It’s a bit of a strange campaign, but luckily nobody seems to notice.
If you knew someone who ran a bookshop, and later you discovered that he also owned a gunshop down the road, what would you do? Stop using the bookshop? And what if you knew the gunshop was used lots by local criminals, and not just for gun sports? And would you try to get your friends to boycott the bookshop as well?
This isn’t quite what is going on, but it’s near enough. The book store is the London Book Fair, the arms shop is the Defence Systems & Equipment International Exhibition (known affectionately as “dicey” or DSEi). Both are at the ExCeL centre, an obese metal brick in London’s docklands, the book fair last Sunday, the arms fair every other September. You and your militant friends are the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). And the owner of the two shops? That’s the massive publishing corporation Reed Elsevier, or more specifically its subsidiary Reed Exhibitions. (The BBC has more details about all this.)
So last Sunday a bunch of us made the trip along the Docklands Light Railway, dressed in suits. The aim? To explain to the book industry that they’re tied (if indirectly) up with the arms industry, to put some pressure on Reed and get some attention. Sunday was public day, so it was relatively easily get into the show. Inside, like any other trade fair; a huge soulless space, and remarkably too few places to buy food or drink. I spent the morning and early afternoon learning about Nielsen Bookdata, and failing to get into the overcrowded Google Book Search presentations. Then started to feel bad, I ought to do some campaiging against the arms trade.
Everyone else was by the Reed Elsevier stand. They’d been in stealth mode all day disseminating information, and now were being bolder so they’d get chucked out of the fair by security guards and could go to the pub. It went like this – a bunch of people unfurl the large banner. The heavies come and stop them, and escort them out. Meanwhile other CAAT campaigners appear as if from nowhere, handing out leaflets, and talking to people on the Reed stand. Much the same happened earlier in the day, only with more Margaret Atwood.
Some more security guards come and evict the leafleteers. I talk to some people at Oxford University Press, who are too scared to even take a leaflet from me. Like I’m trying to overthrow the state, rather than simply point out that people are selling illegal torture equipment. I lurk around wondering what to do, too nervous to reveal my cover, until I’m the only one left. Except for one strangely immune guy who brazenly hands out leaflets, chatting to people for ages. Soon he realises his luck is bound to run out. He stops and covers his CAAT t-shirt over with a jacket again, dissolving into the crowd.
Feeling really useless that I still have all my leaflets except for two, I instigate a radical plan to get rid of them. (To be continued).