Protesting DSEI with the friend of a Friend

The Defence Sales Exhibition International (DSEI) opens today at the ExCeL exhibition centre in London Docklands.  DSEI, billed as a celebration of UK technology and ingenuity, is an arms fair where arms manufacturers proudly market weapons to unsavoury regimes.

Meeting for Worship in the road outside DSEI. Photo via CAAT and @DisarmQuaker (photographer not identified)

There are supposed to be limits – no export licences for sales to countries with a poor human rights record, for example – but in practice the controls are so weak that manufacturers get round them. In the most egregious current example, the UK sells to Saudi Arabia and those weapons are being used to kill people in Yemen, right now.

During the set-up phase last week and throughout this week, there are protests at the DSEI exhibition to draw attention to the immorality, cost and destructive power of the arms trade.

Local Quakers were among those who protested outside the DSEI last week. Judith Eversley spoke to one of them – Nick Francis of Bradford on Avon Quaker Meeting – at  the regular peace vigil held in Bath most Saturdays. Here are his answers to her questions:

Why did you and Diana go to the DSEI on Tuesday?

Last Tuesday was “No Faith in War” day when faith groups of all kinds met for a day of worship and nonviolent action against the arms trade.

What happened while you were there?

Paul Parker [BYM Recording Clerk] and I counted 200 Quakers at the Meeting for Worship held in the middle of the road. Among us were members of Friends House staff who had been given time off to attend, which we were glad about. After our one-hour Meeting for Worship, the next group was the Jewish Protest Bloc who held morning prayers and read from the Torah.

What about the police presence there?

The demo was heavily policed and – as is mostly the case in my experience – the police were polite, well-trained and willing to engage in conversation

Did anyone else from Bath go?

Another Bath Stop War supporter, Dave, came with us. As it happens he’s a confirmed atheist but he likes the company and he is very tolerant.  In fact someone at the protest asked him “Are you a Friend?” and he grinned and said “No, just a friend of a Friend”.

We saw that after the Meeting for Worship, some Friends were arrested when they lay down in the road to block lorries coming in at another entrance. Did you stay to get arrested?

We have done so in the past, but not this time. To be properly Quakerly candid: we needed to get home in time for our choir rehearsal. [Editor’s note: Nick and Diana are in Monkton Combe Choral Society which will be performing Schubert’s Mass in G Major on Sunday 10 December, at the school …]

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