Jessie from the London CAAT group reports on a successful mission to expose an arms company lurking in London.
Finmeccanica, a large Italian arms manufacturer, has an office on Great George St, London SW1. It is a strategically placed, anonymous office, no sign on the door, placed right between the Houses of Parliament and the Foreign Office. Downing St is just round the corner. Perfect for lobbying!
Four anti-arms trade activists turned up to raise the awareness of the public, swelling to six. It’s quite a busy road, traffic coming into Parliament Square, people walking to the Paralympics, other tourists. They were happy to accept our leaflets, the odd one stopping to talk.
As this is SW1 the buildings are gracious and the pavements wide. With our cardboard missile, and one sign pointing to the office saying, “Arms traders work here” we were noticeable but not an obstruction. However, the way to get an obstruction, and so a stationary crowd, is to enlist the aid of the police!
The Met rides in!
Three police officers on horseback were walking in the traffic on the opposite side of the road and noticed one of us attaching hazard tape to the doors of Finmeccanica’s office. As it was Saturday it was an empty office so we were making a point that they are a hazard, not to actually obstruct anyone.
However, the police response was to roar, from across the road, “take it down”, while charging their horses across the path of oncoming traffic that had to brake not to hit them!
One then rode his horse onto the pavement, straddling its full width. The steady flow of people on the pavement came to an abrupt halt. As the others spoke with the police, I had a throng of people, trapped in front of me, to leaflet and chat to. Thank you Met!
We quickly got rid of all our leaflets. I had a few in-depth conversations with people, some of whom agreed with what we were doing, one chap from Chile felt the police presence during the Olympics was far too heavy handed – in fact our police were more oppressive than in the USA, and this was an example of that!
Month of Action
This was part of CAAT’s month of action against the arms trade and there are plenty more actions to come. If you like bubbles or bike rides, you’re in luck! On the UN International Day of Peace, Friday 21 September, giant bubbles will fill Trafalgar Square with the message “Bubbles not Bombs”. Come and take part in the bubbling, and help point out to the National Gallery that art should make the world more beautiful, not support the arms trade.
The following day, there’s a musical protest in East London at the site of the planned DSEI arms fair. Or on Saturday 29 September, there’s a bike ride around nine companies in two and a half hours (or you can do one hour on foot and three arms companies!).
Together with these and other actions across the UK, our leafleting is showing that the arms companies’ business will not go unchallenged. Details of the month of action can be found here.