The Right to Protest – Remembering Pauline Campbell – Hidden History – Part II

July 1, 2009

I’ve been looking through past emails today and came across several from Pauline Campbell(now deceased). In one of them she’s thanking me for the organisation of a (now historic) meeting held on the 12th. January, 2006 at Chester Quaker Meeting House (in Cheshire, England).

The meeting was held under the auspices of the Wirral and Chester Quaker “Testimony in Action Committee”. I remember it well. My daughter was just six months old, I had to take baby along and was so relieved that she slept or fed her way fairly peacefully through the evening…

I’d initiated this public meeting. It was very well attended (about 100 or so people came). I hadn’t spent much time with Pauline Campbell, (I’d met her through Joan Meredith) but I’d put Pauline’s name forward to chair the meeting for a reason. 

They say that heroes and prophets are never properly recognised in their own towns and cities. And so it was with Pauline. There had been a series of vitriolic letters about her work and her daughter Sarah in the local (Cheshire) press and I wanted to give this grieving mother an opportunity to experience the respect I felt she deserved to have, in a supportive environment. On our own patch.

In the end, Pauline supported me, more than I supported her. She didn’t hesitate to help me – even holding my child I think, at one point. We finalised arrangements in a little side room off the main meeting room – and I suddenly realised how much effort it was costing her – how kind she was and what a challenge it must have been. In that little room, away from the public gaze – I think I was the only one who noticed how her hands started shaking – but she chaired the meeting magnificently. I promised to take her out to dinner to say thank you – but time went by. Pauline died and I never got the chance. I really regret that now.

Pauline is no longer able to answer her emails or pick up the telephone – but the memory of that meeting stays with me. I like to think it played some part in the events of the years that followed, during which Pauline gained confidence in campaigning and became known as ‘the suffragette of penal reform’.

 The title I chose for that January evening meeting was:

“Truth and Integrity in Public Life”

In Quaker circles this title has something of a history. It belonged to a committee which is now disbanded. For reasons which have much to do with the war in Iraq – I felt these words needed taking down from the shelf and dusting off.

David Shayler, the ex-MI5 officer was the invited speaker. In the end, David did not come. Annie Machon, his former partner, did. There was no shortage of courageous, intelligent, astute personalities on the podium that night.

In her own words: Annie is “a former intelligence officer for MI5, the UK Security Service, who resigned in 1996 to blow the whistle on the spies’ incompetence and crimes with her ex-partner David Shayler. She’s an author, journalist and campaigner on a variety of issues: security and intelligence, the war on terror, press and media freedoms, secrecy, legislation and government accountability”.  

Since that meeting in 2003, my role has shifted – it’s not part of my job right now to organise public meetings. I take my press card along and tell the human rights story that way, as best I can.

Three years on – I’m glad to see that talking about ‘Truth and Integrity in Public Life’ (at least!) is still alive.  Last week I went along to another meeting in the same series and the same place, once again organised by Wirral and Chester Quaker Testimony in Action committee.

The speaker this time was Lindis Percy – of the Campaign for the Accountability for U.S. Bases. She chose a subject and a title which has been a recurring theme in my work too:

 “The Right to Protest”.

Much of Lindis Percy’s talk concerned events surrounding Menwith Hill.

This is a blog for news (and analysis) that ‘doesn’t normally get out’. You won’t see Menwith Hill on the front page of the tabloids. To find out why: see my next post on ‘The Right to Protest’ and Menwith hill – coming soon.

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