As they sold death - we stood for life (DSEi arms fair)

IssueOctober 2007
News by Kat Barton

The biennial Defence Systems & Equipment International (DSEi), one of the largest arms fairs in the world, has once again been met with protests in East London, where it has been held since 1999.

The recently announced decision by publishing company Reed Elsevier to pull out of organising the event has rightly given anti-arms trade activists cause to celebrate. But judging by the unusually low turnout at this year's “Day of Action Against DSEi” on 11 September, it would seem that some people took the welcoming news as a signal to stay at home!

Only 150 protesters marched from Plaistow Park in East London to Custom House station just outside the Excel Centre in London's Docklands. There, around 60 cyclists, who had participated in a Critical Mass-style cycle ride from central London, joined them.

Numbers swelled to around 300 as people came to listen to speeches by Sian Berry (Green Party), Bill Perry (local resident), Alan Craig (Newham councillor), Ian Pritchard (Campaign Against Arms Trade), Len Aldis (East London Against the Arms Fair) and the comedian Mark Thomas.

Of course, numbers aren't everything and there were certainly some enterprising actions taking place at this year's event. Resisting the dealers The “Space Hijackers” group - determined to make a very visible protest to arms fair delegates - used one very large tank as a decoy, enabling a gaggle of activists and “embedded reporters” to drive a second tank right up to the main vehicle entrance of the Excel Centre, where they promptly held a street party and auctioned off the tank - for the paltry sum of $50.

The Radisson Mayfair Hotel - the venue for a UK Defence Conference held a few days before DSEi - was also targeted when 20-30 protesters turned up to leaflet passers-by.

Outside London, several solidarity actions took place, including the subvertising - creative enhancement - of army recruitment adverts in Oxford, and a blockade of the car park of the arms factory BAE Middleton in Manchester.

Autonomous actions continued throughout the week and included Catholic Worker activists pouring “Rivers of Blood” outside the arms fair (see below), 20 activists running into the Excel Centre, and plenty of leafleting and placard waving - which resulted in a pensioner being roughly arrested. Remembering the victims One of the most moving actions of the week, though, took place on the eve of the arms fair.

Around 100 people gathered at a candle-lit vigil outside the entrance of Excel, to commemorate those who have been killed as a result of the arms trade.

The event highlighted the absurdity of an industry that derives its profits from killing.

Even as we celebrate our successes, there is still so much work to be done.