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London arms fair opens to protests, blockades and nonviolent disruption

Three people lie glued together in the road with police in front of them

London arms fair opens to protests, blockades and nonviolent disruption

The first day of London's DSEI arms fair yesterday was greeted by protests and disruptive nonviolence.

Several of the entrances to the arms fair at the Excel Centre in east London were periodically blocked by nonviolent campaigners, with one road at the western entrance to the centre blocked from morning until evening. Women lay in the road for up to seven hours to keep the entrance blocked despite pouring rain.

Meanwhile, in a dramatic moment inside the event, four Excel Centre workers staged a protest against the arms fair and the centre's decision to host it.

The protests and blockades on the first day of the arms fair followed several days of nonviolent direct action to disrupt the set-up of the fair over the last week.

The London arms fair – known euphemistically as Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) – is organised by the UK government and owned by Clarion Events. Taking place every second September, it is one of the world’s largest arms fairs, allowing representatives of regimes around the world to do business with arms companies.

The day before the arms fair began it was revealed that the UK government had invited at least six regimes that are also on the Foreign Office’s own list of countries of concern in human rights terms.

Hundreds of arms dealers queueing to enter the Excel Centre were greeted by the sight of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) holding a remembrance ceremony for victims of war and the arms trade.

Many of the arms dealers went quiet and looked embarrassed as PPU members read out the names of fifty people of many nationalities who had died in armed conflict in the last 20 years.

The PPU is one of many groups that make up the Stop the Arms Fair coalition, whose members organised a range of actions throughout the day, ranging from a walk through London to songs and dancing outside the arms fair to direct actions to disrupt the event.

Shortly before 10.00am, three women threw fake blood across the road at the west entrance to the venue before gluing themselves together and lying down in the road. Traffic binging arms dealers to the fair was immediately halted. Deliveries were diverted while arms dealers were obliged to get out of taxis and walk for the remainder of their journey to the fair, passing through crowds of protesters.

The three women lay glued together in the road for three hours, despite incessant rain that included several heavy downpours. Others spontaneously joined them in blocking the road.

I’m protesting because I can’t believe the arms fair is continuing in the middle of a pandemic,” said Alison, one of the three women, who is a member of the Peace Pledge Union. “And because so many countries that have human rights concerns have been invited to come and buy weapons.”

Several local residents came over to offer support to the protesters, while a few others jeered and one peaceful protester was hit by an egg thrown by someone several stories above the road. Police officers declined to investigate the egg thrower.

The road remained closed for the rest of the day, hosting songs, dances and talks staged by groups linked with the Stop the Arms Fair coalition, including the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and Veterans for Peace.

Messages were played and read out from peace activists in Yemen and Afghanistan, along with poetry from Yemeni-Scouse poet Amina Atiq. Speakers included fashion designer Vivienne Westwood.

Two students, Alicia Cash and Fanny Chintu, had been lying in the road for seven hours before they left as the arms fair finished for the day.

Alicia said that she wanted to make it “more difficult” for people to “make money from selling arms without guilt”. Despite the rain, she added, “However cold we are, it’s a lot better than warfare.”


Resistance to the arms fair will continue throughout the week. Find out more here!