Rosie Horsley (Bradford Meeting)
I have shouted in the streets against the Iraq war, Nuclear Arms, EDL, Monsanto and Climate chaos but never have really felt my deepest conscience so loudly until I sat in silence in the street at London Excel centre in September.
A year and a half before September 2019 and rumblings about Roots of Resistance slowly pulsed in the Quakersphere. Things were happening in my periphery, my quite distant periphery I am ashamed to say, a year and a half is a mighty long time away. Though this small yet determined group were setting the stage for a Quaker strong show of resistance of the Arms Trade. For me this only came into focus a week or two before the allotted time in September. Nonchalantly rocking up to find my place within the spiritual circle that was so diligently cushioned by the organisational powers of Roots of Resistance.
At Friends house on the Monday we came as groups and individuals to mould together as one which for me is a gift of Quakers, a collective hive……. though not to say there aren’t some disgruntled strong-minded bees that need a wee bit more cajoling into place. We are perfectly imperfect. Learning songs of revolutions and protests gone by, holding stillness in preparation of what is to come. ‘Don’t forget your bustcard!’ was a constant cry, well I thought I don’t need one of those. I had made a conscious choice not to get arrested so no need to know solicitors’ numbers or what to say at police stations. That was still true up until the point a police liaison officer shouted, ‘move off the road’ and my conscience made me put my bag on my back and clip it tight. Luckily earlier I had slipped one of those bustcards into my pocket after all.
But I’m going ahead of myself. When I alighted from the rail transport outside the Excel Centre, I quickly found myself on the end of a Catholic procession. We slowly made our way through to the silent gathering that stood, placards aloft and peaceful faces resolute. I quickly learned that the roads had been held since early in the morning by strong collective action. A small number of purposeful folk are mighty. Throughout the day, worships of many faiths occurred and intermingled. The crowd swelled to a sizeable number. The hard work of a few Quaker had brought the collective passion of many.
The second Meeting for Worship brimmed with impassioned song and ministry. My thoughts were guided by those people who couldn’t be with us in that road. The people who had been murdered, injured, traumatised and displaced from their homes and lives because of the weapons industry. The industry that was trying to set up a show home just a few meters away, to display their wears like toys for the wealthy, without conscious or care of who was going to be on the sharp end of the machines. So, when I heard ‘move off the road’, I fastened my bag tight and sat, waiting. Though, I felt I took very little part in the immovable predicament I found myself in. There was such stillness, such peace that the loud voice of my faith, conscience and the collective power that felt like it resonated through all of us glued me fast to the tarmac. ‘dear friend, dear friend……’ the song on our breath binding us all with strength to be where we needed to be.
Being lifted off that road by the officers, felt like a journey in itself. Moving from a place of spiritual strength and unity to the slow walk into a harsh individualistic world. This was brutal, the power of my conviction running in droplets down my face, which the officers mistook for fear. As I try and
answer uncertainly the police officers’ questions, I am quickly informed by them that ‘we are not the enemy’. Later I contemplate the officer’s words, playing my lost response back in my head ‘no you are not the enemy, merely a vessel for those who hold the stacks of money, and so you are nothing to me’.
The police station was easier, in some regards. I had emerged from the grasp of the Light and was able to be me, as much as a person can ever be truly themselves in a brightly tiled white box. With this, I felt strongly the physical presence of Privilege. There were moments of uncertainty and feelings of trepidation when asking for what I needed but overwhelmingly I felt a sense of entitlement. I felt able to speak abruptly to the officers who were disrespecting me, I felt able to ask for endless cups of water and to look past the power dynamics at play into the eyes of the officers. I felt peace, on the most part, in my cell. This I am sure is not everyone’s experience. A holding cell is a disorientating and isolated place which would easily be made worse if a person felt unsafe or forgotten. Being released six hours later into the warm embrace of people I knew and people I didn’t, made me very aware of why many centuries ago we became known as Friends.
The protests raged on for a whole week outside the Excel centre. Incredible people putting their bodies aligned with their convictions. Does it all make a difference, well only time will tell. I do know for certain that this experience has changed me and the way I want to protest. Bring on the gentle anger.