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(en) UK, London, [Pga_europe_resistance] News from the days of action against the DSEi arms fair in London, 9 & 10.9.03

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 15 Sep 2003 16:38:30 +0200 (CEST)

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> From: markb-A-mail.gn.apc.org - this just in...
Here's one person's report from Disarm DSEi, the UK's most visible
contribution to the global actions against the WTO and all that it represents...
The DSEi arms fair is the largest in Europe, and a chance for the UK
government to show its allies, enemies and customers that standing
shoulder to shoulder with George Bush and the rest of the civilised
world can be hugely profitable not to mention devastatingly
destructive. This year's 'fair' (or 'exhibition', as the organisers
like to call it, likening it to a Motor Show except with weapons
instead of cars), was the first since September 2001. On the 11th
September that year, a day which has passed into history for different
though not unconnected reasons, another mass protest was organised,
calling itself a 'Fiesta for Life Against Death'. The police soon
surrounded and suffocated that carnival, with the most effective
actions being carried out by smaller affinity groups that played cat
and mouse with arms dealers and the police paid to protect them.

This year, DSEi was held again in the ExCel Centre, the sort of
heavily defended fortress where world leaders usualy opt to meet these
days. ExCel is in Newham, one of the poorest areas in Europe, but
whose council is actually subsidising the centre since it runs at a
loss. As before, there was a concerted attempt to inform people about
what was happening in their area, and to ask them for their support
for the protests, an attempt which was largely successful, even though
the protests saw their roads blocked, trains cancelled, their housing
estates turned into semi-militarised zones and their children banned
from spending breaktimes outside in case they might get to speak to a
protestor. (That last part is true, as a friend of mine was threatened
with arrest by a policeman for talking to kids through a gap in the
fence, but who was able to bring them onside pretty quickly before
being hustled away. Apparently said policeman was only enforcing the
orders of the headteacher with just a little too much zeal. Another
school, one which has been I think supported financially by ExCel in
the past, was turned into a command centre by the police, who had
thousands on duty and who would eat up almost £2m in taxpayers' money
for their few day's work.)

So having learnt a little from previous action frustrations, this year
there were multiple meeting points, not to mention two separate days
of action, the first being with non-violence guidelines, the second
(September 10th) being more of a 'shut the death fair by any means
possible' sort of a day. the media, having covered the event and the
issue in some detail in the run-up to the week, pronounced the first
day as a failure since nothing very destructive or intrusive happened.
Three people were arrested first thing in the morning for throwing red
paint across the arrival route of the UK's beleagured Defence
Secretary Geoff Hoon. (Actually, over fifty people had been arrested
in the weeks leading up to the event for various very inspiring
actions including occupying the office of the event organisers
Spearhead, blockading ExCel with arm-locked human bodies on the first
day of the arrival of hardware at the site, and the temporary
blockading partly with Toys'R'Us dinghies of the harbour alongside
ExCel, thereby preventing the entry of Navy warships on sale at a
knockdown price to anyone able to produce the cash.)

The second day was more chaotic, with the planned and announced
simultaneous blockading of one entrance and storming of another, in
order to give people a choice of tactics, and a street party towards
the end of the day. None of these things happened exactly as planned,
a more fluid road-blocking, train-stopping, arms dealer haranguing
rhythm emerging pretty organically, with individuals and affinity
groups moving to a vulnerable point here, or an inspiring,
samba-fuelled blockade there, then slipping away before the police
could surround the crowd, although that did happen more towards the
end of the day.

By climbing on top of trains on various lines, groups of two or three
people forced its complete shutdown on a few occasions, quite a strain
on people getting to or from work or picking the kids up from school,
but nothing really compared to the misery meted out by the products
displayed in the air-conditioned splendour of the ExCel Centre. One
woman managed to stay on top of a DLR train for over an hour by
threatening to jump off if anyone tried to bring her down. Another two
were brought down by professional climbers who the police must have
booked for the days long in advance. These last two were received
rapturous applause as they were led out of Canning Town station by
British Transport police. As they were guarding their van with their
newly arrested prisoner, I asked a transport cop what he thought of
the arms trade. 'Well I'm an ex-squaddie (soldier) myself, so I'm
biased,' he replied. 'But doesn't that mean you're more exploited than
most by the people who send you off to war, not to mention the dealers
who make big money supplying both sides?' I replied, (though I
probably said it more messily at the time.) From that point, we seemed
to have found something to agree on...

Arms dealers and the various others who were looking for business at
ExCel, were often forced to run the gamut of angry protestors, most of
them managing somehow to ignore the arguments and insults, at least
outwardly. A group of probably Irish military maintained an almost
surreal level of stony-faced impassivity as people told them what scum
they were, and someone else put a bit of a dent in the roof of their
people carrier with his boot. The most common justification for their
activities was that the UK needs to defend itself - after all, where
would we have been in 1939 without a military presence? Others seemed
to think the fact that we were either without jobs or away from them
for the day utterly invalidated our arguments and actions. So you can
tell they spend more time doing business with eachother than crafting
devastating moral justifications for what they do, then.

It seemed necessary to make our feelings known to these visitors,
since if we hadn't stopped them from getting inside (as did happen to
a few), it was worth making their day as uncomfortable as possible,
perhaps to keep them from coming back during the rest of the week, and
perhaps to build the pressure on ExCel, Spearhead and the UK
government to force them to shut the damn thing down...eventually.
Although bubbling over with righteous indignation had a certain
satisfaction, it was more challenging but also more rewarding to chat
to local people and those stuck at tube and train stations, and to try
to explain what was going on since to many it was just chaos. Pretty
much everyone was in favour of the protests, except for one young
bloke who wanted to beat me up, really badly - but that was probably
as much to do with my loud mouth in supporting the two women standing
on the DLR train than the disruption of their journey. Even many
drivers stuck in their cars watching people blocking roads with
fencing and samba seemed to understand what it was about and take it
as a bit of necessary and even entertaining early evening street theatre.

Employing a combination of aggression and numbers, the gloved and
helmeted police began gradually corralling a previously wild,
mercurial and tactically-conscious crowd. They were mostly free from
the cop's kettling antics by 8pm, but the day's arrests stood at well
over double figures, and there would be more the following night
(September 11th no less) when the dealers' gala hotel dinner was
noisily blockaded for several hours until violently broken up by
ridiculous numbers of police. No doubt many of them oppose the arms
trade once they get home and pull off their heavy boots, but that's no
comfort if those boots have been stomping on protestors all day.)

On the day following the main day of actions, the newspapers were
filled with news that the police were being taken to court for
illegally using Terrorism Act legislation to stop, search and even
arrest protestors. So while we had the satisfying knowledge that the
Home Secretary and the obsequious police chief responsible for
briefing the media on such events squirming and digging their way out
of a big hole, the events of the day and the issue of the arms fair
taking place at all were a little hidden. It was good to see, though,
a well-established campaigning group like Liberty throw their weight
behind the campaign to stop the state and the police from using the
'war on terrorism' to muzzle much-needed protest.

The media handed over far more space to events in Cancun, where the
WTO meeting was running into problems, and protestors were still
reeling from the suicide of the Korean farmer opposite the police
lines. It was a real missed opportunity that more wasn't made of the
links between the WTO and DSEi, between free trade and the arms trade.
The people behind Disarm DSEi were strongly focussed on the logistics
of shutting the damn thing down, and their occasional attempts to hook
up with the London Peoples' Global Action support group - which has
been active in the past in keeping the flame of international webs of
resistance burning - had been frustrated by that group being in one of
its non-meeting phases. On the other hand, friends from mainland
Europe had answered the international call out for DSEi by turning up
to join in with the action, and those webs of resistance are still
extending and strengthening in many parts of the world, especially in
eastern Europe.


Sitting exhausted on the tube on the way to the pub in the early
evening of September 10th, already hoarse from an overload of
righteous shouting, arguing and explaining, I couldn't resist the
chance to sit next to two well-lunched besuited types. 'Have you been
to ExCel today?' I asked, politely. 'Why yes,' says one. His friend,
noticing that I've been looking at an invitation for an evening party
in his hand, slowly pockets it. 'Which company are you with?'
'Raytheon' (one of the US' largest defence and aerospace
corporations.) 'You mean the company that's making a mint from the war
on terror?' A wry smile from him. 'Well, I suppose so.' 'You make
massive donations to the Republicans and the Democrats, don't you?'
His friend is getting uneasy; my friends are starting to throw in
their arguments from other parts of the carriage. The guy who's
decided to try to make things clearer for me tries to calm me with a
gentle declaration: it's OK for the US government to be both the main
customer for Raytheon's products and the main regulator of a very
heavily regulated industry, since it's not the same part of the
government making those decisions. Baffled by the lameness of this
argument - as usual, we have the best arguments, they have to make do
with the cops, the cash and the firepower - I decide to dispense with
restrained debate. It's almost too late, as the non-speaking friend
has noticed with great relief that the train has arrived in a station
- any station - and that they're both getting out, now. 'People are
disgusted by what you do!' I shout after them. 'And what's been
happening at ExCel is an abomination!' Unsure as to whether the
swiftly departing dealers have been suitably impressed at my use of a
five syllable word in such a situation, we try to explain what that
was all about to the rest of the commuting passengers, but they want
none of it, and the usual British public transport self-restraint and
silence above all else is restored.

A little later, as we're about to jump onto an escalator, we see a
London Underground sign: 'Delays are occurring on the Jubilee Line.
Service has been restricted on the advice of the police', after which
someone had added 'as people are shutting the DSEi arms fair'. Well,
we didn't shut it here and now, but we got closer than we ever have
before, the issue of arms fairs and the arms trade itself is being
debated all over the place, and I find it hard to believe that ExCel
will want to go through another week like this come the next DSEi in
2005. It'd be a good idea for all of us who were involved in any way
this this week to think of quick and simple ways to keep the pressure
up on ExCel, Spearhead and the UK government after this year's events.
They certainly need to know that wherever they decide to hold it next
will become the site of as determined, fluid, creative and angry
actions as greeted them this year.

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