Hiroshima to Nagasaki Fast outside the Ministry of Defence in London.
Written by Angie Zelter, 11August 2015.
Marc (of dual French and UK citizenship) generously hosted us all in London at his home as we arrived from France, Wales and England. We were 8 in all – Marc, Julia, Jed, Marie-Claude, Sophie, Serge, Angie and Bernard. We shared supper, getting to know each other, enjoying every moment, preparing the stand-alone fast placard that Julia had made and also ordering 2 taxis. This was because we were some way away from central London and there was to be a tube strike the next day!
Hiroshima Day – 6th August 2015
Early morning wake up and into the taxis by 6.10a.m. with tarps, bags and banners, we arrived at around 6.40 a.m. and began to set up in the Whitehall Gardens right next to the railings that surround the Ministry of Defence. We had been there only a few minutes when 2 policemen strolled up. One said to me, ‘I recognise you – Lakenheath!’ He had been stationed there when our Lakenheath Action Group had been so active over 10 years before. I asked him if he had left after we had forced the US nuclear weapons from the base and when was that as I had forgotten the year – he replied, ‘We can neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons’. Hilarious.Anyway, he understood our nonviolence and motivations and that we could be trusted when we said we were only here for the 4 days, so we were surprisingly left in peace to set up our little vigil base. We hung up banners and tidily covered our sleeping mats and possessions that we stashed by our placards and readied ourselves for the Hiroshima commemoration.
A few supporters from Christian CND and London Women in Black turned up along with the amazingly helpful and cheerful Phil who took on leafletting the many people passing through the park and along the Embankment. He turned up to help every day. There were about 20 of us in all.
The commemoration started with the ringing of a Hiroshima Bell which was then passed around to whoever wanted to contribute a reading, song or poem. We had a minutes silence at 8.15. It was a simple but moving ceremony. Julia held the Hiroshima candle whilst it was lit and then it went on with Christian CND, along with many of the people present, on the Hiroshima Day Peace Walk to Tavistock Square and for the inter-faith service at Friends House. A few of us remained at the MoD to keep our presence continuous.
Both Russian and Japanese press covered our event
See http://www.ntv.ru/novosti/1459877/ for some of the Russian coverage.
Hiroshima Day Die-in outside MoD
At 2p.m. we walked around to the main entrance of the MoD in Horsegauards Avenue (just around the corner) and Rosie kindly took photos of us all while the Japanese and Russian press took pictures. As is often the case the British press were nowhere to be seen.
We were soon joined by more supporters from London who flung themselves on the ground and Serge began to chalk around the prone figures.
Invalid Displayed GalleryAfter 30 minutes we stood up and slowly made our way to our vigil base.
The police were very low key as we had left enough room for workers to go in and out of the building and were only there for half an hour. We wanted no arrests as our primary focus was the 4 day vigil.
Later on that day police arrived with the duty manager of Westminster Council whose land we were apparently camped on and they set up a meeting for the next day to discuss our presence but we mainly talked about where we could advise homeless people to go for support. There was no pressure for us to leave.
The night vigil
About 5 of us stayed overnight and lit candles. We took watches of one and a half hours throughout the night. We were joined by 2 more French people – Tristi and Michael – who stayed for the rest of the fast and joined in everyting with great enthusiasm. A homeless woman who needed a safe night’s sleep also stayed and left early the next morning. 2 policemen circled the MoD all night and when I did my watch one of them asked if I was Mrs Zelter as he wanted to meet me as he had grown up in Cromer (I lived in the next village for 33 years) – the world is indeed very small!
Friday 7th August
We had a morning and evening circle each day with whoever was around to make consensus decisions about our programme, who would maintain the MoD vigil and who would do the die-ins and leafletting. They were a great opportunity to learn how to speak slowly, clearly and in short sentences so that Marc could translate between the 2 languages.
When leafletting the many workers coming in and out of the MoD in the morning it was interesting to note that the more confident people took the leaflets whilst some scurried in with worried expressions. Some gave a smile and supportive look and one said he certainly agreed as did many inside – the money would be better spent on conventional weapons!
At about 9.30a.m. Michael, Tristi, Jed, Serge, Michal, and I gathered outside Parliament to show our banners and leaflets. The police were most unhappy, we could not tie the banners on the railings – so we held them,
Invalid Displayed Gallerywe could not chalk on the ground – although we did. Jed refused to leave until Serge got his paintbrush back – he had been using clay to write slogans on the ground, which the tourists loved along with his singing and dancing.
Die-in outside the Houses of Parliament at 2pm
We chose the statue of Richard the Lionheart, with its French connections, to do our die-in. The banner explaining the fast, which Jed had made so carefully, was laid out and at the strike of the bell the die-in took place around the banner. The many tourists passing by were intrigued and took leaflets and engaged in discussion. Liz from Women in Black turned up to support again. The police were most exercised by the use of chalk and Serge and I gave our names and explained that it was again only a half-hour symbolic die-in.
We departed back to our vigil base and a couple of us resupplied ourselves with leaflets for the 2 entrances to the MoD. I was at the back entrance near the car-park (end nearest to Parliament) when at 4.55 lots of black limousines delivered around 8 high-ranking Armed Forces Officers covered with gold epaulettes and very obviously from different countries. The public were kept to the side but I know some of them saw my t-shirt which said ‘NO TRIDENT RENEWAL’
Saturday 8th August
We noticed that a few concrete squares near where we were based had the names of Military Heroes. A few Peace Heroes were therefore added – Gandhi, Russell, Einstein, Camus, King….. noticing they were all men, Morag added in Edith Cavell.
The die-in was outside Downing St this time.
The pavements were crushed with tourists taking pictures and we knew it would be hard to manage half an hour this time but we did it with the support of Raised Voices singing, and with Sue and Liz helping Jed and I with talking to the police. A lovely Spanish peace family turned up to help out too. We were told to make the ‘dead’ get up but we said the police should speak to them themselves so one policeman came right up to the group on the ground and shouted very loudly that they were obstructing the highway and must move. This helped get us even more tourist attention. The police said we were a safety hazard as people were spilling out into the main road so we moved the banner in and tried persuading people to keep off the main road. I was really glad when the half hour ended as I was worried some one might get run over whilst taking photos. Tristi was so amazed that we had not been arrested for blocking the road that she had to fling her arms in thanks around the policeman.
Invalid Displayed GalleryLuckily the Westminster police turned up to arrest just as we were finishing and talked to the choir first. We then moved off Downing St and along the pavement instead and talked to people for another hour or so.
Nagasaki Day 9th August
Our last night passed peacefully with candles. We had been so lucky with the weather, warm and no rain.
Invalid Displayed GallerySerge had arisen early as usual and was still adding to the messages on the pavements around the MoD.
People gathered for the Nagasaki Lament at around 11 am and we had 5 minutes silence before the prayers, songs, poems and readings were offered up.
We took a final picture around our banner before packing up. Just after noon we shared some delicious fruit to break our fast. How wonderful the taste after only drinking water for the previous 3 days – perfect.
We joined the service for Franz Jägerstätter organized by Pax Christi and then joined the Buddhist march to the Battersea Peace Pagoda for their service and the floating of the peace candles down the Thames – a lovely ending to our sad and beautiful days of witness.
We are energised to do more in this coming year to try and prevent the renewal of nuclear weapons in both France and the UK.