Rise Up Singing: Raising our Voices Against Nuclear Weapons
To hear myself saying this was a great relief, as I had deliberately not prepared a statement to make when the charges "breach of the peace" were brought against me at Faslane Nuclear Base. I was relieved that what came out was both logical and correct.
We had been singing through ceaseless rain for many hours, with good humor, and with deep concern, assisted by our old friends the midges. Songsheets disintegrated in our hands, and we kept singing. This continued all day with different choirs and song leaders teaching us new songs, and munching through some old favorites, such as "War Machine," that are sadly still relevant today. It was one of those days when you just have to give in to being drenched, and enjoy it all the better for it.
As a group, we moved into the road singing "Freedom come all ye" and continued to sing as some of us sat down. As a unified whole, we turned our backs on the beautiful countryside that holds our weapons of genocide, faced the gates of Faslane, and kept singing. We reinforced for ourselves that we will use our personal resources not for destruction, but for constructive means, by creating living, working music together as a community. We sang for ourselves and each other, and we sang for the police, the military, and the wider community, that they may hear our message and feel both the pain and hope that we express.
Those standing in the road moved away to the relative 'safety' of the pavement, and those of us sitting in the road remained. And still we sang.
I didn't really notice being arrested on a very conscious level. We were singing "Bin the Bomb," and I looked past the gates, and was very aware of being one of many voices, of being part of a choir. I met the eyes of my arresting officers as I was carried away, singing with all of my force. One by one my friends joined me in the police van, and we continued to sing. We sang our way to Clydebank and spoke freely with the police whom we encountered as one by one we were processed. Having convinced them that the lentils in my pocket were neither a sinister plot nor a tasty snack, but in fact a broken shaker, I was taken to my cell.
It's surprisingly freeing, being locked inside a room for an act that you believe to be thoroughly correct. For innumerable logical, moral, and legal reasons, it is obscenely wrong for us to be engaging weapons of mass destruction in our military defense, and not only allowing, but instructing members of our armed forces to prepare to commit war crimes. I say this particularly at a time when our departed Prime Minister, who is about to become a 'peace envoy,' makes statements such as "The problem with this country is that we put civil liberties before the fight against terrorism." Thanks Tony, but sadly, and in fact quite terrifyingly, the opposite is true.
All evening we sang in the cells. We sang "Peace Salaam Shalom," "I Shall Be Released," "Aye But I Will Sit Here," some arias by Vivaldi and Purcell, "Never Give Up," and countless other songs.
During a brief logistical oversight, we failed to notice that all of the choir leaders had decided to blockade the road, thus risking arrest, leaving our singers without waving arms to encourage them.
Upon our release, some of us were driven back to Faslane, and some departed sadly, but with a song in the street and warm hugs to send them on their way. With most sincere delight, we returned to find our friends still singing by the gates, and evidently having a wonderful time, so we joined them for a couple of hours, learning new songs, remembering old ones, and enjoying conversations with the police and eating mercifully dry sandwiches.
The sheer force of a group of people singing is quite something to be reckoned with not only because of the physical power of many voices together, but also because of the beauty and pain which are expressed so thoroughly through this medium. It is a resistance that causes the police to unwittingly tap their feet, or to feel a depth of sorrow that we all, by our common humanity, instinctively feel about death and destruction. It is quite something to be asked by your arresting officer to continue singing -- to continue to express that which you have been arrested for. Music has the power to unite a group of people who are visually divided by uniform: yet all embody the same principle of trying to regain and retain a place of safety and justice, though they employ different means to achieve this. I feel that this is largely understood by the people who protest at Faslane, and by the people who police at Faslane.
In recent weeks, many of my friends have been somewhat preoccupied with the fact that I've been arrested, and have unfortunately missed the point completely. I did not go to Faslane to be arrested, although I was fully aware that this would happen. If I had wanted to get arrested I could simply have committed a crime much nearer to home. I went to Faslane to remove my consent from our national defense strategy of the threat and use of genocide. I express myself through music, so I go to this place and I sing.
We sang in the rain, and we sang in the road. We sang in the police van, and we sang in the cells. They released us, and we sang our way back to Faslane.
As those wonderful singers slowly left Faslane to return to their ordinary lives, I was left with a great depth of sorrow. I was almost bereft at the loss of people who will willingly and ceaselessly sing with me, and who sing, as I do, with great strength of purpose. I was saddened by the unthinkable terror that we could release in one moment, and by the great length of the road ahead, but I was also galvanized by the knowledge that my action was not solitary, that it is part of a many-stranded movement of people to create change for the better. Before I left Faslane, I wrote a song with only the words "Be still my sorrow."
As I drove home, exhausted from four days of singing, I let out a guttural roar until there was no breath left in me.