Saturday, 3 November 2007
Harrogate on the move?
My apologies for absence. I guess that until I get the hang of this blogging business, the visibility of Wainwright’s World will be in inverse proportion to the amount of activity going on within it.
Being an unfashionable creature, I still have this superior feeling that I have better things to do than blog.
So what ‘better things’ have I been doing? For a start two weeks ago, I was of an attempt to ‘Drum Out the US base’ at Menwith Hill, which this July the government discreetly allowed the US to use as the UK base for its Missile ‘Defence’ System. (actually a highly aggressive attempt militarily to conquer space). Well, to be truthful it was the Bradford Samba Band that did the drumming: I, my mum and Red Pepper researcher Jaimie Grant swelled the determined crowd and I took my turn at the microphone with Jean Lambert MP and the mega determined Lindis Percy. With an impressive network of Yorkshire CNDers, Lindis has kept the protests going week after week for the past seven years, monitoring the every move of the US military. Needless to say, at our demonstration, Bush’s footsoldiers never showed their faces behind the fences. They are protected by the Ministry of Defence Police (incidentally, when these police work on American bases are under the operational control of the American government). When there’s a crowd the North Yorkshire Police help out.
The pressure is slowly building. Labour and Lib-Dem MPs are asking questions and proposing an Early Day Motion, trying to get a debate after the government sneaked in the decision to give the US the permission to use the base. In July Des Browne the Minister of Defence had almost casually told parliament that the Menwith base was to be the UK host for the new US missile defence system, as if this was merely an administrative decision about new MOD car parks.
He further insulted the intelligence of the public – or demonstrated what a prisoner he was of the system – by saying: ‘ The UK will have full insight into the operation of US missile defence when missile engagements take place that wholly or partly influenced by data from radar at Fylingdales’
In other words, we’re allowed to know how it the missiles work after the event but to have no influence on whether the operations should take place.
Des Browne did n’t taken of the vigilance of a spirited network of Yorksire CNDers, Greens, Quakers and socialists of various hues – including my 80 year old headmistress, Joyce Blake from York who is regularly to be seen at the regular protests, I’m proud to say. Their regular marches round the bases, occasional trespasses and inevitable arrests has meant that the US military cannot move without being watched and their every activity reported. Lindis has her spies in the most surprising places.
Now the campaign benefits from and contributes to two international networks: Global Network Against Nuclear Weapons and Power in Space. www.keepspace4peace.org and No US Bases: www.no-bases.org. Lessons and inspiration are exchanged, solidarity built up. Menwith’s nearest town Harrogate (15 minutes drive away) has similarities with the conservative town of Vicenza in Northern Italy where earlier this year, hundreds of thousands came on the streets to protest against Prodi’s decision to allow the US to expand the local base. What will bring the citizens of Harrogate out of Betty’s tea shop, the spa baths and the posh shops? What will turn the elegant Stray into the site of a protest against being dragged into the US’s military ambitions?
I can’t say I know the answer but one part of it is information; information about how without any of the government’s much vaunted consultations, the citizens of Harrogate and their discretely comfortable lives are being effectively made a target in the ’war against terror’ as the presence of the missile system draws them unknowingly into the bewildering ‘war against terror.’ Last year Harrogate resident and health visitor Lindis Piercy stopped paid work and made it her job to make the base accountable. She’s been active over the unaccountability of US bases since the campaign to close Greenham Common in the 1980’s.
She and her allies are building the kind of campaign where everyone can feel comfortable. It just needs people to break their routines and show the government that their consent to hosting the means of military aggression cannot be taken for granted. They’ll be made at home with delicious soup and cakes to ease the transition from the armchair to the demonstration. If blogging will encourage people to join important but insufficiently high profile campaigns like the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases, then I’ll make more of a habit of it.
Photo Hilary (left), Hilary's Mum (centre), Jean Lambert MEP Green Party (right)