A new street choir emerges...
Early September, not yet dawn. 10,000 dead in the Yemen, (drink and a blanket) 1 million homeless,(packed lunch, cake?)£3.3 million spent by Saudi Arabia since 2015 on British weapons, (remember the banner): we’re getting a coach, swaying through the lanes, hurtling down the M42, singing once we’ve passed Oxford, heading to the Excel Centre, where Britain will host its biennial International Arms Fair, (roll up, roll up, get your killer materials here, all welcome).Of course it is known (unknown) by a nice anonymous set of initials, DSEI, concealing the fact that billions of £££ of guns rockets tanks bombs and new ways to torture people are sold here to virtually anyone.
So here we are, 22 of us , mostly from a choir based in Presteigne in the Welsh borders, coming to support the blockading of deliveries before the trade begins. For some of us it is our first demo, for most of us it will be the first witnessing of ‘lock-ons’. We are not sure quite how this will work.
East London Dockland, windy, open, looking like an extended supermarket car park; we’re at the East Gate, police vans, high metal fences erected and a knot of yellow jackets guarding 3 people lying down across the road. Linked by their arms hidden inside steel tubes, blocks of concrete, glues, wires, suitcases-and locked on deep inside by carabiners, they are voluntarily making themselves vulnerable and POWERFUL at the same time. It is extremely impressive and effective.(Could I find the courage? ) One similar blockade has been dismantled here; deliveries have been halted at both gates.
It is 12 o’clock. We start singing:
“The war machine rolls on and on…,” “We are, we are together...”, “Better light a candle than curse the darkness…”
From behind the encircling yellow jackets comes the noise of hammers, chisels, drills. Occasionally we are moved away and shields are raised as they use angle-grinders to cut through the encasements( cannot imagine what that feels like, lying there so still; their will-power is amazing) It’s particularly moving to sing “I’m gonna lift my sister up, she is not heavy… if I don’t lift her up, I will fall down” They have been lying here for nearly 3 hours.
Our voices blend, separate, rise and fall; our energies combine. These blockaders are released, carried to vans; another blockade is forming further down the road. A man emerges from nearby flats with coffee and biscuits, comes back with tea, herb teas, enough for everyone.
We walk to the West Gate (15 minutes away, this place is huge. No! it’s called The Abu Dhabi Excel Centre!)
A small camp, pop-up café, windmills of all shapes and sizes and another blockade. We form a circle and sing our hearts out; held in another circle, joined by other singers, we could sing on and on.
But the tacograph means we must leave at 4. It’s a long way home.
A few days later, our minds still whirling with images, we have exchanged messages:
”Singing for our lives seems to be a very important thing to do”
“Uplifting despite grim purpose”
“Reawakened my conviction in the value of standing up tall against atrocities”
And messages from London that it had meant a lot that we had come from Wales, that the singing had raised spirits and boosted morale at a tired moment.
Here in the Borders we can feel a long way from ‘the action’; taking part in this protest reminded us all of our connections, our possibilities, of the power of song to deliver not only the message but the emotion- ‘we care about this’.. let’s sing on!
An edited version of this article appears in Peace News