A key event for the international arms trade took place in London from 9-13 Sept: the DSEI arms fair which hosted 1500 arms companies and 30,000 arms buyers and sellers. The UK government’s invite list was a roll call of authoritarian regimes and human rights abusers. But the fair was challenged by daily direct action disrupting and blockading its business. A few highlights below…
Sunday: Hundreds of people ‘Occupy the arms fair’, blocking both entrances. Occupy camp is set up.
Following a musical protest at the ExCeL on the Saturday, hundreds of people disrupted the set-up on Sunday as arms dealers arrived and equipment was delivered on the eve of the drones conference on the Monday. Protesters stopped vehicle access to the Eastern entrance. Blockades also obstructed access at the Western entrance. An exorcism was performed by priests and activists from Christianity Uncut.
‘Occupy vs. the Arms Fair‘, was called by Occupy London as part of Stop the Arms Fair’s week of action. It is supported by Campaign Against Arms Trade and solidarity protesters from Algeria, Bahrain, Brazil and Turkey.
Eighteen people were arrested for obstruction of the highway, after refusing to leave the road to allow vehicles access to the arms fair. The Occupy camp established on the day continued as a visible challenge to the arms fair at its Eastern entrance throughout the week.
Meanwhile at least one activist managed to enter the site on a mission to remind arms dealers of the consequences of their business.
Monday: World’s largest arms company blockaded for three hours and direct action at the ExCeL centre. Silent vigil attracts hundreds of people. Welsh protest challenges drones link.
In Central London campaigners superglued themselves to the entrances of the offices of Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest arms company, which is exhibiting at DSEI. They prevented access for three hours. Police arrested five people who were not released until the following morning.
At the ExCeL centre, tens of campaigners gathered to challenge the drones conference taking place that day. In Wales, over a hundred people gathered at Aberporth to challenge drones too. Activists stopped an armoured vehicle from entering the ExCeL complex by sitting in the road.
Hundreds gathered at the arms fair on Monday night for a silent vigil – a powerful moment on the eve of the official opening of the fair.
Tuesday: Christian activists prevent main visitor entrance opening for over an hour. Cheeky ‘meet and greet’ actions send arms dealers in all sorts of directions (apart from towards the fair). The opening night reception at the Cutty Sark was blockaded.
On the day 30,000 arms dealers arrived in London for the official opening of the arms fair, campaigners were there to meet them at London City Airport: to help them find their way (the long way round!) and point them out to fellow passengers. See the video of this action here. This clearly had an impact as later in the week, announcements were heard at Custom House station, advising DSEI delegates to remove their passes before boarding the train!
The main entrance for visitors to the fair was obstructed for over forty minutes by Christian activists who superglued themselves together, causing a huge backlog of arms dealers arriving to Custom House station. Five people were arrested.
Campaigners discovered the location of a dinner for the opening night of the arms fair, where senior civil servants from the governments’ arms sales unit, UKTI DSO, were in attendance: at the Cutty Sark. Activists were there first and blocked all four entrances. Arms dealers eventually had to enter via a fire exit and were ‘escorted’ to their cars with protesters pointing out their profession at the end of the night.
Wednesday – Rooftop action lasts for 40 minutes. Protesters hold wreath-laying ceremony at the site of the arms fair. Noise demo invades BAE Systems’ offices.
An activist climbed on the roof of the ExCeL at Prince Regent station, while others challenged the arms dealers below. See the video here. A journalist had his press credentials removed for using the hashtag ‘#stopdsei’ and filming the protest. The NUJ have condemned the decision. Meanwhile it emerged that illegal weapons were being advertised inside the fair.
Activists from the Black Katz Collective occupied the foyer of BAE Systems for a noise demo, before moving on to other sites as well.
A wreath-laying ceremony remembering the victims of the arms trade was attended by local primary school children.
Thursday: Woman arrested for leafleting! Campaigners take the message to parliament. Arms dealers dinner disrupted.
Campaigners took the message to parliament ahead of a debate on the government’s arms sales unit.
A woman was arrested at Custom House DLR station for attempting to leaflet arms dealers entering the fair. She was released five hours later without charge.
A critical mass cycle ride converged with other protesters at the Troxy, where a “charity” event for arms dealers was taking place. Protesters obstructed the entrance, and engaged local residents with information about the arms fair. An ‘arms’ themed installation appeared on a lamp post nearby. See a photo report of the protest here.
Friday: Occupy camp joined by campaigners for protest on final day of the fair. Vince Cable’s constituents hold vigil at his surgery.
Hundreds of ‘DSEI End Product’ cards, designed to remind arms dealers of the human impact of their trade, found their way into hotel rooms, bars, and car parks.
Local constituents challenged Vince Cable on the government’s role in organising the arms fair at a vigil at his surgery in Twickenham. Cable is responsible for the departments which both approve export licenses and promote weapons sales abroad.
The amazing Occupy camp, which survived wind, rain and sabotage to maintain a 24-hour challenge to the arms fair at its Eastern entrance was joined by others for a final protest before packing up as the arms dealers headed home.
We won’t let them come back.