Activism on Lockdown: West Mids activists on their Front Page news success!

Activists challenging the Three Counties Defence & Security Expo (3CDSE), scheduled for July 2020, used local media to raise their objections to the fair. They successfully captured the front page of several local papers protesting the plans for the fair to go ahead, and organisers were soon after forced to announce plans to postpone to February 2021.

Rebecca and Melanie, two members of the group, reflect on their experience of connecting with other campaigners and doing media work during lock down.

Rebecca says, “In the midst of the beginning of lockdown, we had a Zoom meeting with activists from our area and other campaigners from across the UK. We are a small group, so we’d decided to join together from lots of different geographical locations to discuss what we were doing about different arms fairs. We heard from activists as far afield as Farnborough and Glasgow about what had worked for others when they were challenging arms fairs int their location, and I was excited to be linking with others. It was a new feeling when we met, as that was the week that we had literally no alternative but to meet online!”

“It felt great hearing about other people’s experiences, they were varied and towards the end of the call I mentioned how hard I thought it would be when ‘all this was over’ to convince people NOT to build our economy with arms. One person on the call mentioned how utterly wrong it is, pushing ahead with something like the Defence Expo in the midst of such a massive public health crisis – and we realised that this in fact was our angle! It was a press release to that effect that got us on the front page of the local papers.”

“I would never have got to that ‘angle’ if it wasn’t for that friendly, relaxed space where we shared our plans and achievements – and I wouldn’t have been thinking about it in the first place if it wasn’t for the local action over the last few years that’s got us this far. I guess I’m saying how important and valuable I find the network – of the locals, and of the ones doing it in other places. Haha, playing ‘compare the arms fair’ has been a very useful game to play!”

Melanie Jameison, Founder of Malvern Individuals for Peace, also reflects on working with CAAT to oppose the Three Counties Defence & Security Expo.

“The Three Counties Showground is an idyllic location with a backdrop of the Malvern Hills on the Worcestershire-Herefordshire border. Three years ago it became the venue for a Defence & Security Expo giving rise to the formation of Malvern Individuals for Peace (MIPs) and a consultation with CAAT to get a better idea of the track record of exhibitors and sponsors. Our first role was to inform residents that this event was taken place (there was no publicity, outside the sector) then to gage local opinion and finally to organise protest.”

“When the 3CDSE website flagged up its 2020 event the usual names appeared again – BAE Systems, Thales and our local employer, QinetiQ. In consultation with CAAT, Rebecca Tully embarked on a new tactic. This culminated in front page news in two local papers and was disseminated further via Facebook and Twitter. A member of MIPs posted on the social media site Nextdoor, attracting a mixture of negative/offensive comments and favourable reactions before the post was removed.”

“CAAT was drawn into the next stage of planning when the 3CDSE was finally postponed until February 2021. I joined in some CAAT virtual conversations and took the chance to follow-up, seeking clarifications from CAAT staff regarding the promotion of the event : what did 3CDSE mean by ’forward defence’ and ‘hybrid warfare’ – terminology that seemed to go beyond its stance as only concerned with cyber-security and non-lethal defence measures? Would it be worthwhile to contact the venue for the delegates’ dinner? How should this best be approached? It was most useful to be able to draw on the years of experience within CAAT to resolve some of these practical issues. Also, it is encouraging to feel you are part of something bigger when the ‘David and Goliath’ aspect of protest can seem somewhat disheartening.”

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