A parent’s reflection on taking action

I stood on the road, 8 months pregnant and surrounded by other protesters. It was a joyful, lovely sunny day with banners, placards, chanting and chatting. About once an hour the police came and asked me to step out of the road, they said it wasn’t safe to be there while pregnant. When I refused they would start asking those around me to tell me to move, to keep me safe. A while later, after I had drifted from the road, the police came – large numbers of officers swooped in, clearing other protesters out of the road quickly and standing in lines to prevent people reentering, allowing the line of trucks that had been held up to slowly roll in past us all. Once they had cleared the road, one senior policeman came to my side ‘Its not safe for you here he said, you need to move further back’. I replied that I was far safer than the men, women and children who would become the casualties from the arms that were going to be on display that week ready for sale and use, on which he had to agree. 

Two years later I returned to demonstrate against the arms fair returning to London, with my 2 year old. We spent the day chalking on the pavement, chatting to other protesters, joining the Quaker meeting for worship and crossing back and forth between the camp and the demonstration, where once again the road was full of protestors blocking the way for trucks and lorries trying to enter the fair to set up for the coming week. 

We also went to look a the warship coming into dock, which seemed vast, dark and ominous, my two year old dwarfed under the large shadow it created . A real reminder of why we were there, but somehow incongruous with the lively, friendly atmosphere of the protest. 

This September I will return, with my two children, who will be nearly 4 and nearly 1. We will come ready with banners, games and chalk. With our voices strong and full of energy to resist the arms fair. We come, because we can’t not. We are privileged to be born into a safe environment, but as a country we profit from the sale of arms through which others suffer. Together we will stand in solidarity with those affected and resist the arms fair.

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.