Dan Seeger was a Vietnam era conscientious objector. At that time, 50 years ago, COs had to answer numerous questions before exemption would be granted – one of which was:
‘Do you believe in a supreme being?’
In British law, even as far back as WW1, exemption was not reserved exclusively for religious objectors. But in US law it was.
A gleaming drum kit in front of a large wooden cross – right where I would usually set up my wooden crates… ‘Bert Brocklesby and the COs’ might sound like an early rock ‘n’ roll band – but they weren’t. What they were was a band of determined pacifists.
Then I notice that the drums are sitting on a square of carpet.
29th March 2019
‘Porridge before you set off?’ Joseph asks us on Monday morning. I look out at the snowy landscape, sensing the chill morning air.
‘I studied at St Andrews University, Scotland, ‘ he says, ‘and was taught how to make it this way by my landlady.’
I would like to meet that landlady. It was delicious.
Friday morning – March 16th
Stomach still playing up. But a simple breakfast in the hotel lobby doesn’t do any harm – apart from the fact that the milk comes in quarter-pint individual cartons. I use very little of mine and ask the staff what will happen to the rest.
‘Oh, you can just dispose of it, sir.’
‘But…isn’t that a bit wasteful?’ I suggest.
‘Let me take it, sir, and I’ll bear the burden of disposing of it.’
‘Oh. Okay,’ I reply, handing him the almost full carton. ‘But maybe someone else could use it?’
‘Let me take it, sir.’
A morning to myself, lying low in my very clean but characterless hotel room, and then Maria and Cara collect me at lunchtime to head to Wholefoods Market to get a healthy lunch. My local branch of this store in Clapham Junction back home is the size of a broom cupboard compared to the vast emporium we visit. (Everything’s smaller in Clapham…)
1040 is the number of the form on which citizens file their US tax return.
It’s also the name of the organisation Harold Penner belongs to – and it’s ‘1040 for Peace’ that has sponsored us to come to Akron for my first US performance. They each withhold a symbolic 10 dollars 40 cents from their tax bill, in protest against government defence spending, and redirect it to peaceful causes. A small gesture, but accompanied with letters to government officials explaining their reasoning.
On March 9, I set off with some trepidation and a fair amount of excitement to the USA where I have only ever spent 5 days in all my 60 years – (and those five days were in New York) – travelling there now in order to present the compelling and inspiring stories of Britain’s First World War conscientious objectors – ‘THIS EVIL THING’ – to a number of sympathetic religious institutions, colleges and a few Quaker Meeting Houses too.
This all came about thanks to a chance meeting with an American, who saw the piece when I first presented it in Edinburgh in 2016 – and who said to me, ‘You should bring this to the States.’ To which I replied, ‘I’d love to. But how?’ ‘Let me have a think,’ he said.
March 2nd 2018
Saint Augustine’s church, Haringey, is not easy to find – up a small side street off the ever-busy Green Lanes. Along with the house next door, it is home to the London Catholic Worker, who offer it as a house of hospitality alongside their many other charitable activities – especially their work with destitute and homeless refugees.