Day two of the Stop the Arms Fair week of action was #nofaithinwar day. Groups from all faith backgrounds committed to an hour each of prayer and protest outside the back entrance to the ExCel exhibition centre, in East London. Others such as Quakers, Put Down the Sword and the London Catholic Worker committed to disrupt the set up of the arms fair, through direct action.
Although I’d been arrested before, I’d never been part of a lock on, complete with arm tubes and carabinas. I was ready for physical discomfort, but dreading having to sit in a police cell, watching the walls zoom in and out of focus.
On the day I found myself calmly waiting, beside the A12, looking straight up at Erno Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower, a building at the centre of a row between local residents and developers. Then all of a sudden it was time to proceed and the nerves kicked in.
At the east gate of ExCel, by a pelican crossing, we tumbled out of the van, pulling our lock on boxes with us. Immediately a policeman was beside me. I lay down and put my arm straight in the tube. It was suddenly very cold. The sky was blazing down into my eyes. I wished I’d brought sunglasses. But every time I moved the police medic and arresting officer would ask me if I was alright.
In no time at all they’d cut me out and had me handcuffed in a van. After my companion was cut out the two of us were taken to something I later discovered is called a ‘custody suite’, on a commercial estate in Barking.
Once in the cell, I waited a bit to feel scared and vulnerable, but no such feeling came so I laid down and had a snooze. I did let the adrenaline give me some lovely euphoric thoughts as I enjoyed the solitude and the quite soft blanket. I spent the time making up letters to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, asking him why he allows the arms fair to take place.
It is the most visible side of the $1.7 trillion dollar spent on the military globally. As the UK looks for deals outside the EU, because of Brexit, it will turn to the global arms trade, which is booming. But the arms trade itself fuels conflict. Where there is already instability, the arms trade rushes in to provide weapons and exacerbates violence.
For people of faith there is the moral justification for direct action, to prevent a great sin from happening, and to warn our brothers and sisters that we are committing a grave sin in allowing this trade to continue. Our own taxes go to subsidising the arms industry. Missiles made in this country are sold to Saudi Arabia, which is using the very same missiles to bomb Yemen. Our products are causing bloodshed, famine and disease for Yemeni civilians.
It was very hopeful to see the numbers of who had come to support the week of action, from Europe, Yorkshire, Scotland. On the ‘no faith in war’ day, according to some, the protest was five times as big as two years ago.
Later I found out that the #nofaithinwar day, which included 5 abseilers hanging from a bridge, had kept the protest going for 4 and a half hours. Altogether by the end of the week there were over 100 arrests. The set up of the fair was said to be 4 days behind schedule.
As I write this I have already been to court once, where the magistrate and the prosecution were taken unawares by the sheer numbers; 15 pleading not guilty to willful obstruction of the highway. We have to go to court again in a weeks time, for a further case management meeting.
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