Each month we thought that we would also include a quote from Quaker Faith and Practice or from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.
QF&P 19.12. There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. (Some of the last words of James Nayler, after being reconciled with George Fox).
Comments on Silent Vigil
Although I have been on many, many demos and marches over the years, including six against the Iraq war (two in Ipswich and four in London), I still feel a little anticipation each time. How will it go, will we get antipathy, will we get support, will I get knackered, will I find a loo? Yes to all of those! But it’s always a rewarding and enriching experience, one way or another.
This was a new one for me though – a silent vigil, in a noisy and busy public space. Can it possibly work? How would the public react to a group who aren’t on a demo, not handing out leaflets, not asking for money, not trying to proselytise or get people to sign up to something? How would they react to a group just standing there silently holding posters, which asked people to think about war following the Chilcott report?
Unexpectedly for me, I found it a very powerful experience. Despite all the noise and hubbub around us, and our being asked to move twice by two worried businesses, I found I was settling into a meditative peace as time passed, alongside fellow Friends, much like I usually do in Meeting for Worship, and I occasionally ‘came to’ to reflect on how extraordinary that is in such an environment.
I believe, and felt, our witness was deeply valuable. Many people looked at the boards as they continued walking, my impression being that our silence caused them to want to look. I felt sure that something of what we were doing would have stuck with them. A couple of members of staff in the phone shop opposite, lacking customers, idly looked at us for some time, but eventually one of them video’d us on an iPad type of device. And they are the sort that will look it all up on a search engine later!
But there were the occasional person for whom what we were doing meant a whole lot more – emotionally so: for example the lady from Iraq was especially moved and grateful for our presence and message.
Among the people who thanked us was a lady who came to stand by us for a short while, telling me that she couldn’t stay long because her husband is in hospital, but she wanted to show her support. Wonderful.
Towards the end a man came to chat to me because, he told me, he is Iranian, and although he has been in this country since 1968, as a student, his family in Iran suffered both under the Shah, supported by western foreign policy, and then, due to that policy, under the Ayatollah. Under both regimes his family lost everything they had. He told me that at first he thought Blair was wonderful but when he saw that Blair began a war for oil and global influence which caused such suffering he told me he became angry instead. He said he supports everything we were doing and wanted to know what he could join and support, which made me reflect that even he isn’t aware of the many campaigning organisations out there. So I suggested he look up 38 Degrees, Hope not Hate and Global Justice Now.
Yes there was the odd criticism, but as we just carried on as we were they literally passed on. There’s the lesson!
As all these people passed by I also reflected that humanity comes in many sorts of shapes, sizes, types and conditions, but that we share in our need of the those basics – love and acceptance – but which so many people seem to have lacked.
I also observed that my feet don’t half hurt if I stand in one place for any length of time! My coffee break was much needed.
Our Quaker protesters in central Ipswich: from left to right – Andrew, Lydia, Richard, Anne-Marie, Roger and Paul.
I want to put forward the various responses and non-responses which I observed whilst standing as part of the said vigil near to the Cornhill in central Ipswich from 11.00hrs. – 14.00hrs. on Friday 8th July 2016.
- Two traders asked us to move away from their premises before we settled outside the HSBC Bank.
- Highlight for me a Muslim woman (along with child in a pushchair) and wearing a most beautiful head-scarf stopped; read our placards and responded by indicating that not many “English” people would put forward the messages on our placards and she warmly thanked us and gave us a broad smile.
- Other Muslim women with headscarves asked our permission for them to take a photo` (which we sanctioned).
- The vast majority of people in the town continued on without reading our placards or seemingly even noticing us, though some smiled thereby seemingly showing to us they were in support.
- To present all observations – there was one more:
An older woman approached me and said the following: “we`ve got our country back”; “look at all these foreigners” (as she looked around her) -my response to her was “I quite like them”; “you may have my share” she replied.
All-in-all I feel the vigil was a worthwhile contribution, and one which I personally found enriching; even invigorating.
Paul Hodgin Reflections on the silence of the vigil
Richard rightly insisted that we needed a silent vigiil. For me this proved much more powerful than I had expected:
- The silence created a freedom for people to just read the placards and feel their own reactions safe in the knowledge that we were silent and so not going to try and engage with them, we weren’t going to proselytize, convince or debate.
- The silence between us as a group was itself peaceful. No need to make conversation. As the time went on I realized that I could settle into some part of the silence of Meeting whilst still catching the eye of those passers by who wished to.
- Realising as I stood there that silent witnessing felt like the only possible response to 240,000 deaths. What words could possibly stand their ground against the grief, the enormity?
- The companionship of standing with five or six others. Enough to hold a poster apiece. Being a group of just one or two would have felt lonely and a little pathetic. Many more and we would have been a crowd and hence a little more threatening. Our small group felt approachable, sufficient to the needs of the moment – and for us potentially just a little bit vulnerable. Hence open, present, but not righteous.
Reactions that showed the vigil was having an effect:
- The woman in a head scarf who stood with her three children struggling to understand the English of our placards and then, having read each carefully, came up to say how important it was for her to know that people in Britain understood the effect that the war and our government had had.
- The many people who stood across the street reading the placards negotiating a safe distance and engaging – or not – on their own terms
- The grimaces of some that I interpreted as something like ‘Well yes, but what do expect me to do about it?’ Or perhaps ‘What use is standing about in silence?’.
- The people who gave us the thumbs up or smiled in approval.
- The people who came to stand with us in silence for a few minutes
- The man who thanked us for just being there
- The Kurdish man who had been here for 12 years and was grateful to know that people still felt the chaos that we had created in his homeland.
- And finally I appreciated Andrew’s graciousness in dealing with the request from stall holders for us to move away from their pitches
The posters produced by Paul were very effective. With simple messages such as ‘Not In My Name- We Ask You To Take A Few Minutes To Reflect On The War’ and ‘Silent Vigil For All The Victims Of The Iraq War’ they allowed passers by to stop, read and give us a ‘thumbs up’ or a few shouted words of support, without needing to come closer. One person did question the ‘At Least 240,000 ‘ for innocent civilians killed, which featured on one poster. He suggested it was much higher, almost certainly true as such ‘peripheral casualties’ seldom produce accurate counts.
The second comment was that we decided not to contact the police in advance, since we were small in number, not causing any obstruction, not shouting out, not giving out any literature, in fact just exercising the democratic rights we are fortunately able to use in our country. Amazingly though, considering we were in the very busy centre of Ipswich, with about eighty people passing each minute, Marie and I in the almost two and a half hours we were there, didn’t see one policeman or street ranger.