the Disillusioned kid: Getting Dicey
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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Getting Dicey

DSEi (colloquially known as "Dicey") proclaims itself to be "the world's largest international tri-service defence exhibition" and promises on its website that participants will be able to "see first-hand the latest land, air and sea capabilities of 1000+ defence & military aerospace companies from 26 countries" and "exchange experiences and knowledge". The event takes place every two years and since 1999 has been held in the ExCel Centre in London Docklands. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the event has attracted considerable criticism from activists who point to the role the arms trade plays in fueling conflicts, often perpetuating poverty in the process. The fact that representatives of some of the world's worst human rights abusers get invited along (China was there in 2002, for instance) doesn't go down well either. As such, the event has been the target of protests, much to the chagrin of the Old Bill who object to the cost and diversion of resources that policing the event entails. While the fair itself doesn't begin until Tuesday, protests are already underway and (some of you may have guessed where this is going already) I've already gone along to have my say.

I took part in the protests against the event in 2003, participating in what was supposed to have been a Reclaim the Streets party, but which in practice had consisted of little more than some walking and a lot of standing around looking at police officers. Yesterday's event was also billed as a street party and being something of a glutton for punishment (and more to the point, unable to make any of the events next week) I decided to saunter along and do my bit for the cause of global peace and partying.

The party was supposed to start at 1pm, but the combination of activist timekeeping and (apparently genuine) engineering work on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) meant that this was never going to happen. Instead a group of us formed outside the Royal Albert DLR station and enjoyed the pleasant weather. Various activist-types moved through the crowd (such as it was) distributing flyers about this and that campaign and a row of police stood guard over us, presumably in order to ensure we weren't attacked by irate arms dealers.

After a while we moved of to a nearby recreation ground where we found a sound system. The description on the Indymedia Timeline of this as a "bit surreal, police, horses and goalposts" pretty much sums up how me and the friend I was there with viewed the situation. Watching a police officer and a clown debate who was more of a cliche only deepened this feeling. We waited there for a while and gradually our numbers grew as more people arrived. While there were a number of faces I recognised, there wasn't anybody I really knew, which was a disappointment. The food which was distributed wasn't half-bad though.

After a while (the Indymedia Timeline suggests it was about 40 minutes, but I wonder if it wasn't longer), we decided to move off and formed up on the road. The police seemed happy for us to march along the pavement which we proceeded to do, accompanied by a smaba band, cyclists and a sizeable police escort (possibly on a 1:1 ration with ourselves). We walked for quite sometime, moving through a residential area and attracting the attention of many locals who seemed amused by our presence. Children seemed particularly fascinated. The cycle powered sound system was used to explain what we were doing and why to locals, although I can't help feeling that a denunciation of the "consensus reality" might well have been lost on many of the spectators.

I'm not really sure what route we took, but we eventually ended up outside Custom House DLR (which serves the ExCel Centre) which was protected by a phalanx of TSG (Territorial Support Group, riot cops, read: thugs in uniform), although they weren't kitted up. Our progress was slow and seemed to involve various inexplicable pauses, particularly irritating when it started to piss it down. We didn't spend all that long outside Custom House and carried on, apparently heading towards the convergence centre. At one point we walked past a house where a child was celebrating his birthday and proceeded to serenade him and his friends with a burst of "Happy Birthday" (particulalrly amusing given that nobody had though to ask his name before we began).

As we went on we began to find ourselves increasingly in disagreement with our escorts over the route we were to take. The police obviously wanted to minimise disruption and get us back to the centre ASAP, we weren't all that keen on playing ball. Things got interesting when we got to the dual carriageway near Canning Town Station. The sound system and other cyclists went round the roundabout a few times, with Limp Bizkit's "Rollin'" and System of a Down's "BYOB" blaring out. While that was happening, those of us on foot followed the pavement which ran parallel to the dual carriageway. As the cyclists and police followed us the road cleared and we all stepped off the pavement into the road itself. At this point police sirens started up and groups of police started running. This started us running and before you knew it we were all racing to get to the other end. The police tried to block our path, but I was moving sufficiently quickly to get through before they had formed an effective line. Most of the others weren't so lucky.

For some imexplicable reason the police decided that they wanted to pen people in and manhandled a number of the other people who had got through into the main crowd. Those trying to get over a low fence onto the side I was on were also forced back. They left me along, although I'm not sure why (perhaps because I "look innocent," as one of the cops in Scotland told me). I noticed that one protester was being held down on a central reservation by three or four cops. Friends and a legal observer who tried to see what was going on were forced back onto the pavement. Eventually he was brought over and searched. After being held in one van for a while he was moved into another and driven off.

Eventually the police decided to let the group they had been penning in go and we made our way towards the convergence centre. A brief attempt to get a game of catch going ended when it became obvious that we would very quickly end up losing the ball in the road (which the police were insistent we not step on; their concern for our wellbeing heartwarming as ever). When we arrived at the centre, which seemed to be a squatted community centre. We were greeted by police evidence gatherers who proceeded to snap away while we stood around outside. Having decided I'd done my bit I headed off at this point, although nothing much else appears to have happened after I left.

I heard a number of police moaning about the fact that they still had another week of this and indeed they do. There's a whole week of activity, actions and events to protest the fair. I'm not going to be able to get along to any of the other events, but hopefully others will and hopefully people will start to take notice.

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