We met Andrew Dey from War Resisters’ International during one of their actions: they protested the London Arms Fair by blocking the import roads for the military equipment with the Stop The Arms Fair organisation. In a peaceful way they barricaded the entrances, chained themselves to trucks and had a party in the middle of the road under the watchful eye of police. They even had clowns. Andrew talks about their mission, his own activism and how to stay hopeful as a small organisation that takes on the big bullies of the field.
“War is a crime against humanity. I am therefore determined not to support any kind of war, and to strive for the removal of all causes of war.”
“In War Resisters’ International pacifist and anti-military organisations come together. In this network, they come together and support each other in each other’s work. We have all kinds of affiliations (over 90) that are part of our network in about 40 countries. They all do different things, but they share a common anti-war sentiment. We were founded in 1921 and ever since they’ve been using the same declaration: “War is a crime against humanity. I am therefore determined not to support any kind of war, and to strive for the removal of all causes of war.”
For me, it all started when I went to university and really got into politics. These were the roots of my activism. I remember deciding to go to really big actions like today. My first one was in a place called Aldermaston, which is where the UK built its nuclear bombs. It seemed very obvious to me that what they were doing was not right. There was a group called Trident Ploughshares, who later became one of our first affiliates and who organise big public blocks of these kinds of spaces. I went with them and joined their protests. There I started to talk to people and ended up regularly going to these kinds of actions and that where it all started for me. In War Resisters’ International I work in the Nonviolence Programme and create resources and training on nonviolent social change, with a particular focus on challenging war profiteers.
“If you believe people are basically evil, you end up in a militarised society.”
Even though the word anti-militarism implies it’s defined as an anti of something, so as the absence of something, but actually these things are also full of values such as peace, justice, human rights, self-respect, respect for others. These values are very hopeful and it’s where I find hope in my work. They imply you believe that people are basically good. If you believe people are basically evil, you end up in a militarised society. If you believe that everyone is bad, wants to hurt you and take everything you have, you believe everyone is a threat. That is what militarism is. I strongly don’t believe in this.
I remember having a conversation with a much more experienced activist and her discourse was all about the idea of doing the exact action, but one time it is violent and the other time it’s non-violent and it all depends on where it’s coming from. I try not to be naïve and I want our actions to be effective, direct, deliberate and very forceful. We have to push hard and fast, and try not to be hippie and float around. But I believe you can do all these things peacefully at the same time and that’s when it’s at its best.
“Violence has to be replaced by silliness and fun.”
Sometimes you feel like you’re too small to change anything and you’ll never be effective. It sometimes feels difficult not to be discouraged. But I’ve been in this campaign against arms trade around six years and I see protests grow every single time. We try and show how the world would be like without arms and the arms fair. Violence has to be replaced by silliness and fun. Our actions always tell this. Effective campaigning is finding the weak link, finding the thing that they can’t change and that they can’t defend. You do need enough small people to crush the weak link in the big chain. Like now, when you have tanks and other military equipment not going in and with every delay, there is someone out there thinking: there’s another way of doing this. We could have an alternative. Right now, the arms fair is just normal for people, it’s business. We’re trying to fracture the mindset that it’s okay, that the arms trade is normal. It brings awareness. The arms trade usually happens below the surface. It’s not something we see happening, it’s not even reported on the news. Doing these kind of actions it brings it into the light and makes people aware how many countries and business from all over the world are actually here and selling each other weapons. Press coverage and social media are very important in this. Stopping it isn’t a matter of doing it right here, right now, because that would be impossible. It’s gradually changing the mindset that it’s normal, and then, when it becomes abnormal, it won’t happen anymore.
“Hope is when you find people who are willing to spread this awareness and take those risks of speaking up. […] Their fight must mean something.”
It’s not only important to change the mindset of the broader public, but also of people within the system. There are so many people just doing their job, which is a tiny piece of a process they may not see. Just like the drivers of the trucks today didn’t know there was an arms fair going on and they were bringing weapons to be sold to Saudi-Arabia, who may then even sell it to ISIS. We also want to let them know what it is they’re working on. Hope is when you find people who are willing to spread this awareness and take those risks of speaking up. It’s a huge difference between us who come here on a Saturday afternoon and people who are putting their jobs at stake. They believe in the cause and are willing to take that risk and that is the most hopeful of all. Their fight must mean something.”
Interview and photos by LABO vzw
Photos from the Stop The Arms Fair in London September 2017