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In the run-up to the 1 October "Big Blockade" of the Faslane nuclear submarine base in Scotland, a leading anti-Trident activist looks back on the year-long blockade called "Faslane 365".
Besieging the bomb
On 4 July 2005, during the G8 summit, 2,000 people blockaded Faslane Naval Base, home of Britain's Trident submarines, armed with nuclear missiles, and closed it for the day. The police strategy was to leave the street party and not attempt to clear the gates. At 5pm folk got up and went home. And for Faslane, it was business as usual.
A few weeks later an email arrived with a “Proposal for year-long blockade”. The concept was simple: get 100 people to arrive each day and blockade Faslane for a year. After all, “36,400 people (100 people for a year) is only 0.7% of the Scottish population!”
The plan was bold and ambitious. And so crazy it just might work.
With the Trident renewal decision looming, the already strongly anti-nuclear sentiment in Scotland, and a foundation of previous “big blockades” to build on, it was clear that Scotland was the place and the time was now.
In October 2005, a group of us decided to go ahead, and the project, previously known as “the mad plan”, became “Faslane 365”.
As the campaign draws to a close with a Big Blockade on 1 October, this is a good opportunity to reflect on what was achieved.
Have we got rid of nuclear weapons? No, but in Scotland we are a bit closer.
Did 100 people come every day and blockade? No, but at the time of writing 123 groups have done so over 179 days (more than half the year so far).
To date there have been 944 arrests and only 51 prosecutions. The BBC recently reported that the policing of the protests has cost more than Â£5m, even though we have repeatedly told the police that we are capable of blockading without their assistance.
Collectively, Faslane blockaders have spent over two and a half years imprisoned in Clydebank and Dumbarton police cells. The youngest person arrested so far was 13, the oldest 92. And this is with several more groups and the Big Blockade still to come.
People have locked on to giant CND symbols, staged Highland Games, concerts and academic seminars in front of the gates, superglued themselves together, covered themselves in paint and even stripped off entirely for the “nudes against nukes” action.
The Japanese delegation, including survivors of the Nagasaki bomb, laid paper cranes in front of the gates and locked on through tubes of green bamboo. Scottish councillors, MSPs [Members of the Scottish Parliament], MPs [Members of the British Parliament], nurses, teachers, asylum seekers, lawyers, authors, singers, students, grannies, choirs, Quakers, lesbians, cyclists, peace walkers, runners, a bishop and a rainbow-coloured icebreaker have been just some of the participants in F365.
Makes you wonder how advanced we are in newspeak when a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, sitting peacefully in front of a nuclear weapons base, is arrested for “breach of the peace”.
One of the fundamental principles of F365 is decentralisation. Each group is responsible for its own blockade, support, message and practical arrangements.
The steering group has provided information and some support, such as direct action workshops, how to do media or legal support, internet access at Faslane Peace Camp, accommodation suggestions, as well as maintaining the website, producing various briefings, and always making sure someone is at the end of a mobile phone in case of an emergency.
Taking direct action against something as powerful as the state can be quite a scary thing to do, especially if it's your first time. Feeling supported by people who've done it before and know the ground is often comforting, and encourages you to do it again. And again!
The campaign has frequently put Trident into the Scottish newspapers and radio over the year, but hasn't yet made the really big headlines, especially south of the border.
Apart from mainstream press having a tendency to only pick up protests containing riot porn, one reason might be the length of the campaign - after a while the blockades are not considered “new news” anymore.
The decision not to have a planned, centrally-coordinated media strategy has perhaps had the drawback that Faslane 365 lacked a single, continuous contact point, but it has borne fruit in the confidence many activists have gained while doing their own media work, as well as ensuring great coverage in local papers and specialist magazines.
In my view, the formation and revitalisation of local affinity groups has been one of the most interesting things to come out of F365.
Functioning affinity groups which plan, prepare and carry out actions, and support each other through the potential long-term consequences, is something that will live on long after 1 October.
Having a bunch of action friends you can call up and do stuff with, whether it is to continue mischief at a local nuclear bomb factory or take part in mass mobilisations, makes all the difference and increases your ability to have an impact.
This year-long focus on direct disruption of Faslane has pushed the mobilisation beyond the usual suspects and brought in numerous new people to the struggle against Trident.
The political situation in Scotland looks more hopeful now than it has for a long time. F365 will end with a great Big Blockade on 1 October, but anti-nuclear campaigning and nonviolent direct action will and must continue. Please join us! Put your body where your heart is, and your bum in front of the gates of Faslane!
Faslane 365: 0845 45 88 365; www.faslane365.org/1oct