In September, there was a reunion in London of the nonviolent direct action (NVDA) affinity group ARROW, something like 20 years after the group folded. Folk who had not seen each other for decades came together to catch up; it was a wonderful afternoon.
For me, ARROW was where I learned how to work with other people in a non-hierarchical group, or a group that was trying to put equality into practice. ARROW was my peace movement university. We didn’t just do actions, though we did a lot of those. We had discussion groups, we handed out anti-war briefings on marches, an ARROW delegation went to Belfast and Derry in the North of Ireland, we published things....
ARROW started life as ‘Gulf War Resisters’. At first, that was just the name of the group who carried out an action at the Farnborough airshow on 9 September 1990. Iraq had invaded Kuwait a month earlier, and all the signs were that Britain would take part in a war against Iraq soon.
Later, we publicised open meetings which gathered together experienced direct actionists like David Polden and Chris Cole, along with folk newer to NVDA, including a 16-year-old schoolgirl and two young environmental activists who went on to found the UK branch of Earth First!
After the 1991 Gulf War, we changed our name to ARROW, which stood for ‘Active Resistance to the Roots of War’ (we avoided ‘Against the Causes Of War’).
We also started a Monday evening vigil outside the foreign office in Central London, calling for a lifting of the economic sanctions on the people of Iraq.
That weekly vigil carried on for 12 years, until 2003, with the late Richard Crump at the heart of it.
ARROW carried out many small actions of its own, like the occupation of the foreign office by Ethics Detectors (see left).
We also organised or co-organised larger acts of civil disobedience like the sit-down protest at the Portsmouth arms fair in September 1991 (106 arrested) and the blockade of the Northwood military command centre in North London in January 2003, which led to 70 arrests. (We believe that that was the largest single act of civil disobedience in the UK, in terms of arrests, during the 2002 – 2003 anti-war mobilisation.)
ARROW came out of the Upper Heyford Ploughshares Support Group, supporting Stephen Hancock (later a PN co-editor) and Mike Hutchinson, who entered USAF Upper Heyford on 21 March 1990 and hammered on a nuclear-capable (but not armed) F-111 fighter jet.
ARROW members took part in two other Ploughshares actions: Chris Cole’s BAE Ploughshares action (6 January 1993), and the Seeds of Hope Ploughshares: Women Disarming for Life and Justice action (29 January 1996) – see Andrea Needham’s terrific book, The Hammer Blow.
An ARROW side-project was Voices in the Wilderness UK, which broke the economic sanctions on Iraq for several years by taking medicines there without authorisation. Voices UK grew to be bigger than ARROW!
ARROW was quite a mixed group of people in terms of our politics and our ages (16 – 66 in 1991), our faiths or lack of them.
In our oral history pamphlet, ARROW Two Years On in 1993, Emily Johns said: ‘I think it’s quite a rarity for men and women to be working well together as we do. I would more expect that sort of working well in a women’s group than in a mixed group.’
In terms of race, ARROW was white apart from three people with South Asian heritage: Noor Admani, Irfan Merchant and me.
I miss you all!