If you wanted evidence of just how effective sustained protest against the arms trade can be, look no further than the campaign run by Birmingham Stop the Arms Fair. With the promise of a day of creative action à la prior protests in Cardiff and Bristol, Birmingham NEC were pressured into stating that it was ‘more appropriate for DPRTE to be hosted at a more self-contained venue.’ The fact that this arms fair cannot be held in public space anymore is testimony to the general antipathy the general public holds for this amoral trade. It is for this reason that DPRTE 2019 now finds itself behind the chainlink fence of the ‘high security’ Farnborough Exposition and Conference Centre.
We were joined by incredible activists from all around the UK, as well as our allies around the world, who sent inspiring messages of solidarity. Our thoughts were grounded from the start in the resistance of those at the sharp end of the global arms trade, with messages from Yemeni activists like Ahmed Jahaf of Sana’a, “We know we are not forgotten because of you. Maybe you are few but you are a lot to us.”
Amina Atiq, Liverpudlian Yemeni poet spoke to us ahead of a journey to Egypt, where her Yemeni family have fled. She said, “These wounds take years to heal, some never heal. If everyone does a small thing we can bring change, and we will bring change.”
As well as hearing voices of resistance from conflict-affected countries, we were inspired by the solidarity of our friends protesting arms fairs around the world, like Peace Action Wellington, New Zealand, who said they were inspired by the diversity of UK activists’ tactics. “It’s amazing to feel connected to a global movement. Kia kaha! It means ‘stay strong’ in Máori.”
World Without War activists in South Korea told us how protests to stop the DSEI arms fair inspired their own resistance to stop the ADEX arms fair in Seoul. “The arms industry is so big it can feel impossible to bring them down. It feels like they are everywhere, and they are. But so is our resistance! We hope one day our work will inspire others in other parts of the world.”
Arms trade: rooted in many struggles for justice
Our fight to stop the DSEI arms fair is inextricably linked with other intersecting struggles for justice – struggles that It Starts Here called to put front and centre of our action in 2019. The day began with discussions on issues including anti-racism and the increasing militarisation of the UK’s borders. Listen again.
West London-born poet and activist Shareefa Energy reminded attendees of the structural violence inflicted on people of colour and the working class in the UK, seen in how Grenfell residents on our doorstep continue to be treated, to how imagery of people of colour is used in media and NGO coverage of conflict in the global south.
“There’s a conversation we need to have. Why are people from ethnic minorities dehumanised? Would you ever see English people on a newspaper dead? We need to have these conversations. Until we talk about racism and structural violence, we won’t understand why these issues are going on.”
Sarah Reader of Agir Pour La Paix in Brussels, co-founder of Stop The Arms Fair reminded us of how far we have come and what we’ve built together: “It’s amazing to see so many people in the room 6 months before DSEI. 8 years ago there were 8 of us in a room!”
On the ‘Anti-racism, migrant solidarity and the arms trade’ panel, Sanaz from ‘Unis Resist Border Controls’ spoke about the links to arms trade and university funding and research. “Many universities invest in arms companies like BAE Systems, G4S. We need to stop this hypocrisy. [We] demand to end investment in the arms trade, in the private firms that fund the violence that creates refugees.”
Geraldine spoke from the All African Women’s Group, a group of refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK from Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean. “Instead of reaching safety,” she said, “We face detention, deportation, and destitution. But we are part of the growing movement calling for justice.”
Chrissie from Women of Colour in the Global Women’s Strike reminded us that “Many of the people suffering because of the arms trade are black and brown people. The EU response has not been to support people seeking safety, but to stop migration to Europe at all costs.” Also representing the Crossroads Women’s Centre, Chrissie spoke about the importance of gender: “80% of refugees worldwide are women. We bear the brunt of war. We are the ones that pick up the pieces. But we are not victims, we are protagonists in our struggle, wherever we are.”
DSEI: Let’s stop it here
The DSEI arms fair is where we can stop arms deals before they start. The last DSEI in 2017 saw the most widespread protests, media coverage and parliamentary interest in the arms fair since the Iraq War. A huge range of groups took action, from queer and environmental activists to academics and faith groups. Over six days, the set up of the fair was disrupted by a huge array of creative and fun actions. Will you help make 2019 even bigger?
We can stop them
Activists have now successfully chased the arms fairs out of Bristol, Cardiff and Birmingham. After the threat of action by Birmingham Stop the Arms Fair, organisers moved the DTPRE arms fair to behind security fences at Farnborough military base. And last year protests outside the Undersea Defence Technology arms fair in Glasgow persuaded Glasgow City Council to promise it would never host an arms fair again. If enough people disrupt the set-up of DSEI in 2019, we can stop the arms fair.
It was billed as the “auction of dreams”- but Liberal Democrats arriving for their spring fundraiser in Twickenham were met by protesters with placards, Vince Cable masks and some uncomfortable truths.
With Baroness Shirley Williams attending as the after dinner speaker and guests including Greg Dyke, Lord Oakshott and Geoff Pope it must have been embarrassing for Vince Cable to have his track record of support for the arms industry laid bare.
The fringe issue of arms export criteria became headline news today (17 July), with The Independent’s splash on an “‘arms for dictators” scandal. A parliamentary report by the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) raised a few eyebrows, but the embarrassment of the government approving arms sales to 25 out of 27 of the countries blacklisted as human rights abusers will soon vanish.
On this day, two years ago, a group of Bahraini citizens gathered at the “Pearl Roundabout” to call for democratic freedoms and equal rights for the majority Shia population. They were part of the “Arab Spring”, the wave of protests that swept the region in 2011.
The ruling regime responded with violence. Peaceful protesters were met with bullets and teargas. Some of the weapons used by the police and military came from the UK.
The new year has brought CAAT a small but important campaign victory. For the first time, it seems that the Minister responsible for Human Rights at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) will be consulted on priority markets for promotion of arms exports. Continue reading “A tale of two committees”
On Monday 9 July, Betsy Barkas visited Farnborough International arms fair: a major event on the arms fair calendar. It takes place every other year, alternating with the DSEI arms fair in London. This year, Farnborough ran from 9-15 July.
On 26 April, Sam Walton took the stage to disrupt Vince Cable’s speech at a government arms sales conference.
We didn’t think we’d get in. The UKTI DSO Symposium is the biggest event of the year for Britain’s exporters of “defence & security” gear – so you’d think they’d have better security.
We wandered into the hotel past the police and made our way towards the entrance to the Symposium. Not having the faintest idea where anything was, we were helpfully directed to the ground floor where registration and the first networking and mingling of the day was taking place. Amazing how far a nice suit can get you.