Artist and activist James Brady will be delivering the Commonweal Lecture for 2018 – Commonweal’s 60th anniversary.

His topic will be la ZAD, a bold experiment in common living in rural France.

We asked him to tell us about la ZAD and why it deserves us our attention right now.

Commonweal Lecture 23rd October 2018

James Brady

La ZAD isn’t as well-known as it could be among UK activists. Please tell us what it stands for (the name and also the place!).

ZAD means ‘Zone to Defend’ (Zone à Défendre in French). The place is a utopian experiment of collective common living on 4,000 acres of rural landscape in Western France (near the city of Nantes).

The territory was first liberated from the French State’s plans (in 1968) to build a new airport for the nearby city of Nantes (which already has a perfectly functioning airport). This was achieved through an occupation by farmers who opposed the plans.

In recent years, the zone has been opened up to welcome anyone willing to stand in solidarity. It’s a place of great social diversity, which is the key to its success so far.

Continue reading Improvising the commons: lessons from la ZAD

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RisingUp is an activist collective that’s seeding widespread action against ‘our ecocidal, unjust and corrupt system’ and inviting us all to explore and implement the alternatives.

We spoke to RisingUp’s Gail Bradbrook, one of the organisation’s founders.

Gail Bradbrook


1) How long has RisingUp existed? What is your mission?

RisingUp was established in 2016 after a dialogue between activists from Earth First!, Occupy, Plane Stupid and Reclaim the Power. We launched with an action to partially close down Heathrow Airport in November 2016.

Here’s a longer overview of ‘where we are coming from’, but our mission is this:

To spark and sustain a spirit of creative rebellion, which will enable much-needed changes in our political, economic and social landscape. We endeavour to mobilise and train organisers to skilfully open up space, so that communities can develop the tools they need to address Britain’s deeply rooted problems. We work to transform our society into one that is compassionate, inclusive, sustainable, equitable and connected.

Continue reading Hope dies, action begins: an interview with RisingUp’s Gail Bradbrook

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Michael Nagler is the founder and president of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, in Petaluma, California, which offers ‘Theory, Strategy, Support for a New Story’.

We asked Michael about the work of the Center and his own perspective on nonviolence. 

Michael Nagler

1) Is there a way to define nonviolence in a few words?

There are several, because nonviolence is a vast field and people tend to pick up one piece or another.

I like to define it as

the energy released when one overcomes a disruptive drive (primarily fear and anger).

Then I specify that by ‘overcome’ I don’t mean repress. Rather, as Martin Luther King Jr said, to ‘convert anger under discipline for maximum effect’.

Continue reading A new story for the 21st century: an interview with Michael Nagler

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Greta Zarro is Organizing Director at World BEYOND War, which works globally to counter the myth that war is unavoidable and to bring about a war-free world.

Greta Zarro

1) How would you summarise World BEYOND War’s mission and current activities?

Founded in 2014, World BEYOND War is a global, grassroots network of volunteers, chapters and affiliated organisations advocating for the abolition of the institution of war, and its replacement with a culture of peace.

Our work tackles the myths of war by demonstrating that war is NOT beneficialNOT necessary and NOT inevitable.

Over 500 organisations and 75,000 individuals from 173 countries have signed our declaration of peace. We follow a two-pronged approach employing both education and nonviolent direct action organising.

Our campaigns include the following: close military bases worldwidesupport global justice and the rule of lawdivest from weapons dealers, and opt out of military recruitment.

© World BEYOND War. Source:

©World BEYOND War. Source

Continue reading How can we live without war? An interview with Greta Zarro

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Mark Goldthorpe runs the ClimateCultures project, which showcases ‘contributions by artists, curators or researchers working on many aspects of environmental or climate change’.

Its strapline is ‘Creative conversations for the Anthropocene’ (the era when human influence dominates climate and environment), and we took the direct approach by starting a conversation with Mark himself about climate, culture, violence and imagination… 

Mark Goldthorpe ©Paul Musso 2017

Mark Goldthorpe ©Paul Musso 2017

1) In a nutshell, Mark, what do climate and culture (and activism) have to do with each other?

That’s a huge question, I think!

Continue reading If the Anthropocene is violence, what is nonviolence? An interview with Mark Goldthorpe

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the sea cannot be depleted‘ is an online artwork that uses sound and spoken word to call attention to the Solway Firth.

Why? Because of the depleted uranium (DU) buried beneath its surface. Because the UK Ministry of Defence fired many tonnes of artillery shells into the Solway Estuary over 30 years or more, from the 1980s onwards.

Essays and further information about the firings are also available here.

After encountering this stirring piece of work online, we put the following questions to the piece’s writer and producer, Wallace Heim.

Wallace Heim

Wallace Heim

Continue reading Art, activism and the nuclear sea: an interview with Wallace Heim

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Paul Rogers

Paul Rogers

Commonweal trustee Paul Rogers will feature at a Bradford Literature Festival event on 7th July 2018: Are We Over ISIS?:

Rewind one year and the headlines were all about the war with ISIS and the threat it posed to western society. Now, it has almost disappeared from daily news – does this mean that ISIS itself has gone away?

Book tickets

We asked Paul why he believes this question needs to be asked right now.

Continue reading Event: Are We Over ISIS? A talk by Commonweal Trustee Paul Rogers

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Guest blogger Priyanka Mistry has rounded up 5 of Bradford’s main attractions connected with the peace movement, its art and its history.

Bradford’s Centenary Square and City Hall. Source

Bradford’s Centenary Square and City Hall. Source

Bradford has a little-known but long history of being a part of the peace movement and also the home of many of its artefacts, including the original designs for the world-famous nuclear disarmament symbol, often known as the CND symbol, which became popular in the 1960s.

  1. The Peace Museum

Bradford’s Peace Museum is the only museum in the UK dedicated to the history and untold stories of peace, peacemakers and peace movements in the UK.

Greenham banner at the Peace Museum, Bradford

Greenham Common banner at the Peace Museum, Bradford

The museum was set up in 1992 after Shireen Shah, an MA student at Bradford University’s Peace Studies department, proposed a ‘Museum for Peace’ in 1990.

Continue reading 5 ways to enjoy Bradford’s peace heritage

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On May 16th 2018, guest blogger Dave Bradley went along to the Quaker Meeting House in Liverpool, UK, to hear about the art of protest photography from Ahmad Al-Bazz of ActiveStills.

Ahmad Al-Bazz

Ahmad Al-Bazz

The collective

ActiveStills is a collective of Israeli, Palestinian and international photographers, formed in 2005.

Their work sometimes covers international struggles, such as those of gold miners in South America, or protesters in Turkey.

However, their main focus is on the ongoing struggle of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. They are photographers who love their art, operate at a professional level and are determined to use images to tell the story of a colonised people, and to challenge their oppression.

The speaker

Ahmad is one of the members of ActiveStills. He is near to the end of an MA in Film and Television Studies at the University of East Anglia.

Continue reading ActiveStills: photography as protest in Palestine/Israel & beyond

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Michael Randle is Chair of the Commonweal Trustees. In this two-part post, we share some of the details of his extraordinary life and work.

Read Part 1 here

Michael Randle greeting Bayard Rustin at the War Resisters International Triennial in India in 1985. Copyright Michael Randle.

Michael Randle greeting Bayard Rustin at the War Resisters International Triennial in India in 1985 ©Michael Randle

Can you comment on your involvement in helping the spy George Blake to escape? Why did you do that?

George Blake was born in the Netherlands ­– his mother was Dutch and his father Egyptian, though his father had British citizenship, as did George.

As a young man he joined the Dutch resistance to the German occupation, but he had to flee to Spain via Belgium and France to Spain in 1941. He first came to Britain that year and joined the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6.

In 1961 he was sentenced to an unprecedented 42 years’ imprisonment for passing classified information to the Russians, including the names of some British agents operating in Eastern Europe.

I and other members of the Committee of 100 met him in Wormwood Scrubs prison when we were serving an 18-month sentence for organising an occupation and sit-down obstruction at Wethersfield air base in Essex.

Although no one from our group agreed with what he had done, we felt that his sentence was disproportionate and wrong, especially given some of the outrageous special operations undertaken by British and US agents – as well as by Soviet agents.

For example, the CIA and MI6 jointly organised a coup in Iran in 1953 that overthrew the elected Mosaddegh government with the loss of around a hundred lives. Continue reading 7 decades of nonviolence activism: Introducing… Trustee Michael Randle – PART 2

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