Peace Pilgrims to disrupt war games

Peace Pilgrim Greg Rolles halts a convoy of US marines in the Shoalwater Bay Military Exercise Area in July 2013. Photo: Graeme

The US has been at war for all but 17 years of the 239 the nation has been in existence.

Successive Australian governments have hastened to send troops into every war the US has provoked in the past 70 years. Many people consider Australia's strategies, priorities, and interests have been subsumed by those of the US.

Every two years since 2003, under the terms of the Australia-New Zealand-United States (ANZUS) military alliance, up to 30,000 US troops, marines and their materiél descend on various locations in Australia to rehearse war, including at Shoalwater Bay, on the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. These war games are called Exercise Talisman Sabre.

For the sixth time, peace activists from around Australia will join the troops in a two-week Peace Convergence to non-violently protest Exercise Talisman Sabre.

Some, calling themselves Peace Pilgrims, will enter the training area and make their way to live fire zones, to disrupt the war games, even if only temporarily.

Two peace activists, nomad Graeme Dunstan and Greg Rolles from Brisbane, who have been involved in previous convergences, have already arrived in Rockhampton.

They are preparing the way for others, building relationships and raising awareness with locals.Conventional wisdom is that most Queenslanders welcome the war games, particularly at a time when the mining industry that has sustained the region is in decline.

The Peace Convergence gives the usually silent local opposition an opportunity to take part in varied activities, showing their resistance to Talisman Sabre and the broader direction the government is heading with the Australia-US military alliance.

Dunstan, a veteran of the Australian peace movement since blockading the US president’s motorcade in Sydney in 1966 to demonstrate not everyone was “all the way with LBJ”, has been involved with the Peace Convergence since 2007.

“Polls show Australians overwhelmingly want us to stay out of American wars," he said. "The government isn’t reflecting that; the Murdoch press isn’t writing about that. We, who want peace now and for future generations, must work more subtly to exert influence.

“We do this by reaching out to friends, neighbours and colleagues, creating counter-narratives and building community around war resistance through art, action and celebration. And taking part in Peace Convergence activities, of course. Peaceful witness is enormously powerful.”

Events include a celebration on July 4 of “Independence from America Day” with a public speak-out at the gates of the Western Street Barracks, next to Rockhampton airport.

The latest David Bradbury film, War on Trial, about events after the late Peace Pilgrim Bryan Law's disabling of an army attack helicopter at Rockhampton airport during Talisman Sabre 11, will premiere on July 11, together with an address by renowned Japanese peace activist Professor Kozue Akibayashi.

Kozue is the International President of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the oldest women’s peace organisation, active in Europe since World War I.

She is also a researcher and lecturer in gender, peace and militarisation at Doshisha University in Kyoto and has been closely involved in the opposition by Okinawans to the 34 US bases on their small island.

A protest is scheduled for the military open day at the Rockhampton Showground on July 12, as well as debates and a peace parade in Yeppoon, ending in a beachside concert. There is room for every level of commitment and motivation.

Some people take part for ideological reasons, some out of purely practical fears of what the US may drag Australia into, and others because of their faith or spiritual beliefs.
One activist from Sydney, Nick Deane, is preparing to join the protests around the Shoalwater Military Training Area for the first time this year.

"I've lived an ordinary, respectable life, working as a public servant until I retired in 2012," said Deane. "I am still a Justice of the Peace in NSW. But I feel I have to take a stand, when my old home of Rockhampton becomes host to rehearsals for war with the world's greatest warmonger."

The diversity of participants and motivations is a feature of every Peace Convergence. They include locals and "Mexicans", as Queenslanders call anyone from south of the border, who are Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, Muslims. The movement is a rainbow spectrum of people with a common thirst for peace.

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