Friends took protested against the DSEI arms fair as part of the ‘No Faith in War’ day
Hundreds of Quakers were interrupted by police officers at a Meeting for Worship (MfW) last week during their witness against one of the world’s largest arms fairs. The MfW in London’s Docklands was part of the No Faith in War day of peaceful protest against Defence Security and Equipment International (DSEI), which runs from 10 to 13 September. As around 700 people of faith were kneeling, standing or sitting and blocking lorries from reaching the ExCeL Centre on 3 September to set the fair up, a senior police officer broke the stillness of the Worship and ordered them to move. According to Roots of Resistance (RoR), which mobilised Friends, around forty people were arrested on Tuesday and protesters shut down the road for approximately nine hours. Overall around 116 people were arrested during the Stop DSEI week.
Oliver Robertson, head of witness and worship for Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM), said: ‘As part of our witness to peace, we held MfW on the road leading to the arms fair venue. This was interrupted by a police announcement that we would be arrested if we did not move out of the road. Quakers spoke to police officers, including the inspector in charge, explaining that this was not just “quiet time” but a holy gathering. Police should behave the same way they would during a Catholic Mass or Muslim prayers towards Mecca. To their credit, the inspector apologised for this and offered to take that as a learning point for the future.’
Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), however, criticised the police for overall being ‘very heavy-handed’ and ‘arrest-happy’. He said: ‘It is shameful that they are arresting so many people for peacefully campaigning against an arms fair that is fuelling destruction and repression around the world.’
Lincolnshire Friend Mark Smith tweeted: ‘What a fantastic and fulfilling day gathering with 100s of Quakers. The highlight for me was the police interrupting our MfW to say, if we don’t leave the road we would be arrested, and we all simply carried on with the Meeting.’
Gwyneth Weir, from Swindon Meeting, said: ‘MfW outside in the open air is something else.’
Quaker Sam Walton tweeted that the worship was: ‘Very big… outside of a Yearly Meeting, I have never in thirty-three years of being a Quaker seen a Meeting this big.’
The No Faith in War day was organised by the Stop the Arms Fair campaign as part of the ‘Stop DSEI’ week. Hundreds of Quakers travelled from all over the UK to take part, including ‘eight protestors from Doncaster Meeting, a dog called Dylan, and a legal observer’, according to Doncaster Friend Alan Robinson. Seven came from Swindon Meeting ‘to support the rest of the Meeting’. Quaker Elspeth Wollen told the Friend: ‘The Roots of Resistance day was mentioned in ministry in the 1 September MfW, where Friends emphasised the need to act out of faith and love, not anger, when we meet people and disagree.’
The week started peacefully with a briefing session on 2 September where, in the afternoon, Friends House was filled with the sound of Quakers singing protest songs such as ‘We Shall Overcome’.
Vicky Daborn Tedder, from Westminster Meeting, said she was there because ‘it is morally wrong the amount of money the UK makes out of warfare and how much innocent civilians pay for what goes on in the fair’.
Further videos are available on The Friend’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4rSYK65oBhjRC5a_y5F1JQ
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