I had missed DSEi on previous occasions, so having met a few cool Critical Mass people I decided to make an effort to join the 2003-09-10 "Destroy DSEi" ride. I stayed in Hackney the previous night and had no problems reaching the meeting point in the City by 08:00 and an hour or so later about 60 of us set off with the familiar escort of police on mountain bikes. Our destination was ExCeL in East London, playing host to manufacturers of killing machines of all kinds including particularly controversial cluster bombs. Sinister dealers in death were flying in from around the world to stock up on the latest gadgets and my goal was to help cause as much disruption of the event as possible (optimistically hoping to make the Government think twice about supporting future death fairs in London), to raise public awareness, and to have fun doing something positive and life affirming - Operation Infinite Love (OIL) as one charming demonstrator put it! As drizzle was replaced by hazy sunshine we pedalled eastward enjoying music from several bicycle mounted soundsystems. One of the first stops was Tower Bridge where we had to wait for the roadway to be lowered but had a good view of David Blaine suspended in his perspex box.
Things started getting interesting when we attempted to cross the Connaught Bridge from the south. Lines of police were blocking the way and they informed us that the bridge was closed northbound. A couple of people broke through the lines but were quickly hustled back so we decided the best we could do was close the bridge southbound as well. We held the roundabout for at least half an hour causing big tailbacks before making a tactical retreat. We then headed west, back along the Woolwich Road until we found a very weak police line guarding Tidal Basin Road which was easily breached, giving us access to the roundabout at the western entrance to ExCeL. We held this roundabout for some time and it had the added benefit of a media presence. By about 13:00 police reinforcements caused us to come to a general consensus that we should suspend operations and head to the re-convergence point at a recreation ground adjacent to Dongola Road to chill out. The police on mountain bikes had (within limits imposed by the duties they have taken upon themselves) been respectful and even helpful but this this was the last I saw of them. On the way to the park I stopped opposite Custom House station to stand with a few protesters holding placards and giving the arms dealers a bit of well deserved verbal abuse.
The park was cool - nice vibe, nice company and for the first time in the day not a copper in sight. Rested, we set off as a group with a new plan and at first things went well. We cruised right past a police station without attracting any attention and arrived in time to join a larger group on foot and on the move with many police on their heels. However, on reaching the A13 things started to go wrong. Crossing the central reservation caused a delay which allowed police to set up lines confining us to a short section of the road. Some people attempted to break through one line to gain access to Freemasons Road but were thwarted and the window of opportunity closed as reinforcements arrived. At this point I wished I did not have a bicycle to think about but at least we still had the main sound system and with the A13 blocked in both directions it seemed like a good opportunity for a party.
It took the police about an hour to get their act together at which point they started herding us down Freemasons Road where a little girl in an upstairs window entertained us with Sooty and Sweep puppets as we shuffled past! We were then ordered to enter the recreation ground through a narrow gate or else face arrest and after a few scuffles (which I heard but didn't see) we were eventually cordoned in the park behind a double row of officers backed up by horses. The soundsystem was still with us, helping to keep spirits up, but sympathetic or merely curious onlookers were kept well back by yet more lines of police. Eventually we were released in groups of four and given a ticking off while being recorded on video.
After I was released I bumped into some friends and cycled west to Canning Town roundabout where a load more people were trapped inside another police cordon. I went on a mission to get tea and chips for them and then cycled to Kings Cross to catch the train home. I had to use a day of annual leave and it was quite tiring but of course I considered it my moral duty and it was mostly fun too - try it sometime!
www.zenatode.org.uk Ian Gregory 2010