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.