Sunday, September 18, 2011

From Discipleship to Direct Action at DSEi Arms Fair ( #stopdsei )



Hattie Hogson (Right), joins Rev Chris Howson,
Lizzie Gawen (SPEAK network) and Georgie Hewitt(Manchester SCM)
(Photo by Chris Wood/SCM)
What does your faith challenge you to do? Last week, my twitter feed exploded with protest as the bi-annual arms jamboree landed in east london.  Highlights included the immortal tweet from Rev Chris Howson explaining  



AJustChurch
Briefly got to the entrance of DSEi by saying I had come to perform the official exorcism! Soon escorted by security to official vigil!
12/09/2011 19:16





Overall it was clear that Christians of all stripes were joining with people of no faith to make clear that people within the UK were not happy at this armed jamboree.


I thought it was time to look beyond fun stories and to find out what drove a young Methodist, Hattie  Hodgson, to use her whole being - both body and voice - to take non-violent action to challenge the arms fair....


"my main aim was to disrupt the fair as much as possible, in the hope that it would spur arms dealers and traders to think twice about the normality of their actions and trade"   Hattie
  • Could you tell us a wee bit about yourself...
I'm a student in Leeds studying Managing Performance, which is effectively arts management. I sit on the General Council of the Student Christian Movement. I also have a soft-spot for dancing, I can rarely keep my feet still!
  • ...and a wee bit about your faith
Well someone once asked if I was a 'Cradle Christian' and, although I have been attending church from a very young age, I had to say no. The story I have been told is that I turned around to my atheist parents aged about 8 and announced that I wanted to go to church and so I did! In recent times, I have become more denominational in my faith- recently becoming a member of the Methodist Church
A 'die in' outside the National Gallery,
which had a dinner for arms dealers occurring inside


  • I understand you spent some of last week in London, challenging an arms fair - what’s wrong with the arms fair?
It could be argued that the DSEi arms fair trades in death. It uses British tax payers’ money to normalise the sale of machinery that is designed to kill. There also seems to be little regard given to who arms are sold. This year the guest list included regimes such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia- regimes that have been known to use weapons against their own civilians. 


  • What did you do to highlight this?


Due to the distinct lack of press coverage the arms fair and resultant protests attract, I knew that our actions would have a relatively small media impact. Because of this, my main aim was to disrupt the fair as much as possible, in the hope that it would spur arms dealers and traders to think twice about the normality of their actions and trade. We went about this in many ways, from singing peace songs on the Docklands Light Railway, surrounded by arms dealers, to blockading the main road entrance for about 20 minutes, to handing out specially produced newspapers with messages of peace to those entering the fair. 



  • Have you had a chance to speak with those attending with the event to find out why they went to the fair - or indeed speak to those selling arms there to find out what they thought they were doing?


The contact we had with arms dealers was limited we did attempt to engage them in conversation they were not very willing to participate. However, the few people we did speak to seemed to be of the opinion that this was a necessary evil. I have experienced that people tend to focus on the positive effect the arms trade has on the UK economy as justification for its existence. 





I think it should be taken very seriously. The discovery of illegal cluster bombs being on sale at the arms fair is clearly a sign that, as much as they claim to be, the UK government is not enforcing UK law at the arms fair. When we bear in mind some of the regimes invited to do business there, there is an argument that this could lead to sale that are not only unethical, but also potentially extremely dangerous. 



  • Now to turn to you, how did you feel as you took part in the actions

Two gents front right are arms dealers,
being serenaded by protestors reading newspapers
I felt like what I was doing was very important. As I have already stated, if nothing else, I hoped our visible presence and actions would force arms dealers and traders to think twice about the normality of the trade they participate in. Obviously, there was a sense of nervousness as I began each action or blockade but the courage of the people around me affirmed the importance of what we were doing. 



"Obviously, there was a sense of nervousness as I began each action or blockade but the courage of the people around me affirmed the importance of what we were doing" Hattie

  • Had you taken part in anything like this before? 


This was really the first time I have felt the desire to participate in direct protest actions. Although I was in London when the decision on raising university tuition fees was made, my actions on that day mainly involved directly lobbying MPs in the Houses of Parliament and, luckily, I managed to avoid being kettled. I did not feel I could become more involved with the student fees demonstrations because I do not believe that violent direct actions, or those that adversely affect people not involved, are ever an acceptable form of protest. 



  • Did you faith play a role in taking part in this action, indeed did your Methodist background impact?


My faith was instrumental to my participation in the protests. Jesus is after all known as the Prince of Peace. As a young Christian trying to live out my faith, I felt that I could not stand by and let an event that so actively enables warfare be surrounded with such a sense of normality. One of the key messages of Methodism in the UK at the moment is the idea of discipleship. If I am truly attempting to be a disciple of Christ, then I feel called to oppose and disrupt activities that are so clearly opposing his message.

"If I am truly attempting to be a disciple of Christ, then I feel called to oppose and disrupt activities that are so clearly opposing his message" Hattie

  • Will you do it again - if so how can we join you? If not, what would you suggest?


I will most certainly be participating in direct actions again, although the next DSEi arms fair is not scheduled until 2013. In the meantime, I suggest that people who want to get involved in protesting the arms trade visit the Campaign Against the Arms Trade website at www.caat.org.uk. There are lots of different ways you can get involved, including a specific campaign to end arms industry involvement in universities and higher education- a campaign that the Student Christian Movement supports. 








  • Hear more voices of protest from the week on this video:

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