Jennifer Taylor's launch speech for Peace Crimes
I acknowledge Mr Stephens and Mr Wallace, and all Arrernte elders of the past and future. I thank you for the privilege of meeting here in magnificent Arrernte country. I acknowledge that this country was never ceded by Arrernte people – not the town and the hill we stand on today, nor the land where Pine Gap base has been built.
Kieran Finnane’s book Peace Crimes is an enormous achievement. A spooky silence often prevails around Pine Gap. Kieran’s book stands in contradiction to that silence. She takes the intellectual and political position that the functioning of the military facility at Pine Gap, and agreements between Australian and US governments, should be out in the open.
She has analysed swathes of technical information about the Base’s role in facilitating high-tech warfare. She confronts the part it plays in lethal, illegal drone strikes against citizens of countries with whom Australia is not at war, and the human consequences of this lawlessness.
She explores the motivations and methods of the Peace Pilgrims – what led to their actions at Pine Gap, and to their trial for trespass, under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act. With care and clarity she unpacks the trial. We see how the law is applied in this instance of what she wryly calls ‘a reckless act of prayer’.
She does this without preaching, or shying away from difficult material. Her approach is connected, clear, inclusive, and above all, compassionate. Her extraordinary commitment to writing this book stands to benefit us all, by amplifying the pilgrims’ message and carrying it further.
This is a book on a mission. It invites you to engage with the stories of the Pilgrims’ lives and actions. You find you want to know: ‘Who are these people? What do they have to say to me? Seeing how they live, how might I live my life?’
How does this book do so much, weave all these strands together? The book’s content, the way it is organised, and its purpose are skilfully braided. Strands of experience, analysis, and reflection are woven together into a new, more complete story about violence, and lives dedicated to peaceful resistance to violence.
Here are some of the strands:
- the multicoloured threads of the pilgrims’ lives, their faith and principles, their activist predecessors, their music, imagery and language, their grief, courage and determination
- The philosophy and practice of non-violent direct action
- Kieran’s own family and community ties, her deep reflections.
- The continuum of destruction of Aboriginal lives, livelihoods, language and culture from Frontier Wars through to today.
- The wars in which Pine Gap has played a part, from Vietnam onwards.
Readers will find many different places to land – many points of connection relating to their own stories. For me the book prompted memories of the environmental actions of the 1980’s: Terania Creek; Franklin Dam; the Daintree road. Also of the womens’ collectives helping women prepare for NVDA at Roxby Downs, the Women for Survival Peace Camp at Pine Gap in 1983, Lucas Heights, Cockburn Sound, Jabiluka, Anzac Day protests and other actions.
The Pilgrims’ stories reminded me how with NVDA, activists choose to be exposed to harm, to be vulnerable, to experience in their own bodies the power of the small and ordinary, the power of standing together, of care and nurture, and the power to refuse violence.
In a Women for Survival newsletter from 1983 I found these favourite lines from Judy Grahn:
‘the common woman is as common as the best of bread
and will rise’.
Words echoed by Peace Pilgrim Margaret Pestorious as she insists she does ‘all those ordinary things that ordinary people do’ – ‘putting my ordinary little body on the line’.
‘… being a non-violent activist is about disruption, stopping harms, facing up, witnessing, speaking truth to power’.
This book will have done its work when ordinary people who read it find their own ways to take action on the issues that move them most, whether that means anti-racism work, climate action, protecting country, strengthening culture and community, working for food and water security, standing for office, making music, lamenting our losses, or creating images or texts that, like this one, acclaim life and inspire change.