by Non Frenguelli
During the first few weeks of September, the UK prepared for and hosted the world’s biggest arms fair in London, where countries all over the world were invited to attend and buy arms.
Thousands of people protested, camped, danced, sang, argued, blocked roads, locked themselves to the streets, clashed with police, were filmed, harassed, intimidated, and got arrested.
So why was all this happening?
The UK makes billions selling arms at this event (which happens every two years) to hundreds of countries, many of whom are oppressive, authoritarian regimes, and many of whom also commit serious human rights violations.
Of course, you can object to the selling of all arms in general (as most of the peace camp protestors do), but it is undeniable that the sale of arms to countries like Saudi Arabia (who is currently bombing Yemen and committing huge human rights violations against its own people) and Turkey (who is currently bombing Syria and Syrian Kurds) is particularly horrific.
And the UK is making a ton of money off it.
In fact, since March 2015, Britain has made £3.3bn selling arms to Saudi Arabia alone, 10 times more than it has given to Yemen in aid. The UK is making ridiculous amounts of money off the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people. And that’s what the peace campers were protesting.
So how were they protesting?
Well, there were a variety of protest methods – mainly blocking the roads to the arms fair to stop the arms actually getting into the building. And the best way of doing that is with lock-ons.
What’s a lock-on you ask?
Well – you take a metal tube and you wrap it in, say, barbed wire and housing insulation, duct tape some kitchen tiles to the insulation, maybe wrap it in some more barbed wire, perhaps tape an aerosol can to the device as well (if you’re feeling edgy), then put what you’ve made inside a suitcase or box, with holes in it so the hollow tube is still accessible.
Now you’ve got the goods, you need to take them to where they’re needed. For the anti-arms fair protestors, this was the roads leading to the expo where the arms were being delivered.
Very quickly (or the police will stop you) get into the middle of the road with a friend, lie down, put an arm through the box, and hold hands. The police can’t just pick you up and take you out of the road, because you’re connected to another person with a very heavy, potentially impenetrable device #sorrynotsorry.
And this is how, every day, several times a day, the peace protestors tried to stop the arms fair. If arms can be delivered to the expo where the roads are blocked by people, and if there’s no arms in the centre, no arms can be bought, and if the arms aren’t bought then they can’t be used to kill Palestinian children – smart, right?
Of course, the police will eventually succeed in moving you. But it will take hours. At the arms fair, lock-ons typically lasted several hours. But in other parts of the UK, lock-ons are lasting over 24 hours regularly. If you look at the anti-fracking protests at Preston New Road, even Labour councillors are joining in with the activities.
A disclaimer should be added here: if you do a lock-on you are going to jail. But not for very long (24 hours max). And when you’re arrested, all your fellow protestors will clap and cheer and thank you for your work towards the cause. Swings and roundabouts, right?
So that’s one way the protestors were trying to stop the arms fair.
There were lots of other road blocking methods. We danced in the roads, we sang in the roads, we marched in the roads, we sat in the roads, we held religious ceremonies in the roads (fun fact: it’s illegal to break up a religious ceremony, so the Quakers were very effective protestors here), and at one point we had a fitness routine going in the road. WERK.
Unfortunately, the arms fair still went ahead (it’s very hard to stop the government doing something when they’re making billions and billions of pounds off it) but we certainly caused a nuisance. And over 100 of us got arrested for our actions.
It’s pretty wild to think that the indiscriminate bombing of Syria is legal, but blocking roads isn’t.
The arms fair will happen again in two years time. Arms traders, arms buyers, world leaders, and military personnel will gather again to sell weapons of mass destruction to countries chemically bombing civilians, and the government will make a fat buck off it. The protestors will be there too, though. And we’ll be ready…