Voices of Conscientious Objection

We are excited to let you know about a new project Conscience is developing. It is called Voices of Conscientious Objection. We are very grateful for the grant we have received from Funding for Social Change Ltd for this work.

We applied for funds to organise five public meetings across the country to share the stories and experiences of conscientious objectors, past and present. At the meetings we will reflect on what conscientious objection to taking part in military conflict means in the UK in 2020. Integral to this will be our campaign for a law change so that the right of conscientious objection to financial conscription is recognised. While we no longer have physical conscription in the UK we are each forced to pay for the military through our taxes. We are campaigning for the right for individuals to be able to divert the military part of their taxes to socially useful purposes. The public meetings will culminate in an exhibition in parliament, showcasing the stories of conscientious objectors past and present, and presenting a thought-provoking art installation.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic we have sadly had to postpone the public meetings. However, I thought I could tell you about the work we have done so far, where we are planning to hold the meetings, and describe the development work we will be doing in the meantime.

We plan to have one of the public meetings in Bradford. Prof Peter van den Dungen at the University of Bradford has been very supportive of the project and suggested we have an exhibition on the history of Conscience alongside the public meeting. Some Conscience supporters will know Peter from his talk at the International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns we hosted in Edinburgh last year. Peter spoke about ‘Paying for Peace, peace philanthropy through history’.

Prof Lois Bibbings at the University of Bristol has conducted legal and historical research on conscientious objectors and the First World War. She organised a fascinating festival on conscientious objection, ‘Commemoration, Conflict & Conscience’ in Bristol last year. My first day working for Conscience was spent at the festival! Lois spoke at the meeting Conscience organised that day. She is very supportive of the idea of having one of the public meetings in Bristol.

Anne McCullagh-D’Lyske, the very active Scottish member of our Conscience Executive Committee,  is very keen to have one of the public meetings in Edinburgh.  We had provisionally booked the Quaker Meeting House for the day after International Conscientious Objectors’ Day in May, but unfortunately the meeting has had to be postponed.

We also hope to have one of the public meetings in the South West. If you would like to suggest a venue we would be very happy to hear from you.

David Milner, seen here at the launch of the Taxes for Peace Bill in parliament in 2016, is a long-standing Conscience member. David has conducted research on the history of conscientious objectors in Dorset, is very supportive of the project, and has kindly offered to speak.

While working from home we will be:

* Designing publicity materials for the project

* Further documenting the history of Conscience, and war tax resistance and peace tax campaigning in the UK, in the form of online materials and content for the exhibition

* Developing further materials explaining the need for recognition of the right to conscientious objection to financial conscription in the UK in the present day

* Progressing the development of the art installation for the parliamentary exhibition in London

When safe to do so, we will finalise dates for the public meetings, book venues and speakers, and make the necessary arrangements for the public meetings. 

If one of the planned meetings is near you, and you would like to get involved do drop me a line. Similarly if you would like to contribute in any other way. Maybe you have archive material about the history of Conscience (known previously as the Peace Tax Campaign) you might be willing to lend us, or scan for us, as we prepare the exhibition. Or maybe you would like to help with the art installation. It would be lovely to hear from you.

You can contact me at: karen@conscienceonline.org.uk

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