People from all walks of life – many from church backgrounds – feel moved to act in ‘nonviolent civil disobedience’ for the first time in their lives. We asked a number of protestors what caused them to ‘cross the line’ for the first time: to break the law, and risk arrest, for the sake of a higher form of justice.
I had signed up as non-arrestable, but despite committing simply to cook for other people for a few days, I had devoured every word about what you might need to know if you did get arrested.
I was going to the October 2019 rebellion in London as part of Extinction Rebellion and Christian Climate Action. I was a relatively new member of both, and had only joined up after years of writing to my MP, hassling big businesses and those with the power to make a difference, and trying to live my own life in a way that impacted the world as little as possible.
I had reached the point of feeling like everyone was patting me on the head, telling me to run away and play and that they would sort it out; and then seeing absolutely nothing change. My frustration had turned to desperation and I did not know what to do next.
So it was that I found myself sitting in the middle of the road at the end of Lambeth Bridge with a police officer about the age of my son squatting in front of me. As he asked me why I was doing this I realised that I could no longer walk away; that as a follower of Jesus – who spoke truth to power and was ultimately executed because of it – I had to do everything that I could in order to be part of bringing fullness of life to all of creation, now and for the generations to come.
Josh reluctantly arrested me, and the ensuing 24 hours were a life changing experience full of the presence of God and some amazing people. The whole story is much longer – but maybe that is for another day. I have now been arrested four times; it was not something I ever expected to find myself doing, but I firmly believe that it is part of my Christian calling at the moment at least: and I pray that it will make a difference.
Hilary Bond is a schools worker and pioneer priest for the Parish of Wareham
Ash Wednesday, 1984. The Theological College Principal had organised for a woman to address us ordinands at the morning service, in deference to the five of us women struggling to get a hearing in an excluding Church; so it seemed churlish of me to say I couldn’t be there, as I was going to join the Dominican monks of Blackfriars and break into the Upper Heyford military base instead!
This offer of inclusion to us Anglicans, in the planned Catholic action, confirmed my sense that this was the right time for me to “cross the line” into civil disobedience and oppose the siting of American cruise missiles in the UK.
Early morning. Pieces of carpet flung over the barbed wire that topped the high perimeter fence. We clambered over, helping the Dominicans with their long white robes. Speed was of the essence. Chained together, we spread out along the runway, a menacing plane in the background. Cross erect, ashes prepared, we began the penitential service, seeking forgiveness for our own complicity in the Western world’s preparations for nuclear war.
The military police arrived, but I felt no anxiety. We were immersed in the liturgy and were allowed to finish. Then hauled into vans, still chained, and taken to an empty room to await the charges – breach of the peace. We were fasting, but I gratefully accepted some raisins from my Anglican mate to sooth my churning stomach. Released, but charged to go to court soon.
We took our toothbrushes with us to court I recall, expecting prison. But no – warm handshakes from a sympathetic clerk of the court and smiles from the judge!
A group of Christians obeying God’s call to challenge the culture of death and speak of God’s promise of life hit the newspaper headlines, and that first foray into “crossing the line” confirmed my sense that this kind of radical action did indeed have a place in opposing death and bringing in God’s Kingdom of justice and peace.
Sue Parfitt is a retired vicar and family therapist from Bristol
In the 1990s, British Aerospace was among those arming Indonesian forces occupying East Timor, who killed over 200,000 people. In 1996, four women, the ‘Seeds of Hope Ploughshares’ group, disarmed a BAe Hawk Jet due to be exported from the UK to Indonesia. In court, the jury found they were justified in their actions, and therefore ‘not guilty’ of £1.7m damage to the plane.
I had already been inspired by the Ploughshares movement, which is based on incarnating the words of the prophets Isaiah and Micah, “they shall hammer their swords into ploughshares, and make war no more”. This movement is deeply connected to the Catholic Worker (CW) movement. After the trial, and inspired by the action and the outcome, a Liverpool CW community started.
It was through reading CW newspapers, articles and books, as well as of course the Gospels, that I had become convinced that Jesus was a pacifist, and so I should be too. Through that reading, and through meeting people involved in similar nonviolent direct action (NVDA) through Pax Christi, I also had become convinced that NVDA and civil disobedience were a legitimate, and at times necessary, part of Christian discipleship.
These convictions remained theoretical until I visited the Liverpool CW in 1997. I was invited to take part in an act of ‘trespass’, prayer, witness and protest at the same BAe Wharton base where the four women had acted the year before. My heart was convicted that God was calling me to act on behalf of those I would now describe as being among ‘the crucified of today’, so I responded.
Martin Newell is a Passionist Priest and environmental activist
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