Bath peace activists drive out drone conference

Peace activists in Bath protest against the proposed Drones conference
Peace activists in Bath protest against the proposed Drones conference

Monica Pearce of the Bath Stop War Coalition tells how Bath’s famous Assembly Rooms were booked for a conference on military drones, organised by Clarion Events, and how sustained protest forced them to back down.

This year has witnessed some success in challenging the acceptability of arms dealing. After sustained lobbying, the National Gallery announced that it would not be hosting any events for arms dealers during this year’s Farnborough Air Show. Regrettably the Natural History Museum has not followed suit, but CAAT is urging peace people to continue to deluge the museum with demands to withdraw from hosting the arms fair’s opening reception.

Our recent experience in Bath suggests that protesting against arms dealers can have an effect! Bath Stop War Coalition is a broadly based collective of peace activists. We were appalled to learn earlier this year that Bath and North East Somerset Council had accepted a booking from arms sales promoters, Clarion Events, for a June conference on drones, at Bath’s prestigious Assembly Rooms. This heritage building belongs to the National Trust, but B&NES Council has full responsibility for its commercial lettings.

Drones – mainly military
This event: arms dealing, thinly disguised as a conference to promote both the civilian and military applications of drones, failed dismally to convince many people, already horrified by proliferation of this “playstation” killing, with its mounting civilian deaths and illegal political assassinations.

Civilian applications (including surveillance with its unpleasant political overtones) were to be considered for half a day while military use would fill the remaining three days. Military personnel were offered free admittance, the main speakers were military and the event was sponsored by Qinetiq, a “defence systems supplier”.

Taking action
We decided on a strategy of challenging B&NES Council as a body, over the unethical use of a public building and also by writing personally to all councillors. The immorality of allowing their building to be used to promote arms deals was also raised with the National Trust, both by Bath Stop War Coalition as a whole and by many individual members.

We started a petition of B&NES residents calling for the cancellation of the letting, which we ran on our weekly stall outside Bath Abbey. We also created an e-petition on B&NES website. One of our group made an impromptu and passionate speech at an event to welcome Bath’s new chief executive, against the use of a fine public building like the Assembly Rooms, for promoting this hideous new development in killing. It gained a round of applause!

Weeks before the event, support was offered by activists from further afield, who had been involved in the demonstration in Bristol against a drones conference there. Joint plans for a rally, and action outside the conference itself were formulated.

Clarion Events backs down
Then, to our delight, it was announced that the drones conference booking had been withdrawn. Clarion Events had decided to relocate its nasty enterprise to a more suitable venue: the “Defence Academy of the UK”, Cranfield University. Sadly the promotion of these sinister, remotely controlled killing machines will continue elsewhere, protected from democratic protest by military style security.

Nevertheless, the loud and visible protest, well publicised by a steady flow of letters by peace activists in the local paper, sustained lobbying of the Council and National Trust and the threat of direct demonstrations outside the event, did have an effect. We haven’t brought the military industrial complex to a shuddering halt, but we have shown that they react to public protest and bad publicity!

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