2004 Peace Award and Annual Lecture: Helen Steven and Ellen Moxley

The 2004 Annual Lecture was given by Helen Steven from Scotland who, together with Ellen Moxley, also received the Gandhi International Peace Award on this occasion. Both have campaigned tirelessly over 30 years against WMDs and the arms industry, and set up and run The Scottish Centre for Nonviolence. The Gandhi Foundation is delighted to honour them in this way.

Helen and Ellen were chosen from a shortlist of 5 names sent by the Friends of the GF.  Both have been campaigning against weapons of mass destruction and the arms industry in general for the past 30 years.  Both have been involved with peace work and set up and ran The Scottish Centre for Nonviolence.

They have participated in nonviolent direct action, particularly at the UK nuclear submarine base at Faslane and have been to prison several times for their commitment.

Ellen was one of 3 women involved in a test case in Scotland regarding the use of International law as a defence in protest against nuclear weapons. The Sheriff directed the jury to acquit the 3 after hearing expert witnesses in international law.  Unfortunately, the Government took the case for review and three Law Lords in Edinburgh advised that the use of international law in these cases was inappropriate. However, the acquittal still stands.

Peace Award Acceptance Speech & Annual Lecture –
by Helen Steven & Ellen Moxley
‘Our World at the Crossroads: Nonviolence or Nonexistence’

The title of our talk, ‘Nonviolence or nonexistence’ is a  quote from that other great example of nonviolence in action, Martin Luther King.  It sounds extreme, a choice that is too stark, too uncompromising, too dramatic for our more pragmatic day and age.  I would like to draw attention to Mirabai Narayan writing recently in ‘The Gandhi Way’ who likened humanity to a person deeply in debt shoving the bills under the bed and hoping they will go away.

That our world is in crisis is in no doubt.  Global warming is now a recognised scientific fact.  And we can see its devastating effects in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Florida, reeling after hurricane after hurricane, or the people of Bangladesh whose land is doomed to permanent inundation if predicted global water levels rise.  Or does it need to come closer to home than Boscastle in Cornwall before we appreciate the seriousness of our situation?  Many years ago I heard the theologian Jurgen Moltmann say, ‘Nuclear disaster is a possibility; ecological disaster is a certainty’.  True, the planet may shrug off us mere humans, but as Chief Seattle said:

‘To harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.’

The ‘New Scientist’ of 13th March 2004 was quoted in the ‘The Gandhi Way’ last month giving the following statistic. The world’s output of meat increased fivefold in the second half of the 20th century.  We now have 22 billion farm animals. (and 6 billion people) … by 2050 the world’s livestock population, on present trends, have to grow to the point where the plant food it consumes could feed an extra 4 billion people, if it wasn’t hived off for meat production.

To many the threat of nuclear annihilation would seem to have receded.  It is no longer the issue of the day as it was in the 1960’s and 80’s.  And yet, if anything, the danger is far more acute now than it ever has been. Britain still has four Trident nuclear submarines, each armed with nuclear warheads giving a potential capacity of more than 1000 Hiroshimas.  These submarines are not simply a deadly threat that we would never contemplate using.  Whenever there is an international crisis, as in the recent war on Iraq, these subs leave their base on the Clyde and are deployed in full readiness for use.  When questioned, Minister for Defence, Geoff Hoon, said that the U.K would be prepared to use its nuclear weapons if necessary.

Next year the Non Proliferation Treaty is up for review.  According to U.N. sources some 40 nations are believed to have the capacity to build nuclear weapons, and there is always the very real fear of terrorists developing and even using nuclear capability – not too unlikely considering a recent shipment of tons of weapons grade plutonium across the Atlantic from the U.S. to France.  And if the superpowers can play at nuclear terror, why not anyone else?  At every Trident Ploughshares camp at Coulport, where the warheads are stored, some of the protestors have swum into the high security area around the Trident subs with apparent ease.  When we are asked if this doesn’t increase the risk of terror, our response is always that the only way to be totally safe from the nuclear threat is to ban them altogether.

In his book The Fate of the Earth Jonathan Schell said:

In weighing the fate of the earth, and with it our own fate, we stand before a mystery, and in tampering with the earth we tamper with a mystery.  We are in deep ignorance.  Our ignorance should dispose us to wonder, our wonder should make us humble, our humility should inspire us to reverence and caution, and our reverence and caution should lead us to act without delay
to remove the threat we now pose to the earth.

When we returned from Vietnam, Ellen and I were both absolutely clear that the task lying ahead of us was to put all our strength and talents into playing our part in ridding Scotland and the world of nuclear weapons. I leave it to Ellen to tell her part of the story.

Ellen’s story

So many amazing people have contributed to my history that I don’t know where to start!  Albert Schweitzer put into words my feeling about “reverence for life”; Martin Luther King’s winning his opponents through suffering; Martin Buber’s “All living is relationship”; Rosa Park’s “I’m tired of being tired” and sitting in the  front of a segregated bus, in spite of the consequences. And Gandhi’s concrete example of a better way of life — a man with such an uncluttered life that whenever someone (even a complete stranger) called for his help, he went miles and miles to help. He chose to remain vulnerable, placing his own health and welfare as his lowest priority. Mohandas K.’s life expressed indeed “the propaganda of the deed” (George Lakey). He spun khadi, he made salt, and didn’t just talk about it.

Though only 10, when Hiroshima and Nagasaki happened, the full enormity of these events penetrated through to me, and by the time of the U.S.’s  part in the Vietnam War, I had become fully conscientized. Though my mother and stepfather were U.S.ers, by the age of 19 I was looking for another country to which to emigrate!

In 1963, I left the U.S. with no intention of ever again living there, and I have not. Between 1972-74 I worked with a British Quaker team in Vietnam, running preschool playgroups in orphanages. There I met Helen Steven, and my adopted daughter, Marian. There I was faced with the full impact of a ghastly war upon innocent civilians. I determined to work as fully as I could for peace. Until 1998, working for peace meant writing letters, marching, praying, vigilling. Many of our affinity group’s (the Gareloch Horticulturalists) demonstrations were very imaginative, like stretching a hazard tape the length of a Trident submarine (4 football pitches) through the pedestrian precinct of Sauchiehall St. in Glasgow. But nothing we did actually dented the nuclear arsenal, whose firepower is equivalent to more than 1000 Hiroshimas.

A big milestone for the security of the world occurred in July, 1996, when the International Court of Justice in the Hague declared the threat and possession of nuclear weapons are illegal, because they are by nature indiscriminate. Because of this judgment, Angie Zelter was able to issue to peace groups around Britain an  invitation to participate in citizens’ disarmament. Previously, she was one of four women who had disarmed a Hawk aircraft which had been sold by the British Government to Indonesia to bomb the East Timorese. Her credentials were impeccable. Always she acted accountably, openly, safely, and without violence to any living being. The women were acquitted on the grounds that the “crime” they had committed was to prevent a greater crime. The same principles used in the Hawk action were also applied to Trident Ploughshares.

The thought of myself doing the disarmament was scary and exhilarating. Angie had found the web page of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA). On it the work of two platforms in Loch Goil, Maytime and Newt were described. They tested the sonic capability of the Trident submarines, to make sure that they moved noiselessly through the waters. The site was a very isolated and beautiful loch, and after months of reconnoitring, Angie, Ulla Roder, a Danish peace activist, and I went there,  June 8, 1999,  7 o’clock, a most beautiful evening. Helen pushed out the rigid inflatable boat. Our press officer, David Mackenzie, was photographing on the opposite bank, and in spite of a dicky engine the boat arrived at the platform. We moored our boat, and climbed the ladder. To our amazement, a window in the laboratory was partially open! We climbed in, turned off the power supply, and unplugged all the machines, faxes, keyboards, screens, telephones, and handed them out to the waiting arms of the accomplice on the deck waiting to throw them into the loch. As I let them drop, my first thought was,”Gosh! wouldn’t  these be useful at The Scottish Centre for Nonviolence?”

But a look from Angie banished that thought. As they splashed into the water, I  thought of our nuclear capability being destroyed bit by bit, of these computers representing globalisation, child pornography, the mechanisation which destroys jobs and relationships being drowned in the bottom of the loch, and I was very happy. Afterwards, I was aware that there is a good precedent for weapons destruction in my own Quaker tradition. In 1776, during the American War of Independence, William Rotch was asked for a consignment of bayonets which he had been given as quittance of a debt. They were to be used by the Americans. Rotch explained that he could not put into the hand of another man a weapon which he was not prepared to use himself. The persistence of those asking him was so great that he ended up by throwing them into the sea!

We three left the laboratory “sanitized” as the master of the boat explained during the trial. We did not touch the First Aid equipment, the drinking water dispenser, nor the life saving equipment. We did destroy the model submarine winch, and we cut several antennae. After three hours we had time to eat our sandwiches and grapes topside. Although quite capable of “escaping”, it never occurred to us, as the whole point of an accountable disarmament action is to bring it to court, and to stress the illegality of nuclear weapons.

In the police boat back to Coulport, we chatted amicably to the police, and told them about our campaign and the illegality of nuclear weapons. Throughout the time of the arrest, the four months in Cornton Vale Prison on remand, and the trial, I don’t believe we were ever disrespectful or abusive to anyone. In fact as much as possible we tried to establish dialogue with everyone.

In October we finally got our trial. Thanks to Angie, our case was well prepared. We had Professor Francis Boyle, an international lawyer, Rebecca Johnson, from the ACRONYM Institute, Ulf Panzer, a German judge who had blockaded the Pershing missiles at the Mutlangen  Base in Germany, Professor Jack Boag, a nuclear scientist.  And, based upon the international law evidence, Margaret Gimblett, the Sheriff of Greenock Court found us “Not Guilty”.

She said:

“I have the invidious task of deciding on international law as it relates to nuclear weapons. I am only a very junior sheriff without the wisdom or experience of those above me. I have a knowledge of the repercussions which could be far reaching. As a sheriff I took an oath to act without fear or favour in interpreting the law … I have to conclude that the three accused in company with many others were justified in thinking that Great Britain’s use and deployment of Trident … could be constituted as a threat … and as such an infringement of international and customary law. I have heard nothing which would make it seem to me that the accused acted with criminal intent. Therefore I will instruct the jury that they should acquit all three accused.”

Of course, the British Government could not let this judgment stand. But in spite of the adverse and politically biased Lord Advocate’s Reference, which stated that the legality of Trident could only be judged  during the period when it might be used, Gimblett’s monumental judgment has reactivated the peace movement, so that between the time of the opening ceremony of Trident Ploughshares, July 1998, when no-one was prepared to get arrested, and the last Coulport Camp, August 20-September 1, the numbers have swelled to the latest count of  a total of  over 2,000 arrests, 1,970 days spent in jail, and fines totalling over £60,000 imposed.

More and more young people have become involved in the Campaign, not only in an activist capacity, but in the considerable administration of the campaign. I would not be surprised if Trident Ploughshares largely contributed to the 80,000 marching in Glasgow in the February before the war on Iraq. We are exploring very widely what we can contribute to the raising of the issues connected to the G8 Meeting at Gleneagles, in Scotland, next July. Like the tiny plants which slowly creep through hardened concrete and break it up, those who care about the earth and its future are becoming stronger.

As Gandhi said,

“The difference between what we do and what we can do could solve the world’s problems”.


Gandhi’s life exemplified nonviolence in action as the only valid and lasting alternative to the disastrous negative spiral of greed and violence in which our world seems to be trapped.  Environmental awareness of the oneness of life expressed in a lifestyle of total simplicity.  The value and uniqueness of each individual recognised in his ability to engage fully at every level of society from the humblest ‘untouchable’ to King George V.

Recognition of the inequality and economic injustice of society led to a well thought-out programme of social reform and education.  And campaigning for political change involved a total commitment of his whole life. Daniel Berrigan, that great American activist expressed this total demand thus;

‘Because we want peace with half a heart, half a life and will, the war making continues.  Because the making of war is total – but the making of peace by our cowardice is partial.’

Some challenge!

So for us committed to peace and social change more is required than symbolic action, vital though that is.  Gandhian nonviolence involves moving behind the action to the motivation; to changing hearts and minds into the creation of a nonviolent state of being.  For example, we might cancel Trident next Tuesday, and indeed it probably will be declared obsolete during the next electoral term – but unless we can change people’s attitude to militarism and their concepts of security, our government will soon be seeking more deadly and efficient weapons – as indeed they are already doing in the new facilities at Aldermaston.  We are often accused of being unrealistically idealistic in the peace movement, but this is the only way forward.

Gandhi said

“Heart and mind are one, but the heart must rule”

It was with this kind of endeavour in mind that Ellen and I started our venture at Peace House in 1987.  Peace House was a residential centre in Scotland near Dunblane supported by The Iona Community and the Quakers, where people could participate in workshops and trainings on a whole variety of aspects of nonviolence.  In the course of twelve years at Peace House over 10,000 people took part in our courses, ranging from issues of fair trade and LETS schemes, campaigns against the arms trade, to training for nonviolent direct action and prison support.  Many of them still speak warmly of the good food and welcome that they received – surely as much part of nonviolence as direct action!

Eventually we reached a point where we were running out of energy.  It was at this stage in 1999 that Ellen retired, thus freeing her up to undertake the nefarious deeds she has already recounted.  We were very keen that over twenty years of expertise in nonviolence training and a whole library full of resources should not be lost, and in fact should be made more widely available.  And so we founded The Scottish Centre for Nonviolence situated in Dunblane in the grounds of Scottish Churches House, the ecumenical centre for Scotland.  I worked there for over three years until I retired in 2002 to be ably succeeded by Liz Law.

The work of the Centre addresses nonviolence at many levels. We were very keen to introduce the concept of nonviolence into the academic mainstream, and were delighted to be able to work with the Centre for Human Ecology in Edinburgh to offer a module in ‘Nonviolence from Theory to Practice’ as part of a Masters degree accredited by the Open University.  This was a most demanding piece of work, requiring that we explore behind the familiar area of nonviolent activism to the theoretical and historical background.  However, because the course was set in an academic context, many who were familiar with the more theoretical aspects of nonviolence were challenged by the tutorials, case-studies and workshops that introduced them to the practicalities of nonviolence.

Perhaps at the other end of the spectrum is the work we have been doing training people to go as part of the international peace teams working in Palestine.  Preparing and delivering these courses challenged us in a most profound way to explore the realities of nonviolence in situations of very real danger and violence.  We have a huge admiration for the participants of those programmes, and are eager to develop the whole concept of teams of nonviolent peacemakers providing a practical and positive alternative to military intervention.

Conflict resolution, anger-management, mediation skills, planning a campaign, working with women against violence – all these are the everyday work of the Centre.  With the G8 meeting being held next July in Gleneagles, just some 10 miles away from the Centre, there will be an exciting opportunity to be involved in training the non-violence trainers.  After five years in existence the Scottish Centre for Nonviolence is beginning to prove itself; it has put nonviolence on the map in Scotland.  As ever of course the perennial problem is money and working there calls for a constant living in faith.  I’m sure Gandhi would have approved, but it doesn’t make for sound sleep at night!

One aspect of Gandhi’s life that I have always particularly admired was the totally fearless and yet gentle way in which he ‘spoke truth to power’. Nonviolence is based on the premise that change is always possible, and that that change comes about through our actions, enabling another (our opponent, if you will) to change position without loss of face or humiliation.  Gandhi spoke of ‘pouring love into the institutions’ and that can only be done through personal engagement.

Over the years I have been privileged to have had opportunities to meet with top level people in the military and the diplomatic service and have frequently known intense moments of understanding.  NATO generals in Brussels, Russian strategists during the Cold War years, a group of military people meeting on Iona for a week to discuss ‘Options for Defence’; all have shared very personal moments of understanding and have shared visions that have moved me profoundly. A NATO colonel deeply moved by the music and poetry of our group, saying goodbye with tears on his face, saying “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry”. Or another man at our conference on Iona who caused a little frisson of dismay when he described himself in the introductions as ‘The father of flexible response, the nuclear programme for Europe’ who gave us a sudden insight into the poetry in his soul as he picked up a white feather and likened it to the nuclear programme.  A little bit chilling perhaps, but a sudden flash of insight into another’s soul. Later as he left Iona to board the ferry, he shook me by the hand and said,

“Only the hand of God could have dumped me among a group of raving peace women”, then he suddenly looked me straight in the eye and said most solemnly, “And I mean that”.

More recently the Church of Scotland has hosted two overnight meetings called the Rhu Consultations attended by very senior military personnel and civil servants. I believe that such meetings are vitally important.  Often afterwards I have been asked “Well, did anything change?” or “What did you actually achieve?”  All I can say is “You never know.”

The point is that Gandhi never gave up on anyone.  His nonviolence was based on the understanding that everyone has an aspect – albeit sometimes hard to discern – of the truth and that therefore we cannot kill or violate another’s truth.  In our nonviolence we have to be constantly seeking that grain of truth, or spark of the divine, in the other, even in our perceived enemy, and even in those we cannot conceivably understand.

Which leads us to terrorism.  Perhaps nowhere else is the contrast between non-violence and non-existence more evident than in the desperate plight of our world in the 21st Century as we are dragged into a totally unwinnable war against terror, that is killing our children, making everyone live in fear, and can only result in disaster. Gandhi said;

“The fear is that if we go on like this, heaping retaliation and indignities upon each other, we shall progressively reduce ourselves to a state of cannibalism and worse.  In every war the most brutal and degrading acts of the previous war become the norm.”

So how would Gandhi have responded?  I don’t know, but I can suggest a few ideas. For example in his insistence on truth he might have asked a few pointed questions about where real terror lies.  Is threatening nuclear annihilation, or waging a savage mechanised war to back up our demand for far more than our fair share of global resources not terror?  And are our governments not total strangers to the truth anyway?

Gandhi always listened to all sides of a problem.  Refusing to talk can never be a solution; it slams the door on any possibility for change.  Might he not suggest that we find out what it is such desperate people really want?  Could it be that they are seeking justice from those who are gorging themselves on the riches of the earth before the eyes of the starving millions.  Gandhi’s well known saying that there is enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed has never been truer.  It has been calculated that to support the present lifestyle of the Western world at the present rate of consumption we would require the resources of four more planet earths.

There is a story told of St Francis that he was asked to use his famous way with animals to overcome a wolf that was terrorising a small village. Francis disappeared into the wood where the wolf was and was gone for some time.  The villagers were certain that he had been killed.  However after a while Francis re-appeared quite unscathed.  ‘What happened?, asked the
villagers. ‘Is the wolf dead?  What must we do to be rid of the threat.?’ ‘Feed the wolf.’ was the Saint’s reply.

I believe passionately in the power of nonviolence.  In times of great despair, it offers a way of courage, great companionship, immense potential for change, and above all, hope. Because there are signs of hope in the midst of our despair.  23 million people in Europe marching – many for the first time – against the war in Iraq; the steady quiet determined bravery of the Women in Black; volunteers pouring into Palestine to help with the olive harvest; in Trident Ploughshares seeing committed young people taking over the boring administrative jobs and not just the glamorous ones; the internet humming with activity and preparations for the G8; and on our own doorstep in the far north of Scotland, an enthusiastic group of local people planning a community buy-out of Suilven, one of our most beautiful mountains, from a mighty landowner.

I shall finish by quoting a poem by Marge Piercy, from ‘Stone, Paper, Knife’.

Who shall bear hope, who else but us?
After us is the long wind blowing
off the ash pit of blasted genes, or after,
the remarrying of the earth and the water.
We must begin with the stone of mass
resistance, and pile stone on stone on stone,
begin cranking out whirlwinds of paper,
the word that embodies before any body
can rise to dance on the wind, and the sword
of action that cuts through.  We must shine
with hope, stained glass windows that shape
light into icons, glow like lanterns
borne before a procession.  Who can bear hope
back into the world but us, you, my other
flesh, all of us who have seen the face
of hope at least once in vision, in dream,
in marching, who sang hope into rising
like a conjured snake, who found its flower
above timberline by a melting glacier.
Hope sleeps in our bones like a bear
waiting for spring to rise and walk.

Ellen Moxley & Helen Steven, October 2004

Categories: 2. Peace Award, 3. Annual Lecture


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

2 Comments on “2004 Peace Award and Annual Lecture: Helen Steven and Ellen Moxley”

  1. December 5, 2008 at 4:04 am #

    Why isn’t “The History of Peace” being taught in the school systems?
    I also understand that the UK may be no longer teaching about the Holocaust in the school systems.. I believe in non-violence and peace but I also believe that we must not forget why it is so important to teach it.

    Ellen Moxley and Helen Steven…you are not only teaching “The History of Peace” you are living it. Thank you .



  1. Activism or just actions « Rhiannon Problematising Stuff - April 7, 2009

    […] active over many years in the peace movement in Scotland, protesting against nuclear weapons. Hearing about their work is inspirational, but also sometimes daunting: some movements demand this kind of public protest, […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: