Posted on 19 December 2020
On the morning of 3 September 2019, I boarded a train bound to London for No Faith in War day.
Two hours later, I had left the train and was walking down an East London road when the dazzling sight of hundreds of Quakers greeted me.
It was impossible for anyone to not know who they were.
There were Friends’ banners everywhere being held up or attached to the street railings, and many Friends were wearing blue or pink ‘Quakers for Peace’ T-shirts. Copies of Faith and Practice could clearly be seen and favourite Quaker quotations appeared all the place.
And the place was a private access supply road to the DSEI arms fair. Along with other faith groups Friends were ‘occupying’ part of the road in peaceful protest for No Faith in War day.
For someone who has only gathered regularly with 10-20 Friends in Lincolnshire, witnessing such a presence of Quakers outwardly displaying their faith in action felt slightly surreal but also overflowing with spirit.
Before I’d even said a few hellos, I was taking part in interfaith prayers and briefly joined in with some Buddhist chanting. Friendship and solidarity flowed between the faiths and I found a spiritual ‘connectedness’ when I was chatting about peace and love to Sister Katrina and the Catholic Sisters of St Joseph of Peace.
At 2pm, there was a Quaker Meeting for Worship and every person, regardless of faith participated. Seeing so many people centre-down and experience the stillness of meeting was humbling.
The Spirit descended and was distilled by all in attendance. Several people gave ministry, whether in spoken voice or song, and part of the Quaker Peace Testimony was read out.
It was during this Meeting for Worship that the police, who until now had been nothing more than passive observers, interrupted to announce that if we didn’t stop occupying the access road then we would all be arrested.
In terms of their numbers, it was nothing more than a statement of power by the police. There were around a 1,000 protesters and an estimated 200-300 officers. The size of the police force was purposely designed to intimidate and project authority.
With non-violent resistance, we listened but rejected their wishes and carried on with the meeting. As a result police reinforcements quickly appeared and marched into the road with orders to break up the meeting and clear the road.
Those who didn’t want to be arrested, which included me, moved onto a grass verge by the side of the road that had been designated by the police as a safe place to protest.
Several police officers stepped in among those who remained in the road and the arrests began. Those of us on the verge sang the following as a recurring chant:
As each Friend was arrested we called out to them and sang even louder. It felt like everyone was holding everyone else in the light. The arrests continued until 9pm.
But I had left by then, travelling back home to Grantham. Sitting on the train, I had my eyes closed and was singing to myself “dear Friends, dear Friends – let me tell you how I feel, you have given me such treasure, I love you so”.
Campaign Against the Arms Trade – No Faith in War
Image from Roots of Resistance and Sister Katrina