4th July saw the annual Independence FROM America demonstration at the US base at Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire, organised by CAAB: the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases. We hear a lot about US occupations of other countries, but little about the military occupation of Britain by the US. The base at Menwith Hill, run by America's National Security Agency (NSA), is a very important intelligence gathering and surveillance base, occupied and controlled by the American military and their agencies. The base has the ability to listen in to all our phone calls and intercept emails, as well as several other concerning roles including US 'Missile Defense' (read 'Offense') and intelligence-led warfare.
There has been a demonstration each year on 4 July outside the main entrance to NSA Menwith Hill since the early 1980s. Since the early 1990s CAAB has organised the 'Independence FROM America' event every year at Menwith Hill. This is just one small part of CAAB's work to bring all US bases on British soil (as well as world wide) to account with the ultimate long term aim to send the US Visiting Forces and their Agencies back to within their borders.
A recent Yorkshire CND report Lifting the Lid on Menwith Hill examines the evidence about its spy base and other functions, challenges claims about economic benefits to the local and wider community, identifies the dangers to democracy posed by the base and others like it and, in conclusion, makes a case for the closure of Menwith Hill and all foreign bases around the world. The report contains some of the work done by CAAB.
This year's 4th July demonstration calling for independence FROM America, at Menwith Hill and around the world, was held alongside the main gate of the base and attracted around 100 plus supporters from the local area and from as far away as Wales, Sheffield, London, Coventry and Birmingham.
Excellent vegan food: curry, vegeburgers and cakes, along with hot drinks, were served all evening by the Yorkshire Kitchen crew from the 1 in 12 club in Bradford.
The evening kicked off with a lively drumming workshop by Steve Hill of Daftasadrum and friends. The more superstitious among us suspected this could have been responsible for bringing on the first several torrential downpours during the evening – thank goodness for the gazebos and the foresight of many who came equipped with large umbrellas.
The drumming was followed with an introduction by MC Martin Schweiger: Quaker, doctor and activist, two minutes silence to remember all victims of war and violent conflict, and a public reading of The People's Declaration of Independence FROM America that includes the following introduction:
To announce and explain separation from the US military and their plotting in other ancient lands intensely from a settlement known as NSA/USAF Menwith Hill in the Forest of Knaresborough and from other territoriesAfter the reading, RAF Liaison Officer at Menwith Hill, Squadron Leader Patrick Currie, was formally presented with and accepted a copy of the Declaration, having emerged from the base to join everyone else at the start of the demo. Those present showed their appreciation of this gesture – a first time this has happened for this event at Menwith Hill – with a round of applause. Paddy Currie is one of a small team of British military representatives at the base. One third of people who work on the base are British; two thirds are American military personnel, (US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines) contractors and other employees.
Wednesday 4 July 2012
When, in the course of human events a greater state, by usurpation of its lands for military purposes, imperils the safety and continuance of a lesser, under the appearance of being a protector, it becomes necessary for the greater to remove its military powers from the other’s land to its own territory. The Laws of Nature and of Nations entitle the people who seek this removal to declare the causes which impel them to make this demand.
East Lancs Clarion Choir from Burnley sang some well-chosen numbers before the main speakers were introduced.
Lauren Booth, journalist, broadcaster and convert to Islam, spoke about the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, the spy functions of Menwith Hill and the horror of war veterans such as her grandfather at US military expansion and intervention around the world in pointless and unwinnable conflicts at huge expense of civilian life.
Philip Austin of Northern Friends Peace Board talked about the significance of CAAB's work, describing it as an important part of part of Britain's continuing and evolving culture of dissent. He described Ballistic Missile Defense as dangerous and offensive; we should be addressing climate change, economic injustice and human rights and diverting intellectual and economic resources to those ends if we want real security. Menwith is a tip of a vast military-industrial iceberg, and we must work together to tackle this - we need interdependence, supporting one another and sharing resources, as well as independence.
Carol Grayson, long-time campaigner on behalf of haemophiliacs, who exposed the scandal of the purchase of infected blood taken from prisoners in US jails that was responsible for decimation of the haemophiliac community in Britain (including her late husband and brother-in-law) through HIV and hepatitis infection, spoke about how she has now become involved in anti-war activism. Carol was executive producer for the award-winning short documentary film 'Incident in New Baghdad' about the soldier turned peace activist Ethan McCord and his role in the 'Collateral Murder' incident, the suppressed video footage of which Bradley Manning is credited with releasing to WikiLeaks. Carol's latest project is to make a film about the victims of 'drone' strikes in Pakistan this autumn.
Born in Palestine of a Palestinian father and English mother, Karl Sabbagh is a writer, journalist, television producer. He is a frequent visitor to Palestine and the Middle East and author of 'Palestine: A Personal History' amongst other books. He spoke about the history of Israel and Palestine, ongoing US support for Israel's military occupation of Palestine and the disastrous effects of the occupation on the Palestinian people.
Tariq Jahan, whose son was killed during the riots in Birmingham last year and who spoke to the rioters urging them to be calm, was due to speak but unfortunately had to cancel at the last minute. He was to have spoken about US ‘drones’ used in Pakistan.
Alternative to the Olympics
In a much-needed antidote to the Olympic Games, the Menwith Hill Alternative Games offered challenges such as the Golf Ball and Spoon race, Sack the Base race and Boot the Base Out (welly put) with chocolate medals awarded to the winners.
A range of campaign groups were represented at the demonstration. These included Sheffield CND with a beautifully sewn banner, other CND and peace groups, Quakers, Leeds PSC, STWC, as well as people of no affiliation and those there for the first time.
A young Mexican man brought a banner to draw attention to the result of recent presidential elections in Mexico. Enrique Peña Nieto, the candidate for the Party of the Industrial Revolution who was declared the winner in what is widely believed to be a rigged election, is a supporter of neo-liberal policies and liable to leave Mexico vulnerable to ongoing undue influence and control by the US.
Several banners expressed support for and called for the release of accused whistleblower Bradley Manning, who has been held without trial by the US for over two years, who has been tortured while in detention and who faces the likelihood of a lifetime in prison without parole for revealing the truth about the wars being fought by the US, war crimes and other nefarious activities, this in spite of Obama's pre-election promises to support whistleblowers.
There were also banners in support of WikiLeaks' Julian Assange, currently seeking political asylum in Ecuador over fears for his life and liberty at the hands of the US if extradited to Sweden. Read more about the situation in this Media Lens article.
See also this report on the WISE Up for Bradley Manning blog.
In addition to the choir, socialist folk singer stalwart Roy Bailey provided a selection of protest and anti-war songs early in the evening, including Peggy Seeger's 'Sit Down'; we would have happily sat down on the concrete had it not been swimming in several inches of water at that moment.
Bluegrass/punk/folk band the Monkeywrenchers followed by Liam and friends concluded the event with a set that continued until after 9pm in late evening sunshine that made it feel more like 6 or 7.
The contrasts between the colourful protest outside the base and its grim interior, between peace and war, were matched by an evening of weather contrasts. When the sun shone it was glorious – like peace we just need more of it. Right on cue, with all our flags, banners, umbrellas, shelters and food finally packed up and put away just before 10pm, the heavens opened again to mark our departure – for now - from this important satellite hub of the US war machine that has no place here.
Come again soon to support the ongoing work to return Menwith Hill to the people to use for peaceful enjoyment of this beautiful part of North Yorkshire.
There's a weekly demonstration every Tuesday between 6 and 8pm and plenty of opportunity to help with the important work that goes on behind the scenes. This witness has happened each week for over 13 years – bar three!
A message of thanks from CAAB
CAAB thanks everyone who helped to organise and set up the demonstration on the day and to all who contributed to it – the speakers, musicians, Raymond and Christine Johnson (local farmers) Joan West for supplying, putting up and taking down of the magnificent shelter, the 1 in 12 collective team for the food/drink, ...and especially to all who came. We would particularly like to acknowledge Paddy Currie (RAF Liaison officer) for his participation in this important demonstration. Also to Mark Khan and his officers from North Yorkshire Police for their sensitive, polite and ‘low key’ policing of this demonstration – a welcome change. We are already planning next year’s demonstration!
CAMPAIGN FOR THE ACCOUNTABILITY OF AMERICAN BASES – CAAB
For more information about the campaign, contact CAAB.