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Report on Protests at the NATO meeting in Newport, Wales

Report on Protests at the NATO meeting in Newport, Wales

© Joe Lombardo

Report on Protests at the NATO meeting in Newport, Wales
November 10
18:48 2014

I arrived in Wales to join the protest at the NATO summit that is being held in Newport Thursday and Friday, September 4 and 5. Most of the anti-NATO activity happened over the weekend and the days prior to the actual summit meeting.

I was able to stay at the home of Pippa Bartelotti, who is the head or the Green Party of Wales and a central organizer of the week long activities in Newport, Wales. Also staying with Pippa were Madea Benjamin, Tighe Barry and Elsa Rassbach, a UNAC supporter living in Germany.  Pippa went far beyond the call of duty in taking care of us while also organizing events all week.

On Friday, August 30, the day I arrived, Medea, Tighe, Else, Pippa and I went to a dinner set up for us to meet some of the key anti-drone activist from Wales.  There are some drone bases in Wales and some serious work being done to oppose them.  I will write more on the  drones later in this report.

Saturday saw the main mass rally in downtown Newport.  The rally was sponsored by the Stop the Wars Coalition from the UK, the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament, the No to War, No to NATO network, which UNAC is a member of and No NATO Newport.   Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and I were the three Americans who spoke.  I was able to talk about the 2012 anti-NATO demonstrations and alternative summit that took place in Chicago during the last NATO summit, which UNAC played a key role in organizing.  I also spoke about the militarization of the U.S. police and the events in Ferguson.  My talk was well received.  The march was very spirited. About 2,000 – 3,000 people attended. Newport is a small town.  Many people in the town joined the protest or lined the streets as we went by.

The main chants and rally slogans had to do with Iraq and Ukraine, both of which were expected to be be main topics of discussion during the NATO summit.  However, support for Gaza and the Palestinians was perhaps even more prominant with many chants and many Palestinian flags. A few weeks before the summit, London saw a demonstration of up to 150,000 in support of Palestine.

The fact that Newport is small and somewhat isolated may have been part of the reason that it was chosen for the summit.  Perhaps NATO came to believe that choosing a location like Chicago had been a mistake.

Wales is a working class country that used to have a lot of coal mining and steel plants, but today they are all closed and the people are hurting economically.  There is high unemployment, low wages, and a strong nationalist feeling.  All signs are printed in English and Welsh, and in some parts of the country Welch is the primary language.  The Capital of Wales is Cardiff, which is about a 20 minute car ride from Newport.  Some of the NATO activity also happened in Cardiff, and there is heavy security throughout the city.  The main meetings are taking place in Newport at a place called Celtic Manner.  There is a long road leading to the Celtic Manner that is totally blocked off to prevent people from getting closer than 4 miles to the meeting.

After the Saturday march and rally, we held a meeting on drones with the hope of further developing an international anti-drone network.  At the meeting there were 21 people, including Medea, Tighe and me from the US.   Others were from Germany, Sweden, and the UK.  We discussed plans from the Oct. 4 international drone action day, which seems to be building well in some of the European cities.

The drone meeting was mainly organized by Elsa Rassbach from Germany and UNAC and by Chris Cole, a leader of the anti-drone movement in Wales. We decided to create an international discussion listserv on drones, we supported the Oct 4 Global Action Day and we decided to reach out to other countries that have drones but not anti-drone groups.  The Global Action Day web site can be found here: http://globaldayofaction.nationbuilder.com/calendar.  You can post your anti-drone actions there.

On Sunday in Cardiff, and on Monday and Tuesday in Newport, we held an alternative summit with plenary and workshop sessions.  Many of the international guests and local people gave workshops on a range of topics from Iraq to Ukraine to what’s next for the movement.  I did a workshop with Lindsay German from the Stop the Wars Coalition in Britain on the situation in Iraq. The  Cardiff  meeting was held at the Cardiff county hall and supported and hosted by the Cardiff city government.

After the Sunday alternative summit meeting, I attended a meeting organized by Joseph Gerson on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  In New York City next April, there will be a meeting on the NPT at the UN.  Most people were not very optimistic that anything good could come out of this meeting but there will be a demonstration and an alternative summit on nuclear disarmament in New York City around this time.  As at the last meeting at the UN on the NPT, about 7,000 Japanese are expected to come with about 7 million signatures against nuclear weapons.  They will take part in the alternative summit and demonstration.

On Tuesday, there was also a meeting of the No to War, No to NATO network, of which UNAC is a part.  The meeting was attended by 17 people from Finland, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, England, France, Chile, Russia, and the U.S.   We discussed two statements to be issuee in opposition to NATO.  The first was proposed by the Swedish and Finish members against those countries joining NATO.  There is a push to have these countries join because of the Ukraine situation and because there is a lot of oil exploration going on in the Arctic. Russia is a major player there, since it has a large Arctic coast.  The second resolution was on a number of other NATO issues, all of which were fine with one exception–the one on the Ukraine.  Although it called for NATO and the US to stay out of Ukraine, there were some who wanted it to call for Russia to stay out as well.  I opposed this because it is the U.S. and NATO who are the cause of the crises in Ukraine. Russian intervention has been repeatedly denied by the rebels in the East. It is mostly propaganda used to justify US/NATO intervention.  The final statement came out after I left Wales and is now on the No to War, No to NATO web site.  It can be found here: http://www.no-to-nato.org/2014/09/03/statement-of-the-annual-meeting-of-the-international-network-no-to-war-no-to-nato/.  The final statement used the wording that the network is “against any form of foreign
military intervention.”

On Thursday as the NATO conference go started in Newport, hundreds protested at the gates leading to the Centic Manner. Guards allowed a few protesters to come through the gates to delivers letters of protest.  Later in the day there was a dinner for the NATO participants in Cardiff.  People rallied outside of the dinner, which was termed the “Dinner of Death” by the protesters

During the week, I was also able to make many contacts for UNAC and had a number of individual meetings and discussions with important, international anti-war activists. These included Lindsay German from the Stop the wars Coalition, June Kelly, a UNAC supporter in Ireland and Margaretta D’arcy the 80 year old Irish writer who has been a consistent antiwar activist and recently spent 3 month in jail for climbing the fence at the Shannon airport to try and stop the US military planes that regularly use that airport on their way to missions in other countries.  UNAC was one of the signers of the letter in her defense.   I also spoke with leaders of most of the antiwar organization that were there from a number of countries.  This will increase our international coordination.  I also learned a lot about how some of these groups are organized.

As expected the NATO meeting pushed for more war in Ukraine, at the very time that the Ukrainian government and rebels were holding cease-fire talks sponsored by Russia.  They decided to further aid the right-wing government in Keiv and develope a rapid deloyment force that could be activated in day. Iraq was also a topic of discussion and a 10 member “core coalition” was organized to support U.S. war moves in Iraq.  Countries were pushed to increase their war spending up to 2% of their Gross National Product during this period of austerity around the world.

The protests were major news throughout Wales and England.  The Wales media prominantly featured the NATO protest each day.  The protests made it clear that NATO was not welcome in Wales by many and many of the arguments against NATO were heard throughout the country.

Several people donated some money to help make my trip possible.  These included the Upstate New York Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, a generous donation from Sarah Martin from Minneapolis as well as a number of other donations.

The trip helped give UNAC a greater international profile and will help us as we move forward to oppose future US and NATO war moves.

By Joe Lombardo

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Irina Dashkina

Irina Dashkina

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