A local NGO called Children in Cross Fire was sorting out presentations and logistics for us here and we called Helen and arranged to meet us at the location of our first presentation. It was an old stately home in Derry that was now a community centre. The staff of Children in Cross Fire came along with a bunch of other local folk as well as the media. Two of the newspapers photograph
Helen is another person who is a real mover and shaker. She has been very involved with community development and trying to get dialogue going through the sectarian divide. Her NGO is very community based and has representatives from all sides of the religious and political spectrum. She had a very busy schedule lined up for us from schools to public talks and a protest at an arms company.
When we arrived in Derry we were straight to the old home for our first talk. These were people who actively make a difference in the community and a place like Derry really needs those slow and gentle hands to put the past behind them. The talk is about the problem but finishes in what they can do to make the process move forward. Just as we were about to begin a car pulled up and it was Rae who had pulled so much of this project together with an old mate Kevin.
Kevin is ex British military and a bomb disposal expert. He has had a long and difficult career in some of the world’s most difficult circumstances. He also knows how bad communities are affected by cluster bombs and landmines as he was blown up by a landmine in Lebanon in 2002. He lost his left leg. Kevin has a wry sense of humour and when you ask if where he lost his leg he quips that he never lost as he knows exactly where he was blown up. No self pity here. He got over the injury, had an artificial leg fitted and got back in the field to clear more bomb and mines. He will now travel with us for the rest of the Ban Bus trip and tag team with us over various aspects of the problem.
The presentations are working out really well with me setting the overall scene then Kevin talking about the problem of clearance followed by Mette talking about training communities to survive their future in a dangerous environment. The pace is good and no one gets sleepy or bored.
This is now the team we will run with till the end. Mette, Raechel, Kevin and me. Helen from Children in Crossfire had a protest lined up for us outside of Raytheon for the evening so we headed there after a radio interview.
The Raytheon company manufactures components and guidance systems for the arms industry. We drove to an industrial estate on the edge of Derry and turned the corner and found a traffic jam blocking the road. Jim was dressed in a white suit with a home made bomb detector and had copy BLU-97’s scattered across the road. He was ‘demining’ and handing out information to all cars in his peak hour traffic jam.
We drove the Ban Bus onto the pavement and got in amongst it. One of our signs said honk for a ban and many cars responded. Anyone who walked by or had their windows open was given more information and T-shirts. In general we got great responses. We handed out a few hundred leaflets, badges, stickers and T-shirts till the rush hour was waning then headed for a local playground for a picnic with the local campaigners.
Derry has a long history of activism and these people had kept a solid presence up outside Raytheon for over eight years. The general support has been good in Derry for most forms of activism from civil society but there are moves behind the shadows that could drop the Raytheon 9 in Prison for 5 years.
Their siege and trashing of Raytheon ended in arrest and now the trial begins next week. The location has been moved from Derry to Belfast as the prosecution feels there is too much support in Derry for them. When they were arrested the police also invoked the Terrorism act. This is a really serious situation as it meant their arrest became a secret and the press couldn’t report on it. The next set of powers exercised by the state was to convene a trial without a jury. All of these powers are due to the Terrorism act. The only win the defendants have had is a reinstatement of a trial by jury. At least they will be heard in front of their ‘peers’.
The following morning we hit the road early for a series of school visits. The kids are an open book and keen for knowledge. The overriding feeling from them was the unfairness of any use of cluster bombs. It’s good to get the kids motivated but a little bribery goes along way too.
A talk like ours is quite intimidating for them so when we opened the room for questions, there was a stone silence. Ok, T-shirts, who wants to get a T-shirt for a good question? The hands shot up and a barrage of fantastic questions flowed forth. At the end they certainly went away with a greater opinion than when they started. We rolled onto the next school.
The two schools are quite different as one was a catholic school and the next was integrated between protestant and catholic students. The sectarian divide is deep and real here so anything that bridges that gap is an important initiative. The really nice part is that the kids are the same in both schools. Kids are enquiring and keen and have a basis of justice to them. It’s the bigotries fed them by adults that mould them into one sect or another. Maybe a little exposure to us and our message might file away the point of fairness for all.
That night we were to meet up with Eammon McCann again for a public talk at a bar in town. Santino’s is a popular meeting place amongst many activists with a social conscience. The upstairs bar was handed over to us and it filled quickly. Eammon set the scene and talked about his trial that would begin next week. He was as motivating as before and was also able to accept the fact that in a few weeks he may be jailed for up to five years. He was totally unrepentant for his actions too and I feel he would storm Raytheon again given half the chance.
He passed the floor to me and I definitely felt inspired by him and launched into one of the most aggressive and passionate talks that I’d delivered for along time. People’s faces were contorted by the facts and some cried. I passed to Kevin and then to Mette and together we built the full story then adjourned for a beer. Tomorrow we would be moving on and although we are activists, we are not facing prison. Eammon and his friends will possibly lose their freedom in a few weeks for being the same kind of activists. To me, this would be an incarceration with a totally political agenda as the crime would out weight the act of simple vandalism which is all smashing computers in an arms manufacturer is.
We had one more call to do the following morning back to our original school as we had made quite an impact it seems. We had also picked up a video journalist from Australia who would follow the last few days of the Ban Bus and then follow the treaty negotiations.
This group of kids were a few years older and the level of understanding and questioning was excellent. Given more time we would have been able to hit so many forums and schools as the word was out and people wanted to hear what we had to say. As we headed out of town we diverted through Bogside which was the heart of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. This is an area that takes your breath away. The building ends have massive murals from the Troubles from the years gone by. Massive photographic quality paintings adorned the ends of the buildings. Many were copied form famous photographs from that time and there was a distinct feeling of familiarly with them.