17th Oct 2012 5:00pm-7:00pm
G4, Grand Parade, 5-7pm (paper begins 5.30pm)
(University of Sussex)
Interviewing Lawbreakers: Discretion and Disclosure in the Committee of 100
The Committee of 100 (C100) campaigned for nuclear disarmament using non-violent direct action in Britain from 1961 to 1968. Originating from a drive within the anti-nuclear movement to step away from the law abiding policies of CND, the group proposed mass civil disobedience in resisting nuclear weapons, challenging the authorities to 'fill the jails', with the intention of causing prison overload and large-scale disorder. The idea behind the Committee of 100 was that by having a large campaign group, of over 100 members, the authorities might be prevented from prosecuting individuals for their part in organising demonstrations. Sit-down protests in central London and numerous air base invasions were the most publicised actions and resulted in many arrests and prison sentences. This paper focuses on twenty four oral history interviews recorded with those actively involved in the campaign and collected for my DPhil in Life History Research at the University of Sussex. Partly methodological, it examines the many barriers faced when setting out to research a protest group that remains largely secretive and mutually protective following over forty years of silence. The gradual process of building research trust is examined, as are the reasons behind the narrators' eventual willingness to talk. Particularly significant is the discussion around some revelations by four individuals, who spoke for the first time of their participation as Spies for Peace; a group known for breaking into secret underground bunker RSG6 and publishing government secrets in 1963. Despite vigorous investigations by the authorities, no-one was ever caught for this action. Along with these methodological and ethical concerns, this paper reflects upon identity within the C100, especially considering the group's innovative structure and changes in membership over time. It raises the historical profile of the C100 in its own right, which until now, has mainly been subsumed within literature focusing on CND.
Dr Sam Carroll completed her DPhil 'Fill the Jails': Identity, Structure and Method in the Committee of 100, 1960 – 1968 in 2010. She is an oral historian who, as a project worker and manager for the Centre for Community Engagement at the University of Sussex (2004-1012), has worked on a variety of local community projects including the history of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust, the history of homelessness in Brighton and Hove (a BHT project), Deaf histories, rural histories, educational histories and migrant histories. She is currently working on a freelance project for Brighton and Hove City Council collecting memories of a local park called The Level. She is in the process of setting up the community interest company Vital Stories that aims to work with groups and communities who want to explore and share their histories.