by Leonard Eiger, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, June 16, 2021
Longtime activist Angie Zelter, in the preface to her newest book, ACTIVISM FOR LIFE, says “It is 50 years since I left university, started my real education and began thinking how I could help create a better world.” That introduction sets the stage for 50 years of activism for the sake of that world she seeks.
Lest you think ACTIVISM FOR LIFE might be just another memoir, that would be an injustice. Angie not only reflects on the campaigns around the world in which she has been involved – Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, SOS Sarawak, Trident Ploughshares, Save Jeju Now, Extinction Rebellion, and many more – but builds on the practical lessons she has learned along the way, offering insights into mobilizing for effective and sustainable action.
This book is an activist’s adult life story and a reference for activists of all ages. And yet my hope, after reading it, is that young people, the people preparing to enter adulthood, as Angie was 50 years ago, will pick up this book and find a way to start their “real education.” I wish this book had been available before I graduated university!
I have known Angie through our connections as activists campaigning against nuclear weapons, and although I thought I had a fair picture of her life as an activist, reading her adult life story was a new adventure. I found her story inspiring, educational and, above all, hopeful. It embodies the Angie I have had the honor to work with over the years. Having developed an understanding of the connections between war, poverty, racism, environmental destruction and species loss, civil and military uses and abuses of nuclear power, consumerism, and the climate crisis, she has faced down the perpetrators and called them out with clarity.
In the chapter on “Linking Our Struggles in One World,” Angie is clear and blunt when she states that, “for life on our planet to survive we must pressure governments, corporations and every institution to change radically from an exploitative, extractivist, growth-at-any-costs society to a sustainable, steady-state economy within an egalitarian and compassionate society.” She also calls out the insidious and destructive connections that have brought us to the brink: “Climate Justice and war have the same root causes as structural inequality, racism and violence against women. They are the consequences of military-industrial systems of unsustainable growth, profit, aggression and exploitation.”
Whether protesting the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the continuing siege of Gaza; protecting old-growth forests in Sarawak, Finland, Canada and Brazil; or blockading the UK’s Trident nuclear submarine base at Faslane, Scotland; Angie is always creative, collaborative, and above all nonviolent. She shows how the different issues facing humanity are deeply intertwined, and how we need to act in solidarity across issues and nations.
Chapter 12, “Lessons Learnt,” begins with “Never give up,” and contains a long list of the lessons Angie has learned along the way. An example is that “There is no ‘right’ way to protest or resist or defend yourself [in court] – each person must find their own voice.” Angie ends the chapter with, “And never, ever give up. Did I say that before?” Now, that is definitely the Angie I know! Although obviously passionate and dedicated, Angie never preaches to us. She simply tells her story and offers her experience for us to draw upon on our individual activist journeys.
Towards the end of the book 69-year old Angie answers questions from 17-year old activist Jasmine Maslen on nonviolent direct action. It was refreshing, and not at all surprising in the context of Angie’s journey, to read this sharing of elder wisdom with the next generation of activists.
Angie was a recipient of The Right Livelihood Award in 2001. In her acceptance speech, which you can read in her book, she stated right up front that, “Our planet is dying – both spiritually and physically,” and speaks briefly to the factors that have brought us to the brink. From there she only speaks with positive and hopeful voice, speaking to “the very many different ways in which ordinary people are taking responsibility… creating the changes needed to pass beyond war and injustice, control and dominance and towards a free, just, loving and diverse world.”
Her examples are compelling and her closing message is clear: “Killing is wrong. Mass killing is wrong. Threatening mass destruction is a denial of our own humanity and is suicidal. When something is wrong we have to stop it. Dismantling the machinery of destruction is thus a practical act of love that we can all join in. Please join us – together we are unstoppable.”
Perhaps that last sentence is the crux of Angie Zelter’s thesis. Each of us “ordinary” citizens are capable of doing anything we put our minds to, and we become a powerful force to reckon with when we are in solidarity with each other, working in concert. If only enough of us can come together, we can be, as Angie says, “unstoppable.” Dig down inside yourself and determine what you are able to contribute, and then DO IT!
There is much more to discover in ACTIVISM FOR LIFE that I will leave for you to discover. I invite you to read ACTIVISM FOR LIFE, and if you find it worthy, buy additional copies and give them as graduation gifts for young people you know, and help them start their real education and activism for their lives, and for the sake of the world in which they live.
ACTIVISM FOR LIFE is published by Luath Press Ltd., and is available from a number of booksellers. All royalties will go to Trident Ploughshares, a campaign to disarm the UK Trident nuclear weapons system in a nonviolent, open, peaceful and fully accountable manner.