I have been asked to write this column alternating with Jeff Cloves who lives in the lovely town of Stroud. I live in the London Borough of Newham. Anyone who knows both areas will be aware of the contrast.
Newham - home of DSEi
One distinction of Newham is that every two years we are the unwilling hosts of the DSEi Arms Fair at the ExCel Exhibition Centre, at Custom House E16. Despite unceasing opposition all year round, it is due to come back again this year starting on 11 September (Yes, 9/11). On 10 September, the eve of the arms fair, there will again be a silent, candle-lit vigil outside the ExCel Centre as there has been before each of the arms fairs on this site. (See photo in Peace News March 2007). We hope this will be the last one ever and there will be no more arms fairs.
The silent candle-lit vigil was the initiative of a local Catholic priest and an Anglican community worker. When first suggested I, as a cynical agnostic, remember thinking privately “Standing for an hour holding a blooming candle? Fat lot of good that will do!” I suspect there were others in East London Against the Arms Fair with similar thoughts. However, as our greatly respected fellow campaigners were so keen on the idea, we went along with it - solidarity and all that. We could hardly object. Standing in silence is undeniably nonviolent.
In fact, for reasons I don't quite understand, this vigil is a very empowering experience. I feel conscious of the strength of our unity and our diversity. Some participants from the various religions may be praying silently. Some local people may be thinking of their relatives killed in the Custom House blitz in the second world war. The ground where they died is now ExCel property and used to display weapons that will send the same grief to other countries. Other, more recently arrived Newham residents, will be thinking of massacres with imported weapons in the countries from which they fled.
Vigilers will not just be local. Some people will have travelled from other areas to join us in protest against this arms fair as they have in previous years. They will be most welcome as they have been at other, far from silent, protests throughout the two years between arms fairs. Some people will be thinking of the rows of weapons laid out for selection as at a supermarket, so near, behind the doors we can see at the top of the steps. Others may think of the arms traders and their entourages who may be watching us from the nearby hotels. We must never forget that the most ruthless arms dealer or the most greedy shareholder is still a human being with a brain and a conscience.
Come for fun
All Peace News readers are invited to join us. If you can come before 6pm, you will be welcome at The Garden Community Cafe, 7 Cundy Road, E16 which is off Prince Regent Lane (nearest station Prince Regent DLR) 020 7474 5257. The cafe will be open all afternoon of 10 September to greet arrivals. Otherwise you need to get to Royal Victoria Station DLR, by 6.30pm at the latest.