“I have a dream…”
I was rather excited to wake up this morning to the fifty year anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s speech; a true prophet of the 20th century. Half a century on and there is still a way to go for racial equal rights, not to mention equal rights for a whole host of other groups such as women and those who identify with the LGBTQ community. However, today there is an African-American President; amazing!
Though, I am reminded this week, also, in the preceding shadow of the DSEi (Defense and Security Event) arms fair that surely we could never hope to be prophets like King?
The hero Mark steel writes (summarised).
A few activists could never hope to start a mass movement which might change the course of the big corporate machines of this world.
Boycotting certain goods surely only serves to ease the personal conscience of the activist as the profits of Nike, Esso etc. could never be hit hard enough to force change.
Buying shares in Tesco in order to attend shareholders meetings and ask board members embarrassing questions is certainly fun and worth a giggle, but that’s all it will ever be.
Certainly those who chain themselves to the Docklands Light Railway, in order to stop arms dealers from getting from their hotels to the arms fair, have to be admired for their audacity. However, the arms fair will happen regardless.
Then there are the members of the international Solidarity Movement (ISM) who went to Palestine to sit in hospitals and schools, the idea being that the Israelis were less likely to fire if these places were occupied by a handful of crusties from Surrey listening to Orbital on an iPod.
Helen Steel and Dave Morris distributed a pamphlet pointing out how McDonald’s were responsible for pollution, cruelty to animals and serving food that was full of chemicals; such an insignificant gesture.
Except, McDonald’s weren’t so blasé. Instead they took the pair to court and embroiled them in a now celebrated legal battle that caused an apparently invincible corporate symbol immense international embarrassment, marking the company as a particularly repugnant example of globalisation and, in turn, forcing them on the defensive.
The same can also be said of the far more ruthless arms industry. As a result of similar campaigning they have been put on the back foot. In Britain they have to maintain that they’re honorable arms dealers and would never knowingly sell laser-guided missiles that incinerate their target on impact to anyone who might use them to do harm. When, for example, Britain sold tanks to the Indonesian army, anyone concerned were assured that they were to be used for peaceful purposes. Maybe the army there spends most of its time making giant pies for the hungry villagers and the tanks are the only things that can roll that amount of pastry.
The company EDO MBM make guidance systems for the F16 bombers used by the Israeli airforce to drop bombs on the occupied Palestinian territories. But in 2006 a campaign of weekly protests outside the factory in Brighton caused the company sufficient embarrassment that they took out an injunction against the protesters. However, the protests intensified, the court case brought by the company collapsed, and the plant recorded a loss of £2million which it blamed on ‘legal costs’, resulting in the managing director getting the sack.
Reed-Elsevier, the company that staged the annual London Arms Fair (it sounds so innocent), announced in June 2007 they were abandoning this line of business because ‘it is becoming increasingly clear that a growing number of important customers have very real concerns about our involvement in the defense exhibitions business.’
What caused them to back down? Maybe it was the protests or the countless letters and complaints. It might have been the student at Loughborough University who won a £2,000 literary prize, but discovered the award was sponsored by BAE Systems, so denounced them in his acceptance speech and sent the money the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.
In Palestine, the Israeli army did refrain from firing indiscriminately in areas where the (ISM) were based.
In all these cases the activists had been able to impose themselves only because there was a wider movement and an international groundswell of opinion in their favour. The mass of the confused, with their distaste for the values of our times, applauds the activists, the leafleteers, the splendidly eccentric peace protester covered in badges. Local communities write letters backing them, they’re voted heroes on local radio and TV polls and juries refuse to convict them. But without their wonderfully eccentric and imaginative actions, the humiliations inflicted and the retreats forced on these powerful bodies wouldn’t have happened.
There are limitations to these victories. The arms dealers won’t be decisively put out of business by a direct action stunt. But in a small way they’ve been forced, by people some would dismiss, to check back from the unbridled drive for profit to take account of the requirements of human beings. (Mark Steel: ‘What’s Going On? P110-114)