Outside the Excel Centre, London, today. Image: CAAT

Today faith groups got together for a day non violent action against Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) in East London, one of the biggest arms fairs in the world. The biannual event will see thousands of arms companies’ representatives rubbing shoulders with military delegations from some of the most repressive regimes in the world.

At 10 o’clock this morning a line of HGV lorries backed up along Royal Albert Way, unable to enter the ExCeL Centre. After reading a ‘Litany of Resistance’, a group of people dashed into the road, stopping equipment that was en route to the DSEI arms fair from reaching its destination.

The blockade was part of a whole week of action in the run-up to the arms fair with the aim of disrupting its setup.

While the guest list for this year’s event has not been released yet, the invite list for DSEI in 2011 and 2013 sported an all-star cast of dictatorships and human rights abusers, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Libya. Six of the countries in attendance in 2013 were at war at the time, and nine were listed as among those with ‘the most serious wide-ranging human rights concerns’ in the UK Government’s own Human Rights and Democracy Report.

Arms companies in attendance will likely include BAE Systems, which has made fighter jets that are being used against Yemen, Israeli drone manufacturer Elbit Systems and Raytheon, which has been linked to the production of bombs used against the people of Gaza.

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Members of the London Catholic Workers took part in a funeral procession to remember the victims of conflict fueled by the arms trade and fake blood was spilled on the road.

Video footage shows more lorries being turned away throughout the day as activists blocked both entrances to the Excel Centre. One of the vehicles blocked appeared to be a Thales Bushmaster, which has been used in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Customers include the Indonesian special forces and Lybia is a potential customer.

Day one of the 2015 fair campaigners focused on the arming of Israel. Image: CAAT.

Each day of the week of action aims to highlight, through creative actions and protests, the cross-cutting impact of the arms trade. From targeting the UK’s complicity in arming Israel (Monday 7 September, above) to a conference about the militarisation of education (Thursday 10 September).

More and more campaigners are joining the dots between weapons sales, the government’s role in facilitating them and conflict and repression. Rather than just focusing on single issues, activists in different groups are starting to work together, strengthening the movement.

2014 Blockade at Excel Centre
Hundreds of people form a blockade at the gates of the 2014 arms fair at the Excel Centre. Image: CAAT

Tomorrow will focus on the link between military spending and climate change. While 130 civil servants work assiduously in the Business Department to promote arms exports, only 1 is employed to do the same for offshore wind. How could this be possible when we know that offshore wind alone could increase net exports of energy and equipment by around £20 billion a year by 2030?

At present, the UK has the sixth-largest military budget in the world and spending for Research & Development on arms is 25 times the amount on all renewable energy technologies combined. One wonders how such disparate levels of investment and arming repressive regimes will help us face the ‘global challenge of climate change’, which the Ministry of Defence itself defines as a ‘driver that is so pervasive in nature and influence that it will affect the life of everyone on the planet over the next 30 years’.

There’s much to learn from one of the slogans of the People’s Climate March: ‘To change everything, we need everyone’.

As conflict, repression and climate change are deeply interconnected with each other, the solutions also need to be interconnected and crowd-sourced from a variety of people and movements. The week of action is an opportunity for numerous and different groups to come together and collectively discuss the wider question about what kind of country we want Britain to be.

The choice is simple, you can either support human rights and a safer world for all or you can support arms sales, it is impossible to support both.

This update about the Week of action against the Arms Fair comes via Campaign Against the Arms Trade.