Before the start of the DSEI arms fair in East London on 14 September, there were several arrests as many protesters attempted to blockade the two service roads used by vehicles carrying military hardware into the ExCeL Centre.
A great variety of groups organised a great variety of actions against DSEI this year, though numbers overall were smaller than in recent times.
This year, the mostly autonomous protests were co-ordinated by a coalition called ‘Stop the Arms Fair’ (STAF) over the week before DSEI and the actual week of the arms fair.
The Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair is one of the world’s largest arms fairs and takes place at the ExCeL Centre every two years in September.
There were days of protest around various themes: ‘Stop Arming Israel’, ‘Solidarity with Afghanistan’, ‘Demilitarising Education’, ‘Borders, Migration and Anti-Racism’, ‘Climate Action’ and, on the Saturday, a ‘Festival of Resistance’ (see p6).
A peace camp was set up as a base.
There were mass cycle rides to the ExCeL Centre and marches, including a large one organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign through a largely Muslim area of East London. The theme was: ‘Stop the Arms Fair – Stop Arming Israel.’
On 14 September, the first day of DSEI, the Mad Hatters affinity group organised a walk (in the rain) from Stratford station to the ExCeL Centre. It was led by four Veterans for Peace carrying wreaths in memory of recent victims of the arms trade in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. The wreaths were later dropped into the dock opposite DSEI by the veterans while two Buddhists – a monk and a nun – drummed and chanted.
On the same day, a silent circle of peace inaugurated by Quakers was held at the gates to the ExCeL Centre. A Christian assembly had been held at the gates the previous day.
A protest also took place inside DSEI. It was organised by a small group of Young Communist Leaguers who had got themselves hired as workers.
On 15 September, STAF unfurled two banners down a disused building opposite the ExCeL Centre at the same time as delegates at DSEI were watching a military boat display. One banner was a giant Palestinian flag. The other was addressed to those attending DSEI: ‘Death Dealers, War = Ecocide.’