Archive | April, 2014

Meeting for worship at the British Museum

15 Apr

“People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.” – Desmond Tutu

Over lunchtime today, I attended a Quaker meeting for worship. This is unusual in itself – my lunchtime is normally spent in my office with friends and colleagues! – but it was also unusual because our meeting wasn’t in a Quaker meeting house, but in the atrium of the British Museum – we were holding our meeting as an act of witness in opposition to the sponsorship of the museum by BP.

BP are a huge, transnational energy company, profiting from the causes of climate change and large scale environmental destruction (such as the Tar Sands). By holding a short period of silence and handing out some simple flyers, we were able to draw attention to what everyone could already see – the BP logo’s on every sign and billboard in the place! BP play a major role in wrecked ecosystems and climate chaos, posing a serious risk to the lives and well-being of communities all over the world. By paying money to put their name so prominently all over important institutions like museums, they are creating a clever piece of ‘green wash’. By accepting BP’s money, the British Museum are supporting a PR campaign for a company that has a long history of accidents, oil spills and environmental damage they would prefer we forgot about.

The leaflets that we distributed to those visiting the museum read “we gather in stillness to show love for our earth, and our resistance to powers such as oil company BP, who sponsor British Museum exhibitions.” While many of us consider our activism as a reflection of our deeper beliefs, it can feel empowering to use traditions and practises we hold dear as actual elements of our protest. The meeting for worship today – at the very scene of the thing we opposed – reminded me of sharing communion with a group of Christians during a blockade of Burghfield Atomic Weapons Establishment a year ago. That act was a powerful symbol, reminding those present that day of the beliefs and traditions that had brought them to that gate, into that road. By incorporating such elements, both actions (and many others like them) had an element of a positive vision of the world, something of the peaceful future we hope and act for, rather than just being an angry “No!” shouted at something we oppose.

Of course, it’s not just religious groups who do this; women-only actions or camps empower women to take action together, actors use their specific skills to create theatre with important messages, and knitters knit seven-mile long peace scarves! I think activism is at it’s best when it not only expresses a voice of opposition, but also symbolises something of the people who take action, of their particular vision, of the sort of peaceful world they want to see.

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