Helen John – England

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “Resistance toward all militarism has been the most important development that has shaped my personal philosophy. For these life-changing gifts I shall remain eternally grateful”.

She says also: “The so-called Space Based Infra Red System SBIRS is supposed to observe the flight path of all missiles in the world and locate enemy missiles, which can then be shot down by killer missiles. Thus the installation would become a foreward station for the planned missile shield over the United States, together with the US center Fylingdales in Yorkshire, and the US base Thule in Greenland. President Reagan initiated the project under the name Strategic Defense Initiative SDI, and President Bush junior terminated the inconvenient ABM Treaty between the USA and Russia to continue it under the name National Missile Defense NMD. Scientists warn that it will not work purely for reasons of physics. Only a few of the trial tests have been successful so far, and then only because the coordinates of the enemy missile were made known beforehand”.

Helen John.jpg.

Helen John – England

She works for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament CND, and for WoMenwith Hill WwH.

The former midwife Helen John fights in Great Britain with wit and civil disobedience against Star Wars and the world’s largest US espionage center.

On Monday, December 15th, 2003, Helen John is lying on Route A 59, which passes by Menwith Hill in the British county of Yorkshire. Her arms are folded under her head, and she stretches out as if the ice-cold asphalt were an inviting bed. Before and behind her sit or stand two dozen other blockade members, from Yorkshire, London and Manchester, Sweden and Germany. ”Close the base!” they shout, again and again. The US base, identified outside as a ”Royal Air Force” station, is run by the National Security Agency (NSA), the US secret service branch, whose tens of thousands of staff members are responsible for international eavesdropping. The base is part of the ”Echelon” monitoring system which, shrouded in mystery, has been run jointly since 1948 by the US, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, although only the USA has access to all data produced.

”Echelon” runs or supervises globally around 120 satellites. Additional interception stations are in Bad Aibling, south of Munich, in the British Morwenstow, in Misawa, Japan, Waihopia in New Zealand, Shoal Bay and Geraldton Station in Australia, Leitrim in Canada, and in the Yakima Flying Center and Sugar Grove, USA. A combined system of more than 50 completely automatic Echelon supercomputers was already able in 2002 to search up to two billion messages a day for specific ”key words.” like ”Bin Laden,” ”Fidel Castro,” ”revolution,” ”cocaine,” ”bombs.” This text is also probably registered at Menworth Hill and analyzed, as it was sent via e-mail. Your telephone calls, mails and faxes are also not secure from Big Brother. According to a former NSA secret service member, “Everyone who is politically active is sooner or later monitored by the NSA’s radar screens.” Meanwith Hill also played a key role in the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Here photos were evaluated from espionage satellites observing war regions. Without these photos of target countries and objects, electronic weapons systems could not be programmed.

Helen, who is now standing again on the road, points to two of the smaller golf balls. She is convinced that this is where the infrared system for Star Wars is being built. The so-called “Space Based Infra Red System” (SBIRS) is supposed to observe the flight path of all missiles in the world and locate “enemy missiles,” which can then be shot down by killer missiles. Thus the installation would become a foreward station for the planned missile shield over the United States, together with the US center Fylingdales in Yorkshire, and the US base Thule in Greenland. President Reagan initiated the project under the name ”Strategic Defense Initiative” (SDI), and President Bush junior terminated the inconvenient ABM Treaty between the USA and Russia to continue it under the name “National Missile Defense” (NMD). Scientists warn that it will not work purely for reasons of physics. Only a few of the trial tests have been successful so far, and then only because the coordinates of the “enemy missile” were made known beforehand.

Helen was born in 1937 and experienced the Second World War as a child. “Missiles struck in our vicinity, and one destroyed my grandmother’s house,” she tells us on the road leading to the base. As a young woman she trained as a nurse and midwife, married, raised five children. She now has five grandchildren, is divorced and retired.

She agreed to be elected as vice-president of the time-honored British peace organization “Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament” (CND). “Not words, but actions count,” she says, as the blockade continues and the cars pile up. Why do the women have to demonstrate in the coldest weather possible? “We want to keep the memory of December 12, 1982 alive,” says Helen. On that historical day, 30,000 women surrounded the US base at the British Greenham Common, where atomic cruise missiles were to be stationed. The US government under Ronald Reagan had thought up this new round of rearmament, to drive the Soviet Union into bankrupcy. And the British government under Margaret Thatcher was an enthusiastic supporter. Then, when the Soviet president Gorbachev came to power and signed a disarmament treaty with the USA, the cruise missiles were removed. But the US bases in Great Britain remained.

It was in the legendary women’s camp at Greenham Common that Helen John learned the lesson of her life: How to make sure the military doesn’t have a quiet minute. Blocking their exits. Making them look silly. Helen was arrested there for the first time. Since then she has stopped counting how often she’s been taken into custody. Forty times? Fifty times? Getting arrested and leading a political defense in court – that is traditionally an important part of the strategy of nonviolent civil disobedience. The US priest Philip Berrigan, who in protest against the Vietnam War burned draft cards with napalm and formed the international movement “Swords into Plowshares,” was arrested more than 100 times and spent eleven years of his life in jail.

In Great Britain ”Swords into Plowshares” actions are almost completely done by women. In 1994 Helen John and her friend Anne Lee founded “WoMenwith Hill,” a women’s camp of trailers and tents that stood near the US base until 1998. Late every Thursday night the garbage was removed from the base. That’s when several women would slip in through the badly guarded gate, pretending to be garbage collectors, and stole the garbage bags. Then they started sorting the wastes, and what do you know, there were written materials of all kinds there, shredded or whole, also secret documents. The women only had to put the pieces back together to learn which satellite dishes were used for what, and which worker had what job. Again and again Helen and Anne paid visits to the base. Sometimes they marched – to the horror of the staff – right into the high security area, sometimes they brought the Commander a piece cut from the security fence outside, to complain about lack of security at the base.
On their way there, Helen recounts, they met a lot of people in uniform. Helen asked them, “Why are you all suddenly working for the Royal Air Force? Is their salary better?’ They were completely shocked. In September 1996 the women came to trial for that and were sentenced to two years on probation. The High Court confirmed the sentence in 1999.

The women stretch out along the road and the traffic jam gets even longer. “Once,” Helen continues,” a grocer gave baked potatoes to the women’s camp. The women made mashed potatoes and put it in plastic bags. When you threw them, the bags broke and everything looked like it was covered with shit.” Then some women cut through the base’s outer fence and went up to the biggest golf ball. They had to pass a tank trap that was installed there. The women continued and cut through the next security fence around the golf ball. And began to attack it. Bumm! Bumm! It was stained and covered everywhere. The guards came running over and screamed, ”Stop!” But the gate to the golf ball area was closed and they couldn’t come in. Quickly they closed the entire base, but meanwhile the women slipped back through the holes in the inner and outer fences. A new high security fence was installed in a rush, equipped with infrared cameras and microphones to set off an alarm immediately if suspicious intrusion was heard. But the women didn’t have any respect for this either. In June 2000, Helen John, Anne Lee and the Ploughshares woman Angie Zelter again cut holes in the pretty new fence. ”We did it to show that it was not high enough and not secure enough,” said Helen. ”In May 2001 we were brought to trial for that. When the proceedings stopped for a lunch break I saw the many pretty pieces of evidence lying on the public prosecutor’s lectern, also my bolt cutter. I took it back. I went outside with a friendly greeting to the policemen, and hid it. After lunch I went back to court. The prosecutor called out, shocked, ‘what has happened to the pieces of evidence?’ My defense lawyer looked at me and started laughing. Everyone knew that I had done it, but no one could prove it.”

But in return, the law moved ever more against the women from WoMenwith Hill. In 1995 came the first order to clear out the camp, others followed in 1997, 1998 and 1999. The restrictions made it impossible for the women to keep “WoMenwith Hill” going. Since 1998 there have been camp actions only on occasion – as on this cold winter weekend. As a result other forms of protest took place. Helen’s organization, the CND, had the idea of a national ”Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases” (CAAB). The US bases were illegal, undemocratic and unverifiable, went their arguments. On the 4th of July 2000, the anniversary of the United States’ separation from Great Britain in 1776, thousands celebrated an alternative ”independence day” at Menwith Hill and demanded ”Great Britain’s independence from the USA.” It was a wild, colorful, merry spectacle that was repeated in the years that followed. In the early morning hours of July 4th, 2001, 120 members of Greenpeace dressed like missiles stormed the base. Neither the two gatekeepers nor their sleeping guard dogs could stop them. Most were caught after a while, but some were able to climb the water tower, a roof and a tall transmission tower. There they hung ”Stop Star Wars” and other banners. Only on the following day were the security forces finally able to stop this action, which was so disgraceful for them. The action was of the ”utmost necessity,” Helen John told Greenpeace members from the prison in Cortonvale. Because of the holes in the high security fence she had been sentenced to three months in prison in May 2001, Anne to two months.

At almost the same time, a controversy escalated between the European Parliament and the US government. When it became known that through ”Echelon” a large amount of economic espionage had taken place, the Parliament established an investigating committee. The result: through electronic eavesdropping, US companies had between 1993 and 2000 snatched $145 billion (!) worth of large orders away from competing EU companies. In May 2001 a committee delegation travelled to Washington, but no one wanted to talk with the Europeans. Snubbed, they departed. On September 5th, 2001, the European Parliament passed a resolution with 44 recommendations. It said that the comprehensive eavesdropping through ”Echelon” violated the European Convention on Human Rights. But just six days later the international political situation changed. After September 11th and the terror attacks, no one wanted to publicly oppose the US’s right to electronic eavesdropping. The recommendation fell into oblivion until today. And so Helen John continues her struggle and lets herself get arrested on this cold December day too, together with other women. After around three hours the blockade of the access road is over, for the time being until next time. (1000peacewomen).

2 excerpts of a full long speach at an election communication: Two grandmothers from Yorkshire face up to a year in prison after becoming the first people to be arrested under the Government’s latest anti-terror legislation.

Helen John, 68, and Sylvia Boyes, 62, both veterans of the Greenham Common protests 25 years ago, were arrested on Saturday after deliberately setting out to highlight a change in the law which civil liberties groups say will criminalise free speech and further undermine the right to peaceful demonstration …

… Mrs John and Mrs Boyes, who have 10 grandchildren between them, were held by Ministry of Defence police after walking 15ft across the sentry line at the United States military base at Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire. They were held for 12 hours before being released on police bail. They will learn whether they are to face prosecution when they return to Harrogate police station on 15 April.

“We thought this was a really important issue and we just had to challenge it,” said Mrs John, who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize last year. Mrs Boyes, who was cleared by a jury at Manchester Crown Court in 1999 of causing criminal damage to a British nuclear submarine, said: ” I am quite willing to break the law and prepared to be charged and to go to prison. The Government thinks it can do whatever it wants and that it has a passive public which accepts whatever it throws at it. I find it very worrying.”

The women, who have been arrested more than a dozen times between them, went equipped with a hammer and a small pair of bolt cutters as well as placards declaring their opposition to the new law. They had prepared statements denouncing United States military policy and expressing their support for the people of Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands, who were evicted from their homes to make way for US military bases … (full text).

Read: Helen and Sylvia, the new face of terrorism, by Nigel Morris and Jonathan Brown, April 06, 2006.

Helen John on Capital Woman.

Helen John to run against Blair in Sedgefield on a No Weapons in Space Platform, Candidate Angered at Lack of Debate on BMD Facilities in Britain, 8 May 2001

Read: TP Defences in Court: Appeal Court Opinion in Stated Case of Helen John, 23 July 1999.


And she says: … If Star Wars goes ahead, it will increase America’s global economic, military and political dominance. This can only be recognised as tyranny, wherein the US insists on free trade under its rules: weakening health and safety regulations, reducing workers’ injury compensation, removing the right to collective bargaining, and reducing spending on health, education, public transport, and the police and fire services …

… I am not a politician. I want my grandchildren and yours to grow up in a world free from another terrifying arms race.

I will be spending time in prison during this election period because I acted against Menwith Hill, one of the Star Wars bases. I believe this place is exactly the same as a concentration camp – the only difference is that all the people to be harmed live outside the perimeter fence.

On 19 June 2000 I cut through this fence, along with two other women, Anne Lee and Angie Zelter. We caused what the Ministry of Defence has said is ?300 worth of damage each. On 21 May 2001 Anne was given two months and I was sentenced to three months in Low Newton Women’s Prison, Brasside, Co. Durham, DH1 5SD. (This does not disqualify me from standing as your candidate).

Along with other women peace campaigners, I take pride in following the traditions set by the suffragettes who also went to prison to gain and protect our rights. In my life, I try to apply their slogan, “Deeds Not Words.”

I will go on campaigning from within prison, and between now and the next general election. We must protect ourselves from George W. Bush’s far right-wing fundamentalist hypocrisy and cruelty … (full long speach at an election communication, 7 June 2001).


See on ‘View Images‘, Pictures 1 to 107;

See cartoons on ‘cartoon stock‘;

Look at ‘photos for the future‘; at ‘russell‘; at CND; at dear kitty; at MDWG; at David Szondy; at CNDUK.

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