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Our Week at the DSEI Protests 2019

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Stop Arming Israel (02.09.19)

On the first day of the protests, Jin and I didn’t really know what to expect. Jin had actually been to the previous DSEI protests two years prior, whereas this was my first protest ever on that level and scale. Arriving at the site, however, reminded us both of why we were there in the first place. Within a week’s time, the world’s biggest arms fair was going to take place. Could we, the men, women, and children posted outside the convention centre, stop it from happening? That was our hope.

The first day was about protesting the atrocities and human rights violations that continue to occur in Palestine. It is no secret that the Israeli government has many-a-ties to Western governments. The UK, in the last three years, has sold £332,941,055 worth of military export licenses to the state of Israel, all for components contributing to the assembly of naval vessels, combat aircrafts, and armoured vehicles. These have been used to destroy Palestinian homes and towns, literally bulldozing homes whether or not people were still in them, and overall to enforce an apartheid system that has existed for over 50 years. And you know what? Those components and those “products” for which the UK issues export licenses are put on display at DSEI every two years.

Anyway, tensions and emotions were running high. When we arrived, a number of smaller blockades had already been done, and more were on the way. You could physically feel the divide between the police force and the rest of us. As a non-British person of colour, you better believe I was on my BEST behaviour because we could all sense that the slightest bump, the slightest move, the slightest shout, ANYTHING would be enough to justify police action against you. So I remained calm, cool, quiet, composed. As did Jin. But many of us there that day were, without a doubt, going to let us and the world know just how passionate and determined they were.

As a lorry was making its way towards the Eastern gateway, the crowd ran towards it, doing anything they could to stop it from moving any further, and ultimately get it to turn around (and hopefully never come back #wishfulthinking). We watched as the police singled out and surrounded the ONE person of colour in sight, handcuffed them, and began to search him. We screamed for legal observers to come and witness what was happening. The moment they came around, all of a sudden the handcuffs were off. Coincidence? Not really.

Legal observers are individuals who have undertaken training to support the legal rights of activists. They are independent witnesses of police behaviour, hence why their presence is vital, especially at moments of high tension between activists and police. Their job is crucial during protests (especially ones like these) because they brief activists about their rights, usually through these small yellow “busk” cards, they keep track of police to activist interactions (which may later be used to challenge police behaviour), and they help monitor arrests in order to make sure that arrestees have the support they need when they came in to the police station.

So. This guy gets handcuffed, searched, un-handcuffed, still searched, and finally let go. As Jin and I were keeping an eye on our fellow protester, we could just hear the shouts exchanged between the line of police standing between us and the guy being searched as a progressively louder and louder drum beat. “You know it’s against the law!” shouted one young woman, “It’s against the f*cking law and you know it! You know I’m right!”. The officer shouted back at her to watch her language as profanity is a public offence. Whatever. ’Cause selling weapons to authoritarian regimes isn’t?

We left that day literally hungry for more. In the video below, Jin reads out the poem she wrote two years ago, to the Rainbow Collective.

No Faith in War (03.09.19)

©Rainbow Collective — Jin and I in the crowd of protesters engaged in the meditation (Jin is in the white trousers and I’m in the tie-dye shirt, to the right of the photo).

If you were to ever tell either Jin or myself that we’d one day be at a protest where 44 older men and women were arrested, I’m not sure we would have known how to react. What could they have been doing to get arrested? Do they have a section for mature arrestees? Knowing the police’s history with people of colour, are we sure they actually arrested 44 “old people” especially if they were caucasian?

Well, they did. On September 3rd, 44 men and women, who you could say were a mixture of mature and elderly, were arrested by the police for obstructing a highway. They were handcuffed, some were dragged off of the road and then booked. Who knew obstructing a highway was such a terrible crime?

At around 2pm, the Quakers called for those who wanted to participate in a joint, mass meditation. As the day’s theme was “No Faith in War”, there were people of all faiths and background there to show that under NO circumstances is war and the violence that goes with it the answer, nor is it the way to move forward and resolve things. Buddhist monks, Quakers, Muslims, Jews, both Catholics and Protestants, and nuns from around the world gathered together, in peaceful prayer and mediation, showing the diversity that exists within the solidarity in the campaign against the arms trade. So, gradually, we all took a seat on the floor, and reflected, but also expressed their emotions and feelings towards what was about to take place in the ExCeL centre. As the “organisers” of the meditation sit-in, the Quakers had an agreement with police that we would meditate until 3pm.The space and atmosphere created by the meditation sit-in was the safest and most comfortable environment I’d ever felt. I was raised Catholic and while I have my faith, I’d never felt as comfortable or safe in a church. I’ve felt calm, yes, but never like I could truly express myself, my faith, my innermost feelings. It felt like I could go and hug anyone and no one would even blink — they’d just hug me back, even tighter. People would occasionally take the microphone and let their thoughts run freely. I sang a hymn. For Jin, this collective meditation brought her to the shared desire for peace like never before. She felt powerful yet calm, angry yet strategic, it felt like no weight fell too heavy on one person shoulders but peace was the responsibility of and necessity for all. It reminded her that peace starts within and regardless of world affairs, we all the power to create peace for ourselves or for those directly around us. Overall, it was an incredibly powerful moment — albeit was interrupted many-a-times the constant take-offs from London City Airport.

At 2h45pm, however, our moment of bliss came to an abrupt, unjustified, and early end. “Right we’re going to need to start clearing up the road now”, we heard an officer say from behind us. Jin and I remained stoic, motionless. “We have until 3pm, sir,’’ replied a woman holding a baby. Cue the baby and their toddler sibling bursting into tears — literally. Back-and-forths went on between police officers and people who had been meditating, all the while many erupted in spontaneous singing and harmonising. Alas, the glowy atmosphere generated from our mediation and the singing took an abrupt turn for the worst. It was actually mind-boggling to see people getting arrested for denouncing illegal activities being carried out by the British government, and especially people who were literally sitting on the floor, singing Quaker songs about being friends and being angry peaceful people. We understand the arrests were “legal”; sure, the arrestees were blocking a road, which is illegal. But so is exhibiting weapons like cluster bombs, and so is selling them to regimes and governments that have been found to violate human rights and are currently engaged in war. So how in the hell were our grandmas and grandpas the ones being arrested when the same government for which the police works for was violating international law…openly and with adverts?

Money, money, money…the things it’ll make you do. That day, 44 people were arrested. By the end of the day, we were at 49 arrests altogether since Monday, September 2nd. It was surreal. I shed a number of tears as I watched people being taken away. Our friend Sarah let us post a video of her on our Twitter (@ded_ucation) which perfectly represented the frustration, sadness, and anger we all felt that week.

“Dear friends, dear friends,

Let me tell you what I know,

You have given me such treasure,

I love you so.”

Quaker Hymn.

No Nuclear (04.09.19)

On the third day, we could feel the atmosphere was a bit calmer. Most of the blockading and action had taken place during the night between the 3rd and 4th of September. As a matter of fact, the Greater Manchester Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament group came down during the night, as early as 2am, specifically to try and block as many incomings as possible.

Extinction Rebellion lent us their road-blocking boat, which did the trick as it enabled for two activists to come through with the craziest thing I’ve ever witnessed: a woman sitting by a blue van with her right arm in a tube that was going through the van. The van itself was filled to the brim with concrete. The best part? As more units arrive to break the concrete with jackhammers and protection goggles, literally taking out concrete slab after slab after slab, this woman was just sitting there, in her car seat that she’s removed from the car, patiently waiting and smiling, waving at other protesters who had come down to see what all the hubbub was about up the road. The concrete van blocked the road for over 8 hours. Talk about successful nonviolent resistance!

Nuclear disarmament has been a dividing topic (to say the least) and the road to it is still being paved. While some believe that building a nuclear arsenal is absolutely essential for national security, campaigners for nuclear disarmament argue that is a false sense of security, and that if anything, proliferating nuclear weapons puts us at more of a risk. One thing Jin and I took away from this week is that in order to justify — for example — arms sales, our governments and authority figures assure us that this is for OUR security.

Trident — the UK’s nuclear defence programme, comprised of 4 submarines with 16 nuclear missiles each valued at £16.8 million (the missile, not the submarine) — has been at the centre of campaigns for nuclear disarmament. The programme is up for renewal in 2024, where it will reach the end of its 30-year lifespan. The cost to renew this apparently “essential” nuclear programme would cost upwards of £205 billion — thank you, British taxpayer! We’ve seen photos of what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The shadows of innocent men, women, and children were all that was left of them — and that was in the 1940s. The power that nuclear warheads have today are sometimes even 8 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. ONE missile has that power. How is this defence? The policy in place regarding the use of Trident (like, actually “pushing the button”) is justified as a response to even the smallest non-nuclear threat, so how exactly is that a deterrent to war? How exactly is annihilating cities and indiscriminately killing supposed to bring about “peace”? Are we really under that much danger that our only hope is Trident, or is that an excuse to further develop our nuclear arsenal, which is illegal under international law?

According to Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament UK, the British government have themselves said that the biggest threat to national security is terrorism, cyber-attacks, and CLIMATE CHANGE. So why, oh why, are going to spend hundreds of billions of pounds for a programme that is meant for defence, when we could be redirecting this absurd amount of money towards social services (healthcare, education, pensions) and towards tackling the climate crisis we currently face?

“Politics”, they say. “National security”, they argue. Yeah, ok. I’m sure peace talks and negotiations will take place without a hiccup, especially when there are no citizens to contest the decisions made! Nuclear winter is no choice for me.

On a side note, we were treated to a special performance by the RenewRebels: Fossil Fuels vs Renewable Energies, the wrestling match! The RenewRebels describe themselves as “Eco-clown wrestling in mischievous scenarios. With rebel clowning & physical theatre, we are blurring the boundaries between culture & resistance, and hope to communicate the need for a renewable energy transition through the powerful medium of silliness.”

The RenewRebels! From Left to Right (minus the guy with the beard & the shades): the Announcer, Oil, Fracking, Coal, Solar Power, Tidal Power, Wind Energy, and the Ref

We saw Oil versus Tidal Power, Coal versus Wind Energy, and Fracking versus Solar Energy face off in wrestling matches, complete with a corrupt referee and an announcer who wasn’t going to let the Fossil Fools win just because they’ve paid off the ref. We went through waves of emotions: would Hydro Energy’s dams and turbines be enough to deter Oil? Surely Wind Energy’s windmills will definitely knock rusty and old Coal on her…behind? And no one — NO ONE — is stronger than Solar Power! How could the referee accept Fracking’s bribe? How could the referee be corrupt? SO MANY EMOTIONS!

Their performance was a beautiful and hilarious reminder that there are a multitude of forms of resistance and activism. Sure, you can be at the gates with placards and chants, but you can also get yourself educated and pass on this newly acquired knowledge in a tangible, playful but serious way.

Conferences at the Gates (05.09.19)

Thursday was what you would consider an educational day — and we needed it! We had just had three days of intense and emotional resistance, and this day came at the perfect time. Thursday September 5th was our “school” day.

“Empire in Arms” panel, followed by a Q&A with Amrit Wilson (on behalf of South Asia Solidarity Group), Prof. Anna Stavrianakis, and Dr David Wearing

You see, every day of the protests there were placards and banners denouncing various injustices in this world. The Kashmir crisis, the Rohingya persecutions, the Kurdish resistance, the Palestinian solidarity, campaigning against nuclear proliferation — the list goes on. And with an arms fair like DSEI comes new ways to authoritatively police civilians, all in the name of domestic security and the Queen’s peace.

We’re not advocating for no police or whatever you may be thinking. We simply recognise that we have come to a point where private security firms actually have more power and less restrictions than the actual police force. And since we’re talking about the police, they’ve also been given more “powers” because policies like the Hostile Environment policy, or even as a response to a rising trend. Take knife crimes for example: in the last few months, the restrictions placed around “stop and search” activities have been loosened in order to prevent knife crimes. That would be all fine and dandy if it weren’t completely rigging the game against people and communities of colour.

Workshops and panels included topics such as: “Hostile Environment Policy in Higher Education”, “The Myth of Business as Usual in War”, “Post-Colonial Policing: From Slavery to Serco ”, “Empire in Arms ” and literally, so much MORE! The flow of information was real that day, and it was almost positively overwhelming that crowds of people had gathered that day to get educated on our current, in-shambles world.

This day opened our minds to what resistance and activism looks like. Yes — being present and going to protests, rallies, and demos are a vital and integral part of advocating for what you believe is right. There is a force in numbers, and not only can it be a shocking sight to see hundreds (maybe even thousands) of people marching down a street, chanting and screaming slogans. But in order to properly advocate what we believe is right, we need to know about both the situation and how it was created, and why this is unlawful and not just immoral.

Morality doesn’t matter when you speak to people whose only purpose is to make as much money as they can.

Climate Justice (06.09.19)

Climate change has been in the works for literal decades. As a species, we’ve been greedy, we’ve been destructive, all in the name of economic development and prosperity and innovation. But the arms manufacturing industry, as well as the actual use of arms, are completely and utterly destructive to our environment.

Factories run on fossil fuels. Chemicals like Agent Orange, used in Vietnam by the Americans, not only poisoning people but also the very land on which they relied on for their livelihoods. The various methods of displacing people from their homes have had real consequences on our ecosystems. Hell, displaced people and populations themselves have also been a burden on the ecosystems of where they flee to — and that’s not even their fault!

Now, as here at dED_UCATION we have pledged ourselves to be transparent…let me be real with you for a second. Some of the protesters that were there the whole week were also camping. Most were commuting every day, like Jin and I. By the time we reached Friday, many of us were generally tired, and morale was not necessarily at an all-time high. This is why there is strength in numbers: it’s not just about making a physical statement to authorities, it’s also about hyping each other up and keeping the morale high. But then again, it was day 5 of 7 days of protests, and the final days were going to be the bigger ones.

One of our fellow protesters, Alastair, had this to say about his experience that day:

“I was playing music on my little but loud mini rig speaker for 3 ladies who had a very lightweight chain locking them together on the zebra crossing that led to the roundabout to get into DSEI. I started playing ‘A Change is Going to Come’ by Sam Cooke, and the police had been minding them for 4 hours wandered off. Without the police there, the protesters got up and I played ‘We Shall Overcome’ performed by Pete Seeger, the 25 or so gathered protesters joined hands and started singing in a circle in the sunshine. It was beautiful.”

Festival of Resistance (07.09.19)

Saturday was a beautiful day. The diversity in the crowd protesting was absolutely mesmerising and we were exposed to a variety of campaigns and causes the DSEI arms fair directly contributes to furthering. With every day before that having one specific theme, Saturday was truly meant to assemble and gather all of us to fight for the common denominator to all of our causes: the global arms trade.

It was also the day that we witnessed a warship dock and two military helicopters land at the ExCeL centre, right before our eyes. To say it was shocking would be an understatement. As they were landing the second helicopter, a lorry turned the round-about and was making its way for the East gates. The crowd of men and women we were in, holding banners and flags, rushed to the gate to block the entrance. At that point the police was not having it…at all. It was a situation where if you had found yourself to be on the wrong side of the police line, then you were possibly considered a threat to be contained. Neither Jin or myself had planned on engaging in activities which may result in our arrest, as 1) it’s a lengthy, time-consuming process, and 2) I am not a British citizen and I’m a person of colour, so really that’s like a double whammy. No thank you.

But now, we found ourselves in this crowd of protesters with no way out. I turned around and came face to face with a police officer. When I told her I wanted to go back (as in, step away from the protesting group and back towards a smaller group of people watching the helicopters land) she cut me off immediately and told me to “keep moving forward” and that I was “obstructing the highway”. By that point I’d lost track of where Jin was and just kept getting shoved and pushed by the two lines of cops standing behind me. Moving away from the line of police officers, I pushed through the crowd and found her. To say I was shaken up would be an understatement, but what I experienced doesn’t compare to what those sitting down went through.

That experience I just described was nothing compared to what Jin witnessed just moments later. Three women were blocking the road, holding each other’s hands under a blanket. They must rotate the cops that are on site from the ‘goodies’ to the ‘baddies’ because that day we faced the police officers who had no time for protocol or for safe measures. Safe enough not to insanely injure anyone, sure, but definitely not what we’d been seeing throughout the week. A male officer started to aggressively search the women, and when protestors asked for female officer for the search, they refused. Next thing we know, they are dragging all three women from one another, even though one of them had her leg in a full leg brace. Hell, it’s as if the brace was actually a tool to help secure & drag her body off of the road and into the police van.

We understand that yes, technically speaking, those who were on the road and determine not to move so as to block more lorries from going into the ExCeL centre were breaking the law. To be more specific, Section 137 of the Highways Act 1980 states: “if a person, without lawful authority or excuse, in any way wilfully obstructs the free passage along a highway he is guilty of an offence”. So yeah, guilty.

But the United Kingdom, as one of the world’s most powerful nations, and having signed NUMEROUS international agreements, conventions, and treaties which stipulate specifically they aim not to further conflict in the world, is also guilty.

This government, and the ones before, have breached international law by repeatedly not only holding this arms fair every two years in this nation’s capital, but also by simply continuing to turn a blind eye to gross human rights violations perpetrated and committed by governments that have not only bought weapons from this country’s finest in armament manufacturing, but also receive training and maintenance help from your very own Royal Air Force. That’s right, we’re looking at you Saudi Arabia.

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