On Friday 12 April we buried Bryan Law in a Cairns cemetery.
Bryan died suddenly in Rockhampton while preparing for his ploughshares trial.
Almost two years ago Bryan had ridden his large tricycle (built to carry his large body) on to the tarmac of Rocky airport, and put a garden mattock into the side of an Australian attack helicopter.
This was the culmination of a lifetime of resisting war and militarism. Bryan was 58 years of age.
He suffered from a bad heart and serious diabetes. Bryan knew hid did not have a long life ahead of him and he wanted to do the best he could before it ended. Sadly he did not get as far as the final trial for his ploughshares action (he was preparing for an August trial). He died alone in his rented Rockhampton home.
I have known Bryan for over 30 years, almost always in the context of resistance We were both arrested during the Joh era, though I did not know him then. We were arrested together for campaigning for free speech in the Brisbane mall. We were arrested, just the two of us this time, for trying to swim onto a partiality submerged nuclear submarine.(I am still puzzled how police managed to get Bryan into their boat!)
But I did not really get to know Bryan until 2005 when he got excited by my suggestion that we break into Pine Gap and expose its war crimes. He added such enthusiasm and (mostly) great ideas to the action, that it was forever changed and enlarged. ( see 20 min El Jazeera doco :The Pine Gap Four – People & Power – Al Jazeera English)
In fact everything Bryan took part in was enlarged
Still,Bryan was not an easy person to work with. He liked things done the right way. But despite many past conflicts, all who attended Bryans vigil and funeral expressed an awe of Bryans unwavering determination and commitment. Most, if not all of us, left his funeral and wake with a determination to do more.
I was honored to be one of the people who carried Bryans coffin out of Cairns Cathedral. As we processed, his wife Margaret chose to play, (no doubt with Bryans own sense of humor in mind) the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Though there was much sadness during my two days in Cairns, for me this was not one of those moments. I felt Bryan had done good things and his spirit was marching on.. I felt good.
(You can also read a great obituary of Bryan from a Cairns blog: http://www.cairns blog.net/2013/04/lifelong-social-justice-anti-war.html)
But his soul goes marching on.
On Saturday morning I arrived home from Cairns. One of the firs things Anne told me was the news that the first open day in ten years was to be held at Brisbanes Enoggera army base the very next day. Obviously, after attending Bryans funeral, I felt compelled to make an effort to be there.
I immediately rang around. Sean had not yet arrived back from Cairns, but as soon as he did, he rang to confirm he would be there. So did Brother Juniper House folks.
Amazingly with less than 24 hours notice, around 20 people came to the gates of the Army base to voice our opposition to war.
WE hung our nine meter banner, In the Name of God Stop the Wars from the footpath rail, just near the main entrance, Next to it was a large picture of Bryan, and another banner with words from Exodus, What have you done? Your brothers blood cries out to me from the Earth.
Anne set up a table across the road inviting people to write a prayer for peace. Folks handed out leaflets about the afghan war. Others held placards. Greg and Culley donned their orange jump suits- the always shocking symbol of those we have tortured in the so called war on terror. (Many of the 160 people still in Guantanamo Bay without ever being charged are on a long term hunger strike right now. Their message: Let us go or kill us. The torture goes on.)
Meanwhile, thousands went in and out of the base, mostly in cars but many on foot as well. There was plenty of the expected abuse, but a number of people agreed with us about the occupation of Afghanistan. The most ironic part was that, more than once, people condemned us for bringing children to the protest as hundreds of children streamed in to play with real assault rifles (friends brought out photos) and gawk at attack helicopters.
After an hour and a half of this, for some unknown reason, two police arrived and decided to try to get our friends in orange jump suits to move further away from the gate. Were the visuals too embarrassing so close to the gate? Culley and Greg however could see no reason to move, as they were not blocking anyone and they seemed to be on public property. The police decided to arrest them. Culley refused to stand and he was handcuffed tightly behind the back and dragged to his feet by the cuffs. He screamed in pain and told the police officer the cuffs had cut he circulation to his wrists. But he still refused to stand and was dragged about 50 meters with bare feet scraping the concrete, resulting in ugly bloody toes. I watched all this from across the road. Others stayed with Greg and Culley the whole time.
No longer able to keep quiet, as people and cars streamed by while a friend was being tortured, I spoke up loudly, asking why a man was being arrested for kneeling on the footpath in an orange jumpsuit. The comparisons with Australia’s role in the war on terror were glaringly obvious. I mentioned the living hell we had helped create in Iraq where thousands of prisoners are still being tortured daily. I mentioned the men in Guantanamo Bay. I asked why we had gone to Afghanistan, and why do we support its corrupt government and murderous warlords. Why have our SAS been turned into death squads. Some people engaged my talk. One person mentioned the heroin trade in Afghanistan, to which I replied that 90% of the worlds heroin comes from Afghanistan, a trade largely run by the warlords and government members who are supposed to be on our side. The Taliban had actually stopped the heroin industry the year before we invaded.
Someone yelled out a common question, Why dont you go to Afghanistan?. I reported that the man who had just been tortured before our eyes (Culley Palmer) had just returned from Afghanistan. He had visited the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, a group dedicated to promoting nonviolent alternatives to war. I mentioned the possibility of nonviolent resistance in the mode of Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Jesus.
As the final visitors were leaving the base we packed up our banners and other gear, held a brief closing prayer circle and headed to the watchouse to await the release of our friends. About 3 hours later they came out in good spirits, confident that the police would be embarrassed in court if they proceeded with the charges. Unfortunately, a soldier bullied Chelsea into deleting a video she had taken of Culley being dragged away. But a number of other photos were kept.
It was great to break the consensus that war is inevitable and that silence is the only response to ones own nations war crimes As Daniel Berrigan said, as Christians we have a duty to speak out and pay up.
As continue to do this Bryan Law will surely be with us.
Jim Dowling 16th April 2013