Dacorum Green Party at Stop The Arms Fair

10 September 2017

Members of Dacorum Green Party were in attendance at the Stop the Arms Fair demonstration outside the ExCeL Centre over the week 4-11th September. The following article was provided by Leslie Tate.


Four young people were lying in the road, ‘locked on’ as partners. One pair had an arm each buried in a connecting steel tube, the other pair were linked by a large grey suitcase. Their ‘locked on’ arms, disappearing into solid blocks, looked like they’d been amputated.

It was eight thirty in the morning outside the ExCel Centre, E. London. The ‘locked on’ couples were blocking the dual carriageway to the London Arms Fair. A queue of lorries and vans delivering weapons and display materials was backed up beyond the approach bridge. It was windy and overcast but the protesters were jubilant and the police had given up threatening to arrest anyone who stood in the road.

The woman on the ground by the central island was twisting side to side. She wasn’t finding it easy. All four protesters had cushions under them, but lying there required the mental strength to be surrounded by a wall of police with the certainty of a cutting-out process and arrest to follow. The locked on couples were as exposed as patients in a dentist’s chair, and only too well aware of their own helplessness.

The woman on the ground had a ‘health and welfare’ colleague crouched by her, offering water, and a legal observer watching the police, while the other protesters were singing and calling slogans. It was stirring, uplifting but edgy. Unlike medicine there was no sedation and when the cutting out team arrived – large men all dressed in black – the serious operation began.

It takes courage to lie flat on your back blocking large lorries. It also requires mind-control to stay calm while notes are taken and you’re warned of arrest. It needs the kind of detached self-abandonment that stunt people practise. It’s an act of imagination, visualising the children who will be killed by these weapons, and putting principle before safety. So it’s about generosity, and driven by conviction. Most of all, it’s unselfish and defiantly meditative. The trick is to give up control, look the other way, or see the dark humour in it.

The cutting out team, like the police, saw it as a job. If they’d stopped for a moment they would have recognised that the protesters were driven by the same impulse as them – the desire to protect victims and stop crime – but they chose the instrumental approach, using their technical skills to get a result. For them, morality didn’t come into it.

For the woman on the ground the cutting out process was a testing experience. Surrounded by black-clad men with power tools, and masked like them to protect from flying particles, she was wincing, partly in anticipation and partly in pain. To break through several layers of impacted material took a long time. Tearing and prising the suitcase apart was difficult and although the men in black handled it with precision, it was jarring and humiliating.

Afterwards, the woman passed from one captivity to another. She was handcuffed, charged and taken to a vehicle. The crowd applauded and cheered her all the way, then the police resumed their activities, threatening arrest, clearing the road and some vehicles passed through.

In the downtime that followed there were performances and speeches, people made craft models, sewed cloth, planted miniature windfarms, chatted or wrapped up against the cold. Despite news of two more lock ons at the other gate, a trickle of traffic passed through largely unopposed. No one wanted to be arrested. Then suddenly, when the heart seemed to have gone out of the protest, a big lorry arrived and a group holding a blue silk banner stepped out. Several other protesters joined them and began to retreat towards the ExCel gate in front of the lorry, chased at a walk-run by the police.

It lasted a few minutes. The lorry went through. But when the police turned around they discovered their mistake. There, lying in the middle of the road, were a couple of young locked on women with a suitcase between them. The decoy action had worked and the road was blocked again.

Leslie Tate

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