It is undoubtedly immediately obvious why peacemakers would protest or vigil outside the DSEi arms fair where regimes and companies from around the world come to buy and sell weapons, or why we might place ourselves outside ROXEL, our local bomb-building factory. For some, it seems, the link is perhaps less obvious to HSBC. Engagement with those who stop to speak to us frequently includes responding to questions about why we are there.
I know why I think standing outside HSBC is an important place to be. I know why I believe thinking carefully and making difficult decisions about what to do with our money, as communities and as individuals really, really matters. So this is my attempt to explain it in slightly more detail than the two minute conversations with those who stop to ask.
As part of the peace movement I think, if anything, drawing attention to the role and involvement of finance in the workings of the arms industry is even more important than witnessing outside the factories that build the bombs and the fairs that sell them.
Whether we like it or not, capitalism is the system which currently dictates how our world operates: it dictates our political and economic systems, controls our media, and has seeped in to the majority of our thinking as the "only possible way" to operate.
Financial pundits often seem to want us to believe that the inner workings of capitalism are immensely complicated, and send out the message that we should leave it to the experts who, they hint, have our very best interests at heart. But at its core, capitalism is also incredibly simple: it is based on the premise that capital (the having of money or stuff) should generate more capital (more money or stuff).
As such, I believe, financial involvement in the arms trade, in environmentally destructive practices, in industries which fail to respect human rights and dignity, is not simply an inconvenient by-product: it is the very driving force of making those industries continue to exist and expand.
With some notable exceptions (Triodos, Oikocredit, Shared Interest...) I don't think financial institutions usually choose which industries they invest in for any deep ideological reasons: they choose to invest in things which they believe can make their capital generate more capital, in sectors which they believe are profitable, or which they believe they can influence to be profitable.
HSBC invest obscene sums of money in industries with whose very existence I fundamentally disagree. It is not just them, of course. There are numerous other financial institutions: banks, pension schemes, investment portfolios which are complicit in the exacerbation of global conflict, of human rights abuses, of the destruction of our finite planet. They are guilty too. If we choose to stand outside HSBC it is partly because the global scale of their operation means they are a major player and could be a real game changer in redesigning our economy from one which promotes death to one which enhances life. It is partly because they have just moved their HQ to Birmingham so it feels like an appropriate target. It is partly because just because we can't be everywhere doesn't mean we shouldn't be somewhere.
Our next vigil is on Wednesday 18th July at 8.30 - 9.30am and all are welcome to join us.