I thought there were some good bits of wisdom in this conversation with Plowshares activist Ciaron O’Reilly. Excerpts:
A quarter of a century has passed since Ciaron O’Reilly, with a sledgehammer and a bottle of his own blood, took his first tilt at the U.S. war machine.
The Brisbane-born man served what is believed to be the longest jail stint for a civilian protester on U.S. soil during the first Gulf war, over a New Year’s Day sortie by a band of Catholic peace activists into Griffiss air force base in New York in .
He poured blood on a runway from a bottle bearing pictures of Iraqi children and smashed up the tarmac till his hands were blistered, while his cohorts did the same to the engine of a B-52 bomber on standby for raids in the Gulf.
O’Reilly regards an absence of solidarity with the imprisoned U.S. army whistleblower Chelsea Manning — as well as Assange, Snowden and hundreds of conscientious objectors — as the signal failure of a long-hobbled peace movement.
He says a protest leadership that is “increasingly NGO-ish and [based on] left-wing kind of cults” has failed to translate mass demonstrations into support for individuals whose acts have proven much more troublesome to the establishment.
O’Reilly has also been instrumental in fundraising campaigns for “simple things” he says the mainstream anti-war movement has neglected.
These included raising funds to help Manning’s family visit her in Fort Leavenworth prison, where she is serving 35 years for disclosing classified U.S. information, including the “collateral murder” video of Reuters journalists being gunned down by U.S. troops in Iraq.
O’Reilly also helped raise the rent for the partner of the British navy medic Michael Lyons. She had faced eviction from her apartment after Lyons was sent to Colchester military prison for refusing to go to Afghanistan.
“It wasn’t rocket science, it wasn’t difficult,” he says. “And that’s what the anti-war movement should be doing. If you’re not in jail, you should be supporting people who are for non-violent anti-war resistance.”
He still gets the occasional visit from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, whose main concerns seem to be the Pine Gap U.S. base and the Amberley air force base, west of Brisbane.
The spooks see in O’Reilly a war opponent not content to simply join conventional demonstrations, which he calls “a dead end really, marching up and down empty streets like a strange dance”.
“You should actually go to places like Amberley and Gallipoli barracks [in Brisbane],” he says.
“You’d be more effective with 100 people at the gates there than with 10,000 in the city of Brisbane.
“You can’t have a peace movement with a gentlemen’s agreement where they have a war, and they say, ‘you can have your protest as long as we can have our war’.
“That’s the gentlemen’s agreement that we didn’t stick to.”