The Ministry of Defence was not short of critics at a public forum last night to discuss the siting of missiles on the rooftop of Bow Quarter.
The MoD's decision to withdraw from the meeting at the last minute appeared to strengthen the resolve of the 200 people who packed into the church hall in Bow Road.
The reasons for their absence were outlined by Chris Nineham, who chaired the public forum. This included advice from local police against attending, and concern that residents outside the Bow Quarter would also be in attendance. Their view, incredibly, was that the missiles were not an issue for other local residents.
But the main given reason for staying away was that they didn't want to consult about the plans until after a final decision was made. As some of the speakers at the meeting pointed out, this suggested a lack of understanding of the concept of consultation.
The safety threats posed by the missiles were illustrated by speaker after speaker at the meeting. These included the danger of falling metal and debris as the missiles were launched, the impact of an explosion up to a 3-mile radius around the launch site over the most densely populated area of London, the reported 20% failure rate of the missiles, and their incompatibility with bad weather.
Apart from the technical issues posed by the missiles, speakers highlighted the danger of estates becoming a target for different types of attacks.
There was widespread frustration at the ‘arrogance’ and ‘insensitivity’ of the government and the MoD. Abjol Miah from Respect appealed to the parents at the meeting, with his concerns for the safety of children during the Olympics. Brian Whelan, journalist and Bow Quarter resident, suggested that the MoD would have to push through a blockade of people to put the missiles in place. Rushanara Ali MP both promised to obtain answers from parliament.
Everyone at the meeting agreed on the importance of this campaign as a stepping stone in the fight against the militarisation of the Olympics, and the militarisation of London in general. People kept coming back to the wider issue that the Olympics are being turned into a display of military and corporate power. Examples included a warship on the Thames, the use of drones, the introduction of 'sonic guns' and electric fences.
A wider fear was expressed about the legacy of a militarised Olympics. As one speaker put it from the floor, 'once they get these toys out, they won’t be put away after the Olympics.’
Brian Whelan’s call for direct action on the day they bring in the missiles was received by loud applause. The meeting voted unanimously against MoD plans, but it was clear that the pressure needs to be kept up through campaigning and protesting.
A demonstration against the missiles is planned for Saturday, 30 June. The demonstration will assemble at Wennington Green (Mile End Park) on Roman Road and march to Bow Quarter. In a borough renowned for its anti-war politics since 2001, it is clear that that feeling is still strong.
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