CAAT’s Media Coordinator Kaye Stearman writes:
I lay unmoving on the walkway above Trafalgar Square, in front of the National Gallery. Through my half-closed eyes, I could see passers-by stopping to look at me, some taking photos. My knees stiffened and my back arched on the still damp ground yet I felt strangely content. Why? Well, I was taking part in a public art event and simultaneously protesting against the London arms fair. How good is that?
The main focus of attention was on the Fourth Plinth of the square, scene of the One & Other project, brainchild of artist Antony Gomley. Members of the public, drawn by lot, could use their hour on the plinth as “living sculptures” to do what ever they liked – as long as it was legal.
A wonderful lady in Leeds called Quinnie had got in touch with Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) the previous month to say that she had been drawn to appear on the plinth and wanted to dedicate her hour to protest against the London arms fair – Defence Systems & Equipment International (DSEI).
The timing was perfect. Quinnie’s hour was to start at 9am on Monday 7 September. DSEI would open on the morning of 8 September. When she asked CAAT for support we were delighted to be able to help. We decided on a “die-in” while Quinnie was on the plinth and Sarah, CAAT’s core campaigner, organised a flash mob to assemble near the square for the event.
We saw Quinnie hoisted onto the plinth on a giant forklift, unroll her vivid red and black Disarm DSEI banner and begin her hour’s protest, brandishing her plastic machine guns and using her megaphone to bring her messages to the (admittedly rather sparse) crowds. Our 30-strong group milled around the square, chatting with visitors and giving out leaflets about other anti-DSEI protests, including our main protest on Tuesday.
There were several press photographers present, together with a small boy with a big camera, looking very much the professional. It turned out he was Quinnie’s son. He told me that not only had his school given him permission to attend but he and his mother were invited to give a class presentation, with photos and commentary on their experiences. A great kid, and an enlightened school.
Then we started dying, one by one, till prone bodies lay at random around and above Trafalgar Square. Each participant had been issued beforehand with a “bloodspot” – a red coloured notice saying: “Tomorrow, the UK government will welcome thousands of arms dealers to London to shop for weapons at the DSEI arms fair. I represent one of the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives are devastated by the global arms trade.”
Visitors stopped and stared – some started snapping photos. Three passers-by were so affected that spontaneously decided to join the “die-in” – thank you to you all, whoever you are. The dead bodies looked small and vulnerable – a symbol indeed of our common humanity.
After it was all over, I asked Quinnie to describe her plinth experience – “It was jammy”, she chortled. “Absolutely great”. Still on a high, she added, “I have never been to Trafalgar Square on a normal visit, always on a protest march or demo. So it was strange to see it without crowds of people. All these statutes of generals and so-called military heroes around the square. Now I have been up there with them, but demonstrating opposition to war.”
Watch Quinne on the fourth plinth: