Spent early January hanging out at the National Christian Youth Convention where they asked Jess and I to provide one of 32 practical activities for the young people to try (called ‘Submersion Day’). It was a day of social action, so other groups planted trees, helped out in people’s gardens, made slums on the steps of Parliament House, did flash mobbing for Stop the Traffik etc etc. We decided to stage a vigil outside the Melbourne offices of BAe Systems (formerly British Aerospace), the third largest weapons manufacturer in the world (after Lockheed Martin and Boeing).
We ended up with about 120 young people (!), most of whom had never so much as participated in a march or protest before. They were pretty apprehensive (that would be an understatement) but we offered a range of options for them to take up or they could do whatever they wanted so no one was forced to do something they weren’t comfortable doing.
BAe helped us out by parking elsewhere for the day so we had the entire carpark to ourselves (they barricaded themselves inside with the shutters drawn…scary Christian peace people). So we spent about 3 1/2 hours there, starting with a liturgy (attached) then encouraging people
to do their own thing…we covered the carpark with chalked messages, made banners, some went over the road to the shopping centre and leafletted people, wrote letters to the PM, chalked the bike path behind the building, held silent vigils outside the door, staged a die-in, and then finished by marching around the building seven times to the sounds of chanting and a conch shell being blown by the Pacific Islanders. Highlights included people in the office building next door putting up a sign in their window saying, “Make Love Not War”, a tourist from Queensland who was so inspired walking past that she stayed and vigilled with us for an hour, and an Islander elder who belted out the Beatitudes like I’ve never heard them before.
The joy and freedom was palpable – we were just gobsmacked by how the fear and apprehension of the day before gave way to excitement and exuberance (despite the three squad cars waiting for us outside the building). Going in I’d been concerned about tokenism and ‘protest tourism’ but I reckon all of that was blown away by the breaking down of barriers and the inspiration it provided for a really diverse and generally conservative crew. Jess used the parable of the sower to describe how it had affected people – probably some not at all, others it might take a while to sink in or bear fruit, and others who were just instantly changed and into it.
And having established relationships with BAe security, it might have good potential for a regular vigil, especially as they’re building a huge new office/factory over the road from their current one (Victoria St Abbotsford).