In this show we discuss the varoius activist activities of Fr Martin Newell (co-founder of the London Chapter of the Catholic Workers Movement ). We talk about the refugee situation in Europe, Peace issues including Sister Megan Rice of Ploughshares and climate issues and the Pope. Interview date – 01-02-2016
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The Catholic Workers Movement (CWM) was started in New York city in 1933 by Dorothy Day, who was a communist anarchist who had become a Catholic but still wanted to put into practice her Socialist and Political beliefs so she got in contact with a French peasant Peter Maurin. He advised her to start a newspaper to highlight the catholic worker teaching and to start houses of hospitality to feed the hungry and house the poor and clothe the naked and also to set up communal farms to provide work. After they set up the houses of hospitality, others also started houses of hospitality autonomously around the United States in the 1930’s.
They were also pacifists, so the CWM became a pacifist movement. It also became a lay movement and were recognized as such by the Catholic Church.
At the moment there are currently about 200 CWM houses and communities in the US and 15 other countries including 4 in the UK. The London Chapter started in 2000 and had their first House of Hospitality for destitute asylum seekers that began 10 years ago. In the 1960’s the American Secret Service had branded the CWM as the second most subversive group after the Communist Party.
The Ploughshares movement came out of the CWM with people like the Bergen movement who were well known as coming from an Irish background and were part of the first Ploughshares action which involved entering a Nuclear factory and hammering on a nuclear missile nose cone.
Fr. Martin helped organize efforts to get Sr Megan Rice to Birmingham Uk after her release from prison after painting and praying by a high security building (She was imprisoned for 2 years for this Grafitti and prayer). Also involved in her trip to Glasgow was Paul Magno who was organizing a European tour for Sr Megan. Paul is a Ploughshares activist. The event was organized at short notice but still, Fr.Martin was impressed with the turnout considering the short amount of time in planning.
In 2003 the Shannon 5 did a Ploughshares action in Shannon airport and they used a hammer which Martin had used in an action at a base in England. The hammer was used at a base which stored convoy vehicles which transported Nuclear weapons around the UK and was also used in another action where they disarmed a B52 bomber on its way to Iraq to cause mass destruction. We wondered how they moved the hammer through customs as it must be slightly radioactive by now? Fr. Martin Laughed and we quickly changed the subject.
Every year on Ash Wednesday there is an active witness action at the Minisitry of Defense in the UK calling for repentance for the possession of the Trident Missiles. Some in the group, mark the Ministry with blessed charcoal and that joint action involves Pax Christi and the CWM perform that action every year.
The Arms Fair protest, held in East London UK, is attended by the CWM every year and they put red paint on walls and signs to represent the blood being spilled by use of the weapons being displayed at this fair. They also try blockade the trucks trying to convey the equipment to the fair. The CWM regularly get arrested for these actions although recently the police have left them alone.
Typical charges that can be expected are; criminal damage, breech of the peace and once Martin was even charged with burglary. For Martin arrest is part of being a christian and he said that there is a duty on Christians to put others lives before their own. Fr. Martin pointed out Jesus was arrested and that arrest is integral to being a christian.
The CWM has just started a project in Calais and the hope is to create safe houses for vulnerable people within the refugee community and training houses for potential helpers who wish to help with the ongoing crisis. Martin suggest that people in the North of France are not always open or helpful to the refugees. Martin started out in London living with destitute asylum seekers and refugees to get an idea of the problems they face in general and seeing it from their perspective. He said that we live in a gated community which excludes the poor. He points out that the Western powers created many of the problems that refugees face. Martin went on to say that, “we here, in the developed bear a huge responsibility for the current crisis”. Martin highlighted that the current situation in Fortress Europe, “aims to keep the poor out”.
Martin says that alot of the climate problems are being created by the richest nations of the world. He goes on to explain that some of the refugees are not just fleeing war but are fleeing from the effects of climate change as well. Martin says that the way the debate is going in Europe shows that the situation is not good. He also stated that it will be very hard to keep the refugees out as the desperate situations they are facing, means that they have no choice but to move. We discused the issue of only a few countries seem to be taking in most of the refugees and for example Ireland and the UK are taking in just a handful. We will need a more comprehensive approach from all the states within the E.U. (some 500 million people) to relieve the burden sensibly. Fr. Martin then points out that there is more than enough resources to go around meaning we could easily absorb all the refugees if this is planned right and with compassion. Martin also commends Angela Merkel for her decision in opening the doors to the refugees. Fr. Martin says that this new Pope is great and that he is very happy that he is presently at the helm of the Catholic Church.
On Friday Martin was at a book launch for Andre Needham who was one of the Seeds of Hope Ploughshares women who did an action in 1996 against a British Aerospace jet which was to be exported to Indonesia that was used in the genocide of the native peoples in East Timor but happily they were acquitted by a Liverpool court for that action. He also reminisces about non-violent passive resistance and that more of that is needed to be done.