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11 ways to support the arms fair protesters

Ellis Brooks suggests 11 ways to support those who took part in the week of action to stop DSEI – the world's largest arms fair, held in London.

Quakers in a police van on the 'No Faith in War' day of action. Photo: Ellis Brooks
Quakers in a police van on the 'No Faith in War' day of action. Photo: Ellis Brooks

The Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) event, despite its sanitised title, is actually the world's largest arms fair. The recent week of action to stop it happening saw many inspiring acts of witness.

Quakers of all ages took part in peaceful direct action to disrupt the set-up of the event and to raise awareness of the arms trade and its impact on people around the world. I was filled with hope as they 'locked-on', abseiled and met for worship in the path of lorries loaded with weapons.

They joined hundreds of people from across the peace movement in protest and maintaining a daily presence. It made a difference: as the arms fair began we heard that the preparations for it had been heavily disrupted.

So far over 100 people have been arrested and charged, at least 9 of them Quakers. If you're wondering what you can do to support them, here's 11 ideas:

1. Sign the petition

Add your support to the public petition against the arms fair. Leaving a personal message in opposition to the arms fair helps to build a picture of widespread support.

2. Uphold those protesting and their forms of action in your meeting for worship

Advices & queries challenges us to "uphold those who are acting under concern, even if their way is not yours." It also advises:

"Respect the laws of the state but let your first loyalty be to God's purposes. If you feel impelled by strong conviction to break the law, search your conscience deeply. Ask your meeting for the prayerful support which will give you strength as a right way becomes clear."

Once names of those charged are publicly available, you could name those involved and provide them with the prayerful support of the meeting.

In October the names of Friends who were arrested and charged at the arms fair protests will be recorded by Meeting for Sufferings, the national representative decision-making body for British Quakers. Meeting for Sufferings records all Quakers arrested for faith-led action in the Court and Prison Register, in records going back to the 1650s. Minutes from Meeting for Sufferings are made available to all Quaker meetings and you can share these names in meeting.

3. Be vocal online

With little coverage in traditional media, raising awareness online is vital. It's crucial to go 'beyond the bubble' and reach people who would not normally talk about the arms trade, or protests against it. For example, a Mail Online article led to many discussions about DSEI and the demonstrations to stop it.

4. Raise your concerns about the arms trade in local media

There hasn't been a lot of coverage in mainstream media about the arms fair, or the protests against it. You could help raise awareness by writing to your local paper or calling in to your local radio station in support of the actions, particularly if local people were involved. If the arms trade is active in your local area could you raise awareness of this?

If a group of you went to the DSEI demonstrations together, whether from your meeting or another local group, make sure you send out a press release to your local newspaper and radio station. Use our guide for reaching the media (pdf) to help write your press release.

5. Write to your MP

Let your MP know about your opposition to the arms trade. Even if they don't agree with you completely, many MPs support ending the trade in arms to countries with poor human rights records. Asking for their support in opposition to the arms trade lets them know where some of their constituents stand.

6. Support during the trial

Trials are stressful, time-consuming and expensive. Perhaps as a meeting you could think about what kind of practical support and solidarity you could show as people go through the process. Keep an eye out on our social media for particular requests or initiatives. Let us know if there's anything you'd like us to share.

If you're based in London, could you offer accommodation to defendants or their families during the trial? Wandsworth Quakers are starting to coordinate this – we'll post links to this once there's more information.

7. Hold a public event or set up a street stall

Including information about DSEI in awareness-raising events, such as public meetings or street stalls, can be helpful. You could also hold a candlelit vigil to remember victims of the arms trade. Remember to reach out to all local faith groups in addition to churches or interfaith forums. You could hold an interfaith service for peace.

Have a look at the toolkit for action for further suggestions.

8. Start a discussion group

Could you start a discussion group about the arms trade? Groups such as Campaign Against Arms Trade, Amnesty International, or Quaker Peace & Social Witness, often have people who could come to give a presentation. As well as discussing the impact of the arms trade you could start having conversations about how we rethink our approach to peace and security.

9. Provide or signpost emotional support

Involvement in social change activism can be an emotional rollercoaster. Can you help someone reflect on their action? A cup of tea and a listening ear can help people feel supported. Remember though that you won't always be the best person and some may need specialist support; you could signpost people to the appropriate places.

10. Get involved with your local CAAT group

Local chapters of Campaign Against Arms Trade bring people together to take action locally, from visiting an MP to running awareness-raising events. To get involved, find a nearby CAAT group. If there isn't one, you could start a CAAT group in your local area.

11. Become a legal observer

Actions like stop the arms fair always need legal observers. They provide basic legal guidance and act as independent witnesses at protests. Find out more about being a legal observer.

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