The Anti-Nuclear Family
By Iona Soper
Associate for Secure Scotland: https://www.securescotland.scot/people/iona-soper
Last night I attended the launch of Ray Acheson’s book Banning the Bomb; Smashing the Patriarchy, at which I had an opportunity to get Ray’s take on the nuances of the Queer perspective in the struggle against nuclear weapons. Despite so many of us in the movement with a foot in both camps (all puns intended), it’s a relationship that often goes unexplored. Ray’s response explored, among other things, the predisposition of Queer people to understanding violence as symptomatic of patriarchy, and of understanding security in terms of solidarity and community. They spoke of the household, and the way that the patriarchal system, enabled by capitalism and enforced by militarism - is symptomatic within every struggle, and every childhood.
Queer people are often intimately familiar with the feeling of ‘otherness’ to that system from a young age, due to our emotional experiences contradicting the social conditioning of heteronormative relationships, cisgender identity, gender stereotypes and monogamy, all designed to fit and promote the ‘Nuclear Family’. Frequently by virtue of self-preservation and the need for safety, we form or seek out our own families, our own communities, bound not by birth, but by choice, personal identity, shared experience, and mutual understanding. Queer people, like many other minority groups, have been redefining what it means to feel secure for longer than nuclear weapons (and arguably, the states that carry them) have existed.
Although I believe the link to be coincidental (earliest usage of the phrase dates back to 1924, the first patents for nuclear weaponry came 9 years later and weren’t referred to as ‘nuclear’ until later in their history), there is surely no greater example of the linguistic mirrors between patriarchy and militarism than the term ‘Nuclear Family’.
This conversation with Ray stirred an old memory, from my time as a resident campaigner of the Faslane Peace Camp, when we would often refer to ourselves as the ‘Anti-Nuclear Family’. The phrase even became the title of a short film about us in 2017. At the time, I’ll admit we found the nickname hilarious and ironic in equal measure (I mean, I love a good pun, but could we possibly make ourselves seem more like a doomsday cult?) But the metaphor speaks volumes about the narratives the Peace Camp is resisting, and the life they are building there. Adopting and modifying the phrase enabled us to identify ourselves as a bonded unit, while simultaneously highlighting our opposition to the patriarchal capitalist narratives that fuel our resistance to the nuclear weapons base next door.
A community with a (somewhat deserved) reputation as the misfits of the Scottish peace movement, it’s no secret that Faslane Peace Camp attracts individuals with a predisposition towards critiquing the state and its mechanisms of power and control over society. When you’re aware that you’ve been negatively affected by patriarchal, capitalist narratives your entire life, you don’t need a whole lot of convincing that nuclear weapons are symptomatic of that system. And when your campaign is shaped by sharing stories around the fireside, and those stories come from activists with their own experiences of patriarchal, capitalist oppression, it becomes impossible to ignore the links.
My dissertation on the peace camp, Refuge Through Resistance, explored this dual nature of the camp, existing in a liminal space between healing and justice. At Faslane, as much as any of us despised nuclear weapons and were motivated to take action against them, we were all running from something. The girl who came to peace camp to ‘be herself’ because she didn’t feel safe to ‘come out’ to her family and community. The boy whose parents were military recruiters and had institutionalised him at a young age. The displaced activists who’d seen their own camps destroyed by law enforcement. The former addicts and the homeless. The survivors of sexual violence who had never seen justice. The man who had never been vaccinated or taught how to read. Our people come to protest, but also to build something better, because they have seen or felt the need for something better. Once nuclear weapons are understood as being symptomatic of the far more insidious disease of patriarchal capitalism, it’s important to keep fighting those symptoms, but it’s also vital that we reach for a cure.
There’s a piece of pro-vegan artwork on the side of our kitchen that reads ‘Peace begins at the dinner table’. Although veganism isn’t mandatory on site, (and we are cautious not to use any prescriptive rhetoric that places the responsibility on the shoulders of the individual worker or consumer to upheave and overthrow centuries of parasitic capitalist rule over our lives) this idea of using our own community’s activities and behaviours as an alternative model for security is at the heart of what we do. Take our logo, for example. The classic 1958 CND logo, united with the symbol for anarchism. We have a commitment to approach the struggle against nuclear weapons from a perspective that not only recognises the failures of the larger systems that keep nuclear submarines in the water, but also, crucially, that recognises an alternative system of keeping safe, one which we must be able to operate successfully ourselves if we wish to promote or provide evidence for a better model for global cooperation.
As a self-governing space, we constantly need to be recognising our own shortcomings when it comes to making people feel safe on site. The ongoing drive to evolve and better ourselves as a community has directly translated to the way we have evolved our campaign against Trident, situating it against the backdrops of patriarchy, ecocide, capitalism and colonialism. Without dismantling these systems of thought that have allowed for the creation, testing, proliferation and use of nuclear weapons, Trident will simply be replaced by other, equally (if not more) horrifying threats to our existence, and all of the other violent symptoms of patriarchal dominance that govern our lives will continue to cause harm.
Organising ourselves as a space of refuge for those who have suffered at the hands of the system is not simply one more way we provide contrast to the activities across the road. This inclusion has provided the insight we needed to ensure our campaign goes exactly where it needs to go. No struggle exists in a vacuum chamber, and no campaign should act as though it does. As opponents of nuclear weapons we must call out the capitalist, colonial, patriarchal system that gives them life. We must infuse our activism with as many perspectives as we can. We must incorporate a safer vision of security based on community and solidarity, or we risk winning the struggle against nuclear weapons at the cost of the fight for peace.
I eagerly await the formation of a Queer CND. In the meantime, I’m pre-ordering Ray’s book.