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Interview: Simone Ramacci, peace campaigner

20 November 2020

‘I am a pacifist, though I still surprise myself saying it’

I came to England to read genetics at Essex University in 2013: in Italy, it’s always a postgraduate course. Until recently, I worked part-time as a cleaner doing early-morning shifts, but I’m now focusing on my postgraduate studies.

I’ve been a non-stipendiary lay pastor at Wivenhoe Congregational Church for almost four years. I’m in the last part of the minister-accreditation process with the Congregational Federation.

My family had liberal values, unlike the traditional Catholic Church in Italy. I found myself in hospital with a broken kneecap, a phone, and the Quakers’ Advice & Queries. I came across Michael Hardin on Facebook, and from there I read the Mennonite Trust website.

I suddenly thought: “Guess I’m a peace-church guy now.” Reading about the Friends Ambulance Unit volunteers, conscientious objectors, and the Early Church inspired me, too.

Winning the Wilson/Hinkes Peace 2020 award was unexpected. I came across the award-nomination page on social media, and thought it would be a great opportunity to get the peace work of my friend Tim Rosson recognised. I joked with a friend that I should get nominated, too, so I could add the participation certificate to my training portfolio. Next thing I know, I’m getting an email about winning. I’m honoured, but also wish people who’ve made far greater sacrifices for peacemaking had won instead — or, at the very least, someone much less privileged than I.

I’d like to say the pandemic has given people more time to learn about things which are worth campaigning for; but the truth is those who are most affected by many of today’s issues were still working, even at the height of lockdown.

Not everyone has the time and opportunities to campaign for positive change in person; so I turned to social media as an equaliser. I’ve seen some really good social-media organising in my local community, and I’m amazed by all the people that gave their time for my local mutual-aid groups.

I joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation [FoR] because the tone of their peace campaigning is quite refreshing. Some peace campaigns have a very aggressive tone, and I know myself that it’s easy to tip into anger. When we’re campaigning for peace, we have to remember that the people we’re campaigning against are still going to be there, and we don’t want to become enemies, or close the door to dialogue. Perhaps some people have a right to be angry and have their pain acknowledged, but this is not how I’m comfortable campaigning. I’ve been serving as a trustee and writing some of our content, and forging closer links between the FoR and the Congregational Federation.

Anyone can be a peacemaker on social media, but it’s not just the flicking of a switch. It’s a day-to-day commitment. It’s a good way to get started, but it’s easy to get complacent. It takes very little time to promote a petition, write to an MP or a Lord, and it carries very little personal risk, other than the risk of being the kind of person one is not very proud of. I think it’s important to have some form of accountability to keep oneself in check, and I’m thankful Fiona has been at my side to be just that for me.

The main thing is to chip away at the bases of the big players; so, for example, targeting not the arms dealers, but the places they sponsor. Tim Rosson did a sterling job pressuring Pride in Surrey to drop the arms company BAE in light of their involvement with Saudi Arabia. With terrorism, I think approaching the root causes first can make a big difference.

When it comes to the Government, the first step is to elect someone who will be willing to listen. I do still write to my MP, but I know it’s not going to be as effective as I’d like.

The most successful campaign I’ve done on social media was part of a national campaign by the Christian Aid collective a few years ago, asking universities to change their dealings with companies who evade or avoid tax. We got that change through.

I also started a campaign — which hasn’t succeeded yet — to stop my university having arms companies come to our careers events, around the time when the bombing started in Yemen. They come in because we have big departments of computer science and engineering.

Petitions aren’t the only way to change things. I’ve collected signatures for other issues, and nothing’s happened. If I approached the arms companies and ask them not to come, that wouldn’t have worked either. We need to discover how to raise awareness and engage with people.

I’ve volunteered with St John Ambulance since I came to the UK. I like the Order’s motto, Pro Fide Pro Utilitate Hominum [“For the faith, for the service of humanity”]. It’s a way of putting my faith in service of humanity. I’m really grateful the organisation listened when I asked if any colour of poppy could be worn by members.

I am a pacifist, though I still surprise myself saying it. In disarming Peter, Christ unbuckled every soldier, as Tertullian wrote. But there’s the rather odd assumption that to refuse lethal force must mean being passive. I think Walter Wink has made a very strong case that Christian pacifism is not passive. And so did John Howard Yoder.

Individuals can move away from banks and investments that are exposed to nuclear-weapons manufacturers. When it comes to traditional warfare, I’m wary of imposing my views on a whole country; but I’d like us to have a serious conversation about what the real threats are.

In the short term, [the charity] Medact raised questions about recruiting children, the limited opportunities armed-forces leavers have, and the lack of clear and realistic ways for current personnel to obtain conscientious-objector status. People learn and grow. Some may move away from a pacifist view; others may also move away from working in the military, especially if they joined at 16. They can’t just leave once they’ve come across the reality of what they are doing — they have contractual obligations until their application is approved.

Reflection on how to safeguard people’s conscience is part of Congregational history. We believe God is always speaking to the church meeting, and new things will emerge. God always has more truth to show us.

I spent my early years in Mestre, near Venice, before moving to Rome. That shaped my preference for smaller towns where one can walk almost everywhere. I’ve lived in Colchester for the last seven years. I’m a bit of a nerd and a book person, though I also really enjoy travelling with Fiona.

I was a teen on holiday in Greece with my parents and their friends. One of the friends’ children was about my age, and he got a bit tired and emotional with a touch of melancholy, and I was not equipped to deal with that — that was the first time I remember praying.

I ended up getting baptised in Rome’s only Scottish kirk, before moving to university: quite a feat for someone growing up a few metro stations away from the Vatican. I spent quite a bit of my faith journey in my head; so I’m now trying to focus on that Anabaptist maxim “To know Christ is to follow him.”

I’m not in a place yet where angry me has anything useful to contribute.

My pets make me happy, walking in nature on a nice day, travelling with Fiona, and playing around with weird software.

The cats in my life purring and my rabbit’s hay munching are good sounds; and the music of Rich Mullins.

I try to let the promise whisper to my soul that all shall be well, that there will be a time when all tears are dried, and all things will be reconciled.

I find myself not really praying in words much. I just lift up things I’m feeling strongly about at the moment. I have much to learn about prayer, and I’ve met people whose prayer life really amazes me.

I’ve actually been locked in a church. I’d have liked it to be with Rich Mullins. He’d be interesting to talk to, and we could probably have a sing-along while we wait for someone to find a keyholder.


Simone Ramacci was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.


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