Conference at the Gates 2015

Conference at the Gates 2015 took place on Thursday 10 September, 9.30am-5.30pm, at the Eastern Roundabout, ExCel Centre

The event had around 100 participants throughout the day, consisting of both individual activists, academics, and activist groups. Speakers included, for example, Professor Kim Hutchings (Queen Mary, University of London), Dr Uri Gordon (Loughborough), Professor Vron Ware (Kingston) and John Horne (Bahrain Watch). Other activities also took place, such as talks from prominent academics and students from universities around Britain and Europe, and a workshop delivered by Forces Watch.

Participants explored a range of issues including the militarisation of everyday life, the ethics and economics of warfare and the possibilities for resistance, at the same time as directly disrupting the set-up for the DSEI arms fair. Take a look at the full programme from 2015 for more details. See further down for photos.

Photos from the event (photo captions are at the bottom of the page):

The event was nominated for the FTGS Early Career for Community Engagement by Dr Julia Welland, with the following words:

It is the innovation, creativity and quality of the Conference at the Gates that makes it, and the four scholars responsible for its successful implementation, so deserving of this community engagement prize. Drawing on a rich tradition of feminist research (most notably, Cynthia Enloe and Cynthia Cockburn) and activism (for example, The Greenham Common Peace Camp in the 1980s and the contemporary activism of ‘Women in Black’), the Conference at the Gates challenged simplistic divisions between academia and activism, theory and practice, and reflection and direct action. The conference provided a space whereby participants could physically embody and experience these oft-presented mutually exclusive zones, as well as interrogate the tensions, challenges and possibilities that were produced. It was, without question, the most interesting, creative, and thought-provoking conference I have ever attended, challenging attendees to think more critically about how we think about militarism, resist militarism, and write and ‘do’ our research.

While much lip-service to ‘public’ or ‘community’ engagement is paid within academia, it remains that the pressures of the contemporary neoliberal university and its demands of REF-able publications, research income, and ‘impact’ agendas – to say nothing of high teaching workloads – means engagement outside the academy, particularly when there are no clear ‘stakeholders’, is often pushed to the back of the queue or simply not done at all. It is within this context that the Conference at the Gates appears all the more important. Here was an initiative that privileged not the reiteration of goal-driven knowledge production, but opened up new spaces for critical thinking and practice. It brought academics, activists and members of the public together in a dynamic space that appeared both familiar and unfamiliar to those there, and it allowed conversations, networks and collaborations to foster and develop. To quote again from Rossdale’s forthcoming piece: “Where these conversations develop remains an open question. DSEI will return in 2017, and plans have already begun…”[1].

[1] Ibid.

Voices about the event:

Prof Vron Ware “How multiculture gets militarised” in OpenDemocracy

These valiant efforts will continue to shine a spotlight on the obscenity, hypocrisy and venality of governments and corporations involved in the global arms industry, long after the fair has left town. It may not be possible to obstruct the event itself, but their actions make it hard to ignore the extent to which the UK government is a leading player in this market for state-of-the-art surveillance, coercion and killing machines.

Activist Tom, who took action together with other academics and activists to stop an armoured vehicle from going in to the fair, is cited on the CAAT website saying:

“I only acted because the government is failing to enforce its own laws”.

All defendants were later acquitted on the basis that they were trying to prevent greater crimes being committed, which is detailed for example on The Independent 


Photo captions for all photos

1st photo: Activists blocking a large armed vehicle on a road with a long banner that reads ‘Welfare not Warfare’

2nd photo: Group photo of around 20 of the participants from the conference lined up together on the grass, some wearing academic gowns, with book blocks from Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Andrew Fennstein’s The Shadow World, and Nicholas Gilby’s Deception in High places. There is also a banner saying “Academics against the Arms Fair”

3rd photo: 5 Activists lying down on the road in front of a vehicle with a banner reading “Stop the Arms Fair”, with two police officers taking details

4th photo: A lorry with a navy boat on it

5th photo: Activists blocking a vehicle with a banner reading “Stop Arming Israel”

6th photo: Around 25 participants sitting on a grassy slope area listening to people giving papers around a table

7th photo: Prof Kimberly Hutchings giving a key note speech while activists are lying down on the road in the background, blocking a vehicle from coming in.

8th photo: Activists on a lorry with a Palestinian flag and a banner that reads “Stop Arming Israel”

9th photo: 5 police officers in the foreground and a lorry with a military vehicle in the background

10th photo:Around 25 participants sitting on a grassy slope area listening to people giving papers around a table11th photo

12th photo: A sign that reads “Occupy the Arms Fair Safer Spaces: We are completely committed to non-violence both physical and verbal, to each other and all others including the police and any non-supporters. We are committed to being non-discriminatory and to exercising mutual respect with each other and those we are dealing with. Whilst we respect people’s right to ‘party and protest’, Occupy the Arms Fair will be actively discouraging consumption of alcohol or inebriation of drugs on the camp site. We are committed to maintaining an inebriation free zone- we understand that some people will want or need to take drugs and/or alcohol, and we show solidarity with those that suffer the illness of addiction. If necessary we will set up a “wet zone” away from the camp. Please respect our decision to keep the camp sober.

13th photo: A truck on the road, and members of the public, activists and academics from the conference in front of it and on the side. Prof Kimberly Hutchings is holding her keynote speech.

14th photo: Dr Chris Rossdale in front of a board that reads “today’s events”.

15th photo: in the foreground, a banner that reads “academics against the arms fair”. in the background, around 20 participants sitting on the grass and 3 participants sitting around a table.