Friday, 1 October 2010

Radical - Green - Peace - Quaker co-operation in Norwich

This is a guest post from Lesley Grahame, in Norwich. Lesley is a member of Norwich local Quaker meeting, a Resource Person for the Living Witness Project, a Green Party Activist, and now one of 14 Green Party Councillors on Norwich City Council.
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Sometimes when I give a workshop, I cite Norwich's One World Column as a success story. One World Column (OWC) started in 2004, and ran until September 2010, when it closed with less than a week's notice.

Photo credit: Andy Street
About the Column

The One World Column raises issues such as international development, poverty, globalisation, peacemaking, human rights, international relations and the environment. Our columnists intend to provide a positive voice for the future and to represent a wide group of concerned Norfolk people. We welcome feedback and healthy debate!

The column is published every Saturday in the Eastern Daily Press.
It started with a protest about the way protest was reported, and in true Quaker style, a polite request was made to the Eastern Daily Press (EDP) for a right to reply. It was a time when 1-2 million people marching against invading Iraq got two column inches which dimissed us as terrorist sympathisers ("for us or against us" in Bush terms), in a newspaper which gave a double page spread to the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance march, a tiny fraction of the size, in the same month. Another indicator of the atmosphere of the time was the decision of security staff, at a major public venue, to call the police to stop us reading out the names of the dead from the Iraq war. The police told them to leave us alone. The local radio station said they would report the incident only if someone got arrested.

In this context EDP's decision to allow us that precious right of reply was brave, and totally unexpected. The monthly column became a weekly one, and presumably sold papers and encouraged discussion.

In 2006, a member of the Muslim community hired a quarter of that same venue (referred to above) for a day's Peace Camp, and invited local peace groups to have stalls there, to meet each other and the public. This was the year when Israel invaded Lebanon, so there was mileage for the newspapers in Jews and Muslims working together to resist war and occupation. This year (2010) Peace Camp hired the whole venue, in a deal which included the free use of a panoramic screen displaying a virtual peace garden in the week leading up to the main event. Thirty-five local peace groups showcased their activities; the event was opened by the Green Lord Mayor, and visited by Simon Wright, the local Liberal Democrat MP.

The groups involved have undertaken some activities together in the times between the annual Peace Camps, including a Question Time for Candidates on Peace, hosted and run by Quakers, which gave the participating groups public statements on their issues from both Norwich MPs. Adrian Ramsay saying:
'no, we won't just stop subsidising the arms trade, we will stop the arms trade'
convinced me that another way of doing politics is possible. (You can read a list of the questions put by the various peace groups on the Norwich Peace Camp Forum's website.)

And somewhere along the way, an activist newsletter emerged to facilitate groups sharing and supporting each other's activities. This is now run by two Quakers.

A thriving Transition group, acting locally, is an important part of the mix, and only yesterday I was asked by a Transition activist why so many Transition-ers are Quakers. This month, Norwich elected 14 Green Party City Councillors, I am very honoured to be one of them.

This month also saw the demise of the One World Column, a sad loss for intelligent debate in Norwich. I don't know if all good things come to an end, or how far the OWC influenced the climate of opinion that allowed Greens to be elected; the attitude of the venue that once called the police on us to now offer us hospitality; and peace views to be sought and reported in mainstream media. I miss the Column, but celebrate its legacy, and have high hopes for the alternative visions that it helped to foster.
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Thanks to Lesley for this post.
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