The London Olympics could leave a ‘legacy of protest’ argued local residents at a meeting to oppose the placement of ground-to-air missiles in densely populated residential areas of East London.

Journalist and Bow resident, Brian Whelan, who broke the story in the national media last week, addressed a crowd of around 80 residents and activists who had gathered to discuss combining a legal challenge against the MOD, responsible for the plans, with a grass-roots campaign of protest and awareness raising. Whelan explained that no attempts had been made to consult with local residents of the Bow Quarters estate where he lives with his partner, who had been working behind the scenes to help him expose the story.

The couple are facing eviction for inviting media and camera crews to report on the installation of the Starstreak and Rapier missiles, the accuracy of which would be badly affected by adverse weather, experts say.

Whelan said that no details of the missile defence ‘deal’ have been released and no compensation offered to those affected by the move. His lawyer also told the meeting that she planned to mount an injunction against the proposed missile sites.

Chris Nineham from the Stop the War Coalition, who chaired the meeting and is also a local resident, argued that the ‘militarisation’ of London represents a ‘show of bravado’ by Britain’s ruling class, not a response to any credible terrorist threat.

Councillor Rania Khan, responsible for Bromley by Bow, who is also affected by the missile placements, explained how MPs and Councillors are told that they ‘can’t challenge the Olympics’ because it’s ‘just too big’ an event. Khan claimed that the MOD had handled the debacle ‘badly’ and that she first heard of the plans via the media and other local councillors were only informed a few days ago. She said that, after raising concerns about the missiles, she was assured that the military hardware would be ‘manned by professionals’. ‘I certainly wasn’t expecting them to be manned by amateurs,’ she said. She pledged to offer her help in scrapping the plans to locate the missiles in East London.

It was agreed that a protest would be held at 10am on Saturday 5th May at the entrance to Bow Quarters where representatives of the MOD had been pressured into listening to resident’s concerns. A big public meeting will be held in a few weeks and MPs, councillors and the MOD will be invited to hear the concerns of the public over the issue.

Brian Whelan explained that he had ‘spent 30 seconds’ alone with military equipment which had been left unattended during a ‘test exercise’ prior to the installation of the weaponry.

Speakers from the floor argued that the presence of missiles in residential areas will increase community tensions and also raise the risk of serious accidents. It was agreed that the campaign should bring in as many different issues as possible and build links with wider campaigns such as campaigns over social housing.

A representative from the Counter Olympics Network argued that this hi-tech show of force was ‘softening up’ the public for an increasingly militarised ‘surveillance society’. One speaker argued that not only would the imposition of the missiles contravene the human rights of members of the public but that the ‘logic of the gun’ meant that missile sites would also become targets for any potential terror threat.

Walthamstow resident Carole Vincent explained how her two disabled sons had been evicted from their homes because their landlord wanted to rent out the housing for the Olympics, leaving her sons homeless.

Another resident explained how his job centre was making him take a ‘work experience’ placement at the Olympics. He argued that the official Olympic legacy would be one of ‘social cleansing and slave labour’, but that a community-based campaign could build an alternative ‘legacy of protest’ and of ‘standing up to bullies’.

Many argued that there were clear class dimensions to the decision to place the missiles. Limehouse resident and Counter Olympics Network supporter Elly Badcock argued that a message was being sent out to working class people that ‘you may live in London, but the games are not for you’.

A working meeting will be held on Wednesday 9th May to plan how to take the campaign forwards. It is open to the public. For more information see the No Missiles In East London Facebook group.

Dan Poulton

Dan is a writer, broadcaster and campaigner.  His most recent documentary was The New Scramble For Africa and his documentaries have appeared regularly on the Islam Channel. He is an organiser for Counterfire and a regular contributor to Counterfire site.