HEREFORDSHIRE DEFENCE and SECURITY EXPO
Doing it our way
Summoned by conscience, concerned members of the public from various walks of life decided to act together to protest the Defence and Security Expo held at The Courtyard Theatre, Hereford, on the first of February 2017.
The Herefordshire Defence and Security Expo was the first of its kind to be hosted in the county. Organised by Skylon Park, Harrison Clark Rickerbys solicitors, and the University of Wolverhampton, the expo was a forum where Herefordshire businesses in the defence and security sector would receive national exposure. Attendees included members of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Department for International Trade (DIT), and businesses related to defence such as leading arms companies QinetiQ and Ultra Electronics.
The ad hoc group of protesters planned a multi-dimensional response that would voice their concerns with the strength of their convictions but in a manner that was respectful and peaceful. First, messages of peace were written in chalk on the pavements in front of The Courtyard Theatre to greet the exhibitors and attendees to the expo as they arrived early on the morning.
Then a group of about 15 including a few with placards gathered in front of the theatre. Positioning themselves beside a reconnaissance vehicle called the Jackal, the demonstrators chanted and called slogans which stressed their support of The Courtyard as an arts and entertainment venue but protested the Herefordshire Defence and Security Expo being held there. Protestors then held a silent vigil before departing.
At midday, a potted peace lily plant was delivered to each of the exhibitors, sponsors, and The Courtyard Theatre as a gesture of goodwill.
“A PEACE LILY … ARMED WITH LOVE”
Each plant had a message of peace inside the card.
‘Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness: and
Bearing one with another, and forgiving one another,
And not laying accusations one against another; but
Accepting one another and helping one another up
With a tender hand.’(essence) Isaac Penington 1667
‘Peace is not the absence of conflict. It is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.’ Martin Luther King jr.
The delivery had been pre-arranged with a local florist so protesters could remain a respectful distance from the venue.
A number of supporters had made phone calls and wrote emails to express their concern before the event. Others researched the speakers, exhibitors, and sponsors and shared their information. This work continues.
Further plans are to ascertain if The Courtyard Theatre is planning to host another such expo. The other initiative is to open a dialogue with interested parties to clarify the phrase ‘defence and security’ so there is a working definition of the term and a common understanding.
The development of a common definition is vital. For example, an armoured vehicle called the Jackal was on display in the forecourt of the expo. Kat Hobbs of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) says the Jackal is usually mounted with machine guns or rocket launchers and is used to protect convoys of invading troops. So whether the Jackal is a defensive or offensive vehicle becomes blurred – for some. The question of where our nation’s defence ends and actions become aggression deserves national attention.
The protestors were supported by people from around the area including Ledbury, Ludlow and Abergavenny. This clearly demonstrates that The Courtyard is an important regional arts and entertainment venue. Following a debriefing meeting, the demonstrators agreed that their support of The Courtyard Theatre will continue by enjoying the entertainment it has to offer. Suspending their patronage would reduce the theatre’s revenue and exacerbate financial concerns that may induce it to host such lucrative events.
Organisers of the demonstration concluded that the protest was a success. Considerable media attention increased public awareness that the Defence and Security Expo was being held at The Courtyard and raised the question of its appropriateness. But more importantly, protestors voiced their concerns in a peaceful and respectful manner. For although the protestors did not represent a single group, they all agreed with Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. “We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.”