remember seeing Moira (above) talk last year just after the Grenfell disaster. This year she revealed that having to suppress grief in order to fight has turned the survivors into warriors.

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Paula Peters from DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts)

Last but not least the amazing Paula Peters – advocate for change and another warrior woman – spoke about the need for vigilance and determination as the farcical Universal Credit is rolled out. Don’t forget: we are only temporarily able bodied!

 

 

Reality And Equality Jolt Priviledge @ Womad

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Charlton Park, the setting of Womad

I work at Womad every year and get to see a year’s worth of bands at the same time. I always fill a sketch book with things and people I’ve seen with quick ink or graphite-stick sketches, ‘en plein air’. These take anything from 5 to 20 mins, some with added colour by means of gouache wash (see above) or pastels:

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Ink sketch of two members of ‘Havana Meets Kingston’; the bata player at left opened the act on her own.

It can seem privileged and divorced from reality -which is why I work for the disabled campsite/ viewing platforms. However, this time reality impinged a little more than usual as several acts had been unable to secure visas for some or all of their group due to the UK’s inimical ‘hostile environment’policy.

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Tal National Workshop

The lead singer (above) from the Tuareg band ‘Tal National’told a small gathering in a Q & A session that they had had to leave some of the band behind – including his wife who had been refused a visa. This goes against the time-honoured tradition of allowing musicians freedom of passage.

The shocking effects of May’s absurd austerity policies are affecting many in the UK. This is particularly so for anyone living with a disability, many of whom lose their independence and quality of life if funds are cut. I found it interesting that Renata Rosa ( a singer, violinist and pandeiro player from Sao Paulo, Brazil) concluded her singing workshop by inviting a woman in a wheelchair into the centre of the double circle of people to play percussion and lead the group with her:

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More sketches to follow…

The spirit of Cable Street in Whitehall (standing up to racism)

A definite coda to the anti -Trump carnival: Saturday’s anti – fascist march in London was impressive yet received hardly any press coverage.  It was far from The Battle of Cable Street (of 82 years ago -immortalised so beautifully by the mural of the same name at the end of Cable St in East London) due to the fact that we were kept at least 30 metres away from the Tommy Robinson supporters by police:

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Above -Protesters come to a halt at the end of Whitehall (a wall of police)

However, people clearly wanted to demonstrate their zero- tolerance of white supremacy and racism. All ages, all colours and religions met together peacefully in a show of unity (and I had time to do about 10 sketches): 

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Above – a photographer scales the walls in Whitehall to capture a surge forward following a skirmish

There was the occasional outbreak of physical obstruction and threats from Tommy Robinson supporters- including the stopping of the number 9 bus in Trafalgar Square (because it was driven by a Muslim woman). She refused to be intimidated, remaining in her seat until the police escorted her off 30 minutes later! 

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Above: protesters with banners of support in Parliament Square

We need to join together now  to protect our hard-won freedom; I just hope we have some music to dance to next time…

 

#sos nicaragua

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‘Ay Nicaragua Nicaraguita, la flor mas linda de mi querer’ sang the 100 plus crowd gathered in Trafalgar Square for the demo for Nicaragua Libre (Free Nicaragua).last Sunday, 10th of June. Those who knew the words of Carlos Mejia Godoy’s love song so well must have lived in Nicaragua at some point….IMG_20180613_134331

I had an overwhelming sense of how sombre the assembled youth were. Many people gave personal testimonies (as sketched above & below), but the most notable were those from young people recently in Nicaragua, or due to go back soon. They told me that although the killings have lessened recently, there is an unofficial curfew and food supplies are scarce.

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There was an ambiguous atmosphere at this demo; part fiesta, part memorial (all of those who died in the recent killings had their names read out with the crowd’s response -‘presente!’). I ate Nicaraguan ice-cream, sketched and chatted to mothers of recent UK volunteers sent via Raleigh International, young people from Nicaragua as well as 60 year olds- like myself- who worked there in support of the Sandinistas during the US backed Contra war.IMG_20180617_231924

 

The most chilling aspect was seeing how someone we associated with freedom and liberation at that time (Daniel Ortega) is now emerging as the opposite: an oppressive dictator and murderer:

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Detail from a banner depicting a changed Ortega

Find out more through #sosnicaragua

@VoteNoHeathrow

Protesters have long used fasting as a toolthus the ‘No third runway’ protesters are drawing attention to the mess that will accrue from creating another runway at Heathrow. I met with them on Sunday on the 3rd day of their fast outside Labour HQ in Westminster – to do some drawing and get the facts…. IMG_20180611_081703

Costing about £14bn, the government insists: “Heathrow will be privately financed and costs will not fall on the taxpayer.” But the public will end up paying through charges levied by the airport (which in turn are passed on by the airlines). Moreoverburying the M25 in a tunnel will cost around £15 billion and taxpayers will definitely be paying for this. 

Economically, it will exacerbate the gap between the South East and poorer regions (The Airports Commission’s own data affirms that traffic at regional airports would fall if a new runway was built at Heathrow). 

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Above, John Mcdonnell talks to a hunger-striker outside Labour HQ on Sunday

Ecologically, A new runway cannot be built simultaneous with keeping aviation emissions within the Committee on Climate Change’s recommended cap on same (of 37.5Mt CO2)As well as this, emissions from planes can be around twice as damaging as CO2 from other sources. To have the remotest chance of offsetting its impact would therefore require doubling the CO2 removed from the atmosphere elsewhere. Additionally, due to the impossibility of working within (the eminently reasonable, some say underplayed) Paris COP 21 agreement, the offsetting scheme for aircraft emissions is being weakened to a point where it will just become a green-washing exercise. 

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Protesters answer questions from a passing youth.

Also, please don’t forget that communities are being dumped for this runway:  the whole of Longford village, part of Harmondsworth and the wonderful Grow Heathrow Community are for the chop. To make way for a third runway. Let’s face it, noise & pollution from the 700 extra planes a day that would use the airport if a third runway is built, is bound to be disastrous; as the UK is already failing to meet air pollution legal limits, expansion of Heathrow seems inimical, and stupid. 

Many of the hunger- strikers are determined to carry on: Weds 13th – Die –in Lobby of Parliament  (please view the following):  

Today, Fri 15th: Hunger strikers are in Scotland to talk sense to the SNP  as they contemplate a deal with the Conservatives.

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  Hunger -strikers – day 3