Blockade at Burghfield: Acting Against Nuclear Weapons

This article is from the new October 2013 issue of The Young Quaker. You can read the full issue here.

By Andrew Dey, QPSW Peaceworker

Andrew is one of this year’s six QPSW Peaceworkers, and works with War Resisters International (WRI) and Action AWE.

Action AWE is a grassroots, nonviolent campaign dedicated to halting nuclear weapons production at the Atomic Weapons Establishment factories at Aldermaston and Burghfield. The campaign is being supported by Quaker Peace and Social Witness in the form of a Quaker Peaceworker – I have just started work as a Peaceworker for the campaign, spending a day a week on outreach work and mobilisation.

Up until the general election in 2015, Action AWE will be piling on the pressure for disarmament by supporting and organising nonviolent direct action at government nuclear weapons bases. Last month, activists managed to successfully blockade AWE Burghfield, and we’re looking forward to seeing people from across the country joining in the campaign against nuclear weapons in the UK.

Blockade

At 5:30am on Monday 2nd September, Burghfield Atomic Weapons Establishment was shut down by activists from across the UK and Europe who locked themselves together across the entrance roads to the base. Situated in Berkshire just a few miles from Reading, Burghfield AWE is a nuclear weapons factory, and critical to the construction and maintenance of British weapons of mass destruction.

On that clear, sunny morning, twenty-two people were arrested and over a hundred others supported the blockade of Burghfield AWE, which was completely shut for nearly an hour, and the ongoing running and development of the site was severely disrupted for the rest of the day. One of the blockades – organised by a Spanish speaking group – was still in the road at 7 o’clock in the evening!

Photo: Sian Jones / Action AWE

 
Sitting in the road, physically using our bodies to obstruct the machines of death, war and destruction is as empowering as it is effective – throughout the day we watched vehicles being turned away and construction workers stand by their vans, waiting for police cutting teams to remove the blockaders lock-on tubes so they were able to drive into the base. A number of Quakers, including one or two YFGMers, were also present at the blockade, and a Quaker meeting was held at the main gate of the base at 11 am.

This blockade is only the latest in a long tradition of nonviolent direct action, stretching back to the 1958 Alderston March. Since then, efforts to disrupt the work at Burghfield and Aldermaston plants have been regularly made by a range of groups. The current urgency is targeted at fighting the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system, as the government will be deciding whether or not to replace it shortly after the 2015 election. Now is the time to get active and show opposition to these plans!
Disarmament Camp

The blockade was one big day of action held as part of a fortnight long ‘disarmament camp’ organised by Trident Ploughshares and Action AWE. The camp – a beautiful, peaceful occupation of Ministry of Defence land – was held for two weeks from the 26th August to 7th September, and by its very presence acted as a protest against the UK’s weapons of mass destruction. Our camp was positioned right against the fence of the base, and from where we sat to eat breakfast we could see the workers inside continuing the construction and development work that paves the way for the replacement of Trident.

By camping on MoD land we acted as a constant reminder to the workers, local residents and the government that any plans to build WMDs in Berkshire will face opposition. Over the two weeks activists from across the UK and Europe met to plan and take action, and we ate together, laughed, sang, plotted, and dreamed of what a world after nuclear weapons might look like. Throughout the fortnight we monitored the base and took other action (including street stalls in nearby Reading, and a ‘nearly nude’ protest made it into the local papers!)

Action AWE

“They build nuclear weapons there?” was the magistrates response to what he’d just heard. In front of him was stood one of the peace activists who, the day before, had been arrested for blockading one of the entrances to Burghfield AWE. She had just explained why she had acted to stop the ongoing work and redevelopment of the site, and was as surprised by his lack of awareness of what went on at Burghfield AWE as he was by the fact our government builds weapons of mass destruction just five miles down the road from his court! This simple story is a stark reminder of how important it is to put these factories of death and destruction back on the map and make sure the work carried out there stops for good.

In 2016 the government will make the final decision on whether or not to replace Trident. Time is of the essence, and the government is acting as if the decision has already been made. Millions is already being spent on enhancing the Aldermaston and Burghfield in preparation for building the next generation of nuclear weapons, and this large scale investment before the final decision is made could itself be used to force the hand of decision-makers, creating a climate where politicians do not want to be seen to waste taxpayers money.

However, we are currently being offered the best opportunity we have had for decades to scrap Trident, or will have for many decades to come – now is the time to act. Aldermaston and Burghfield are key sites in this campaign.

Action AWE is inviting groups and individuals from across the country to hold vigils, acts of witness, street theatre, blockades, site occupations – whatever works for you! – at Aldermaston and Burghfield AWEs. Action AWE has all sorts of resources – nonviolence trainers and veteran peace activist speakers, maps, stencils, banners, props, practical information, meeting spaces and publicity information that we can make available to anyone and everyone ready to take action at Burghfield and Aldermaston AWE!

Fancy getting involved, hosting a nonviolence training session or visiting speaker in your area, or just want more information? Email andrew@actionawe.org or visit www.actionawe.org for more information. For more information on the Quaker Peaceworker scheme see: www.quaker.org.uk/quaker-peaceworker-scheme

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