Southampton CAAT is born
Forming our CAAT group was initially inspired when one of our members met someone from CAAT on an arms trade protest at the DSEI arms fair in 2011. We then realised there was no active CAAT group in Southampton, though many separate groups had taken action on the arms trade at Southampton University. Southampton University is riddled with links to the arms trade in terms of sponsorship from major arms companies and arms companies being represented on boards. It is for this reason we decided to form a cohesive group to try to sustain a campaign.
Southampton CAAT in action
One of our first ideas was to arrange a night time cycle about the city – this idea could be easily linked to visiting the local companies making arms or components for arms in the city. We looked up the companies who exhibited at the East London DSEI arms fair.
We invited Chris Cole, peace campaigner from Drones Campaign UK to speak to us and hosted a presentation in the University. We invited lecturers from the drones research group but unfortunately they didn’t attend though did respond thoughtfully to emails.
We did a presentation to a student group involving experimenting with a theatre of the oppressed style drama with questions to bring out various perspectives, small group tasks and role play, making new homemade zines and handouts.
We also took action at the recent careers fair involving a large banner saying ‘arms industry hands off’ and trying to engage students and arms company representatives in dialogue. Subsequently there were articles for and against the arms trade in the student online forum. The ‘for’ arguments were mostly economical so one of our members responded to an article in the student online press debunking the myth that the arms industry is essential for the British economy.
How to start it up and keep it going
I think that as a group we all feel very strongly about the arms industry; as a system it is fundamentally flawed, and for each of us it represents a violation of our principles. It is because of its effects that we are united as a group to stand up against the arms trade.
Our progress is quite slow, but I think that getting the balance between activism and other parts of life is an important thing. We are all busy people and we aren’t doing as much as we would like to be, though enough for now. Because we’re quite relaxed, meetings are social events too, and I think this friendly atmosphere helps to keep us motivated and moving. What I like in our group is that we have some pretty committed people, and we have some less able to be always committed – we are all important and needed, as this helps with energy levels and creativity. It helps to take inspiration from reading and watching films about other CAAT groups and activists, which remind us why we need to keep going.
Tips for starting up a group are: infuse some fun and do things other than campaigning together (i.e. incorporate banner painting, role play, games etc). Refer back to what you have done in telling stories. Really include new people who turn up and be prepared to change what you do to include them, though stay on track. Let people try and take on roles, and trying to accommodate their ideas, involve them. Think about security a little & meet people before you add them willy nilly. We do not have a leader though allow each other to lead at times – it’s important to know at the end of a meeting who is doing what, who is writing up minutes and when you will next aim to meet. But it’s also important to take turns, facilitate opportunities to share and upskill etc and be mindful of the way we work and our differences. Also to not be put off by disagreement and to be able to set a context where we can disagree but not take it personally if possible.
Aims for 2013
We began a dialogue with our local branch of Chemring PLC, whose CS gas was fired at democracy protesters in Egypt in 2011. and they did reply though they have not responded to requests to meet with them so we plan to follow this up with a visit.
LUSH have agreed to donate soap bombs to us for a new campaign on campus highlighting the issues around drones. The plan is to hide the bombs around campus, attached to messages about the questionable role of drones in warfare.
We are also considering taking action at Aldermaston on nuclear weapons.