The organisers of the DPRTE arms fair made the decision to move their event to the ‘high security’ Farnborough International Ltd. so that they could go about their ghastly business unimpeded. On the 28th March, we set about making sure that those in attendance received the iciest reception Rushmoor had to offer.
Setting off just before 7am, we carried the components of our peace camp up to the Queens Roundabout adjacent to the entrance to the exhibition centre – sighting more police vehicles en route than any of us had ever seen in Farnborough.
With the roundabout ringed with both banners and protestors, those headed to DPRTE were given an energetic greeting as they lingered in the early morning traffic. As our numbers continued to swell with friends from both the local community and as far afield as Bristol and Birmingham, so too did the approval of onlookers. Numerous passing drivers showed their support, with some interrupting their commute so as to join us on the roundabout – one lady stating that she never thought that she would see such a protest in Farnborough.
With most attendees of DPRTE now inside the building, it was time to move onto the second phase of our day of action. Empowered by the more experienced of those joining us in protest, we proceeded to march on Gate B – as close to the expo centre as the fence would allow us to get, and certainly within ear and eyeshot of those inside. This was in no small part aided by our friends from Stop the War and the PA system that they brought in tow. Speakers and singers took turns to criticise wars propagated by our own government and the governments we choose to sell weapons, and this was interspersed with song requests (the undeniable highlight being Vengaboys “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom”) broadcast at volume that some may have considered uncouth. This strategy seemed to be particularly successful, with reports coming from inside the expo centre that the external noise was interfering with internal proceedings.
Whilst the protest continued outside of Gate B, those remaining at the peace camp continued to welcome local residents who had come to show solidarity. Protestors found themselves joined by amongst others, representatives of myriad faith groups and prospective councillors for the Lib Dems, Labour and the Greens. Parliamentary hopeful Alan Hilliar even gave an interview in front of our Greater Rushmoor Against War (GRAW) banner. Far from fearing that our protest could be hijacked for personal political gain, we were humbled by the willingness of such diverse groups to cooperate for the common cause of opposing the immorality of an arms trade that ignores the atrocities it enables in the pursuit of profit.
Back at Gate B, Father Martin Newell took it upon himself to protest such atrocities with a moving piece of direct action – in fake blood daubing ‘YEMENI BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS’ across the Farnborough International sign. He was immediately arrested for this act, and charged with criminal damage. His inital court hearing is in Basingstoke on the 11th April, and we at GRAW will be joining him in solidarity at his hearing and trail on the 21st June. We invite you to do the same and will be posting details on our social media.
As a final action of the day, a team of us decamped to Farnborough Main station to catch those taking the shuttle bus from the expo centre one last time to bid them farewell and ask that they not come back to this town – at least not in this guise. Kudos to the Quakers who proceeded to hand fliers that invited those leaving the event to pursue other careers where their skills could benefit society, not destroy it.
We at GRAW are beyond grateful for the support we have received from the local community, let alone those who travelled from far further afield. Such a demonstration of solidarity from such a diverse array of individuals has been as educating as it has been empowering. Despite the event itself being conducted outside of public space, we succeeded in showing the organisers of DPRTE that we are serious about our opposition to Farnborough being a byword for the arms trade, and our opposition to the arms trade in general. No doubt, we will be even better prepared next time – whether that be the return of DPRTE ‘20 or the next Farnborough Air Show.
As told to us by those protesters who successfully chased this arms fair out of Bristol, the most important thing we can do at GRAW is keep this momentum going. We intend to do so – be it through our supporting of Father Martin at his trial in Basingstoke on the 21st April, our ongoing struggle to achieve representation on the Farnborough and Southern Aersospace Cluster or protesting DSEI later this year.
To find out more about our next meeting at 7pm on Sunday 14th April or to find out how you can support father Martin in court on the 21st June, please contact one of our Facebook or Twitter accounts.