Peace News summer camp report

IssueSeptember 2011
Comment by Milan Rai

The third Peace News Summer Camp in late July (not long after PN’s 75th birthday party) was the best yet. Over 120 people came together at the lovely Crabapple Community near Shrewsbury for five days of discussion, debate, tripod-climbing, singing, compost-toilet-making, marquee-erecting, collective childcare and brilliant entertainment from some of the most talented and committed performers on the circuit.

Of course, the core of the camp was the workshops. There was a joint workshop by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and Chris Cole of Fig Tree on the East London arms fair in September (DSEi) and the use of military drones. There was a mixed-gender discussion on feminism alongside a men’s meeting on masculinity and militarism. We had sessions on “Using Indymedia”, “Resistance in Harry Potter”, “Peace Activities in Wales”, “Frontline Nonviolence: Action in Palestine” and “Home Education”.

Alongside workshops on cake-making, nonviolent direct action, green economics and car culture, we had “Solidarity Forever: Unionising Migrant and Casualised Workers”, “Revolutions in Egypt and Beyond” (by Alex Nunns, co-editor of Tweets from Tahrir, available from PN), and a presentation by Greg Muttitt, author of the recently-published Fuel on the Fire: Lessons from Iraq on Oil and Occupation.

Community Organising

In amongst all of this, the camp organisers had decided to lay stress on a theme: community organising for radical social change, with whole camp workshops on this theme at the beginning and end of the camp. We thought that as the anti-cuts movement gathers momentum, and peace activists join forces with others struggling for jobs and services, there needs to be greater understanding of what is involved in community organising, how it differs from much of what we call “activism”, and its importance in making lasting political change.

So, as well as the “unionising casual workers” talk (from Ewa Jasiewicz, union organiser and Gaza flotilla activist), and the whole camp workshop, we had workshops by long-time community activist and anarchist Dave Morris (of McLibel fame); by John Stewart, key organiser in the successful campaign to stop the third runway at Heathrow; and by Adrian Arbib, involved in the roads protests in the 1990s and more recently. (We also had sessions by anti-cuts network UKUncut and a group called Stop Kettling Our Kids.)

Peace News staff also ran sessions. Promotions worker Gabriel Carlyle ran “Afghanistan: The Activists’ Pub Quiz”, available for use on the PN website. Co-editor Emily Johns talked about her political-magical art (in a session called “Poo to Postmodernism!”). I ran workshops on “Chomsky’s Politics”, “al-Qa’eda”, and “Uprooting War”. “Uprooting War” was based on the paper I wrote for the Movement for the Abolition of War Strategy Day in February, a paper still available in the Views section on the MAW website.

We have a lot of feedback from campgoers. Here’s a sample: “This was a wonderful holiday for me and a chance to really be myself and to work out what things are valuable in my own life”; “Peace News walks the talk. Thoroughly enjoyed it”; “valuable information, possibly changed my life on so many levels, can’t wait till next year”; “a chance to take risks in a ‘safe’ environment”; “very open and participatory”; “quiet, calm, respectful, trusting”; “People were very friendly and helpful to a new person”; “Camp well organised without too many rules – just essentials”.