Could you take a seat for the next generation?

Our Peaceworker, Jen Harrison, writes about attending the DSEI arms fair and how arms companies target young people as future employees and supporters.

I stood on the edge; unsure what I saw before me. I should feel more at home, I support what they are doing, but yet I am circling the edges with my camera. Allowing me to be there while simultaneously detached. Groups of young and old chatting and eating like I am at a quaint English fair in the height of summer, not part of a blockade at the east gate at the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair.

Yet, here I am, in a surreal picnic with a police guard of honour, blocking the entrance to the roundabout heading towards the Excel Centre in East London. DSEI, one of the world’s largest arms fairs takes place every two years in the London Borough of Newham.  The ‘fair’ expected to welcome 34,000 attendees this year, with 84 countries represented.

More people now start gathering on the road, on the pavements and on the grass verges. Getting set for the second Quaker meeting for worship of the day. I am still circling, but this time with purpose with a camera at the ready, now at ease. The silence slowly fell and stillness followed, only disturbed by trains running past over head and police radios.

The question I keep asking, could I do it, could I sit down with them. I should be able to, it’s the simplest act, this is my type of action, quiet defiance surrounded by equally determined people, who all want to show that this arms fair enables so much pain across the world.  Arms fair delegates are from companies and organisations who are well respected and are part of the establishment in the UK and, in some cases, are the establishment.

This needs to be examined by all of us – not just those who choose to show their defiance by action – as this affects all of us in the UK. These companies’ influence is felt in every corner of British society.


Including in the education system. Glasgow University might have declared a climate emergency but according to the Sam Doak of the Glasgow Guardian, as of June 2019 Glasgow University has still invested £3,110,663 with arms companies and military services providers, including Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and General Electric.

Our youngest children are not immune from the influence of the arms companies. MBDA and the University of Hertfordshire partner together for the Primary Engineer and Secondary Engineer Leaders Awards, this aims to get children engaged in engineering. The arm company Thales, have also created a wonderful pair of robots Raybot & Faybo, for early years education and science.

A deputy director of the Department of Education spoke on a DSEI panel called ‘Early Years to Early Career’; the latest example of the cross-over between recruiting and education.

And this is seen as perfectly normal. Because the UK Government seemingly supports these companies. Why else would the Deputy Director of the STEM and Digital Skills Unit for the Department for Education, speak on a panel on ‘Early years to Early careers’ at DSEI this year. Our children may not be the human beings being killed, tortured or maimed by these weapons but they are the ones who could be building and designing the next generation, to kill the next generation.  By having fun through games, they are systematically being indoctrinated by these companies. One day it could seem perfectly normal for these young people to join these companies without any critical questioning. Then the cycle will continue. It is an excellent long term business plan, introduce yourselves through education system, through fun and by promoting the idea of career proofing young people, as STEM is the future.

Back in the middle of the road, a never ending stream of police officers came from the left hand side, as if they were being printed, to join their colleagues at the roundabout. A couple of officers steadily walked through the Quaker Meeting, informing people, very politely, that if they did not move off the road, in 15 minutes they would be arrested. Despite the warning many did not move and stood their ground. All the while being applauded by their supporters, to the sound of singing by the people lining the road.


The arms fair is a terrible institutionalised militarist exercise that puts profits above any form of life on this planet.  One which is increasing integrating children into their business model.

The question is, would I be able to to sit down alongside them on the road? Would you be able to?

See more: human rights, military in schools/colleges, arms trade