Klaus’s day at DSEI

With 176 days to go until the start of DSEI 2019, we here from Klaus about his experiences of joining the DSEI protests with a group from his Meeting. 

I went to the ‘No faith in war’ day on a Tuesday, together with four other members of our meeting.

We were hoping to arrive in time for the Meeting for Worship at 11am, but the packed train (the previous train had been cancelled) from Bath was a little late and we were rather confused, as we eventually got out at Prince Regent station. In the end, we arrived half an hour late and expected that the Meeting for Worship may have already been disbanded. We were very pleased to see that this was not the case and joined in with the other 60-80 worshippers in the road – most of them Friends (including quite a few familiar faces), but also people from other faith communities (and our ardent atheist friend from Bath Stop War). I had been at peace vigils before – and, of course, at Meetings for Worship, but never at this kind of combination of the two. It felt like a truly gathered Meeting-cum-vigil. The police had obviously agreed to allow the Meeting to last for its full hour plus time for notices afterwards.

Following the Meeting and a brief chat with a couple of police officers, our little group walked over to the other entrance where, we had heard, numbers of protesters were rather low. They were indeed, when we arrived – we nearly doubled their number! Over time, other protestors arrived, but not in sufficient strength to challenge the continuous flow of lorries (including obviously quite a few that had nothing to do with the arms fair) to enter and leave the gate. Diana soon decided to use a legal means of slowing down the traffic by using the zebra crossing to cross the road very slowly – and then cross straight back again. After she had done this exercise umpteen times, a police officer stopped her with harsh words from continuing. However, what started as a confrontational verbal exchange soon transformed into a lengthy, mutually respectful conversation.

Conversations with police officers ranked high on our agenda, showing respect to them as human beings, while explaining to them why we’re keeping them busy through our protests. At one point Diana intervened when a fellow protestor vented her anger against the police.

While Ruthie, Nick and Diana were all immersed in conversation with police officers – and Alan in another conversation with a fellow protestor – I briefly joined a small band around a young, dog-collared clergyman who had written new lyrics for some of the Taizé songs. Our little ad-hoc choir was singing remarkably well, as we were rehearsing the rewritten songs on the pavement. The new texts were:

“Stay with me”: “Stay with me, remain here with me. No more to war, no more to war.”

“Bless the Lord my soul”: “Bless all those who work, to end the trade of death, Bless all those who work, For God’s new world of peace.”

“In the Lord I’ll ever be thankful”: “No more tanks, guns, and no warfare, Only then will I rejoice. Look for peace, do not be afraid, lift up your voices, the world should hear, lift up your voices, the world should hear!”

Our choir leader mentioned, with a cheeky smile and in earshot of the police, that the acoustics would be much better in the road than on the pavement. And so, as we saw a heavy LGV arriving, we moved into the road, singing our new songs, and sitting down for a few moments. We were not keen on getting arrested for what would have been a purely symbolic act, so all stood up again, just before the police would have carried us off the road.

A few more conversations on the pavement, and some singing and guitar-playing arranged by some other protestors rounded off the afternoon before our little group from Bradford on Avon went on our way back home.

A little later, I stumbled across an article on the internet, mentioning that the arms fair protesters ranged “from faith groups to seasoned activists”. I mused that with just over 25 years experience of antimilitarist activism, I was the least seasoned activist in our little faith group.

On the Saturday, another Friend from Bradford on Avon went to the arms fair protest in London with her 2-1/2-year-old son.

 

Richard’s story

In this post Richard, from Horsham in West Meeting in Sussex, explains why he is joining Roots of Resistance in taking action against the DSEI arms fair.

For a number of years prior to becoming a Quaker I was the senior writer and editor for all print communications produced in support of the Army’s recruitment efforts and was a freelance, also employed on the Army campaign prior to this. The period of time during which I was involved spanned the decision to go into Iraq, the London bombings in which my friend was killed, the slow and terrible realisation that Saddam Hussein had not had weapons of mass destruction and, finally, the privatisation of Army recruiting which I also worked on.

At some point in the middle of this, I wandered into a Meeting in Richmond and found that I had space to sit and think and, later on, to articulate my growing sense of unease at what I found myself doing. My marriage collapsed, I resigned from the company who had the Army account, my life fell apart, then started being remade and a couple of years ago I formally became a Quaker, completing what I had started some years previously.

My decision to get involved with the campaign against DESI surprised me. I’m not a natural protester and, indeed, have never been on a protest at all. When it comes to my politics, I’m probably a small ‘c’ conservative and I can’t imagine a time when I’ll ever describe myself as a radical. I’m also not a pacifist, although I have considerable respect for people who are. The friend who died in the July bombings was Jewish and her parents would have been killed had this country been invaded in the Second World War. Both my grandparents fought and, standing in the concentration camp at Majdanek a few years ago, with all its many and manifest horrors, I was grateful that they did.

But I do feel that I have a fairly strong moral compass that tells me when something is wrong. The campaign I was involved with to recruit soldiers under 18 was wrong, and selling arms to anyone with enough money is also wrong. And so here I am.

215 days until the start of DSEI

RoR’s action team are planning away, in preparation for what we hope to be the largest gathering of Quakers at an arms fair to date. Our plans are focused on inclusivity, as our presence will be formed of people with lots of experience of protest and none, engaging with our shared action in in different ways. We will all be there together in solidarity, upholding each other, and driven by the same call of love in our hearts to stop the evil that begins at DSEI Arms Fair.  

This blog will share reflections of those who have acted before, and those who are being driven to do so in 2019. We will hear of conviction and passion as well as hesitancies and concerns, through which we hope to encourage, uphold and mobilise.

And to kick us off with eight months to go, we hear from Sam, who at this point 2 years ago began mobilizing in Hull to join the 2017 protests…

“In Dec 2016, after a couple of days of celebration, having been found with “no case to answer” along with four other Quakers who blockaded AWE Burghfield last year, I set my sights on DSEI 2017. I had nine months ahead of me and so set about organising.

I emailed everyone I knew in Hull who might be vaguely interested and organised a gathering. A group came together and by the end of the meeting there was a tangible sense of commitment in the room. We decided we would try and get some minibuses to transport people down from Hull to DSEI and so set about fundraising and awareness raising.

Over 9 months we raised £1500, put on two gigs, including a bespoke performance called ‘White Feathers Against the Wind’, had a film showing of Shadow World with Andrew Feinstein coming up to answer questions afterwards, and in the end got over 30 people commit to coming down to DSEI (none of whom had heard of it before).

Three of us from Hull also took part in direct actions. I ended up hanging from a bridge on the No Faith in War day, holding a banner saying “DSEI is State Terrorism”. As always, the process of being involved in direct actions is an intense one, but I left with new and deepened friendships, memories, and lots of lessons learnt.

All of us from Hull were disappointed that the turnout for the stopDSEI protests, while growing, was still so small. Upon return we are already exploring how we can swell those numbers for 2019, to make sure that DSEI 2019 is the last ever DSEI. There is still so much work to do!”