On February 15th 2003, in over 600 places around the world from America to Antarctica, people who have never made any kind of political protest before took to the streets to tell Bush not to go to war. This raises many questions, but the biggest and most important of these questions is whether this statement by the people of the world be listened to by leaders who claim to be democratic?
You and Who's Army?
Political protests by non-political people can move me to tears. The fact that so many people from so many places can be touched so deeply is, to me, profoundly moving. My tears came on the first Countryside March when I saw a shepherd who had attached a banner to his crook. The tears wanted to come yesterday too, but mostly I felt a deadened sense of fear and an unnerving kind of dull despair. I did not particularly enjoy it. I went because I am disempowered. I went because there is nothing I can do to stop this war. I went because I need Bush and Blair to know that if they do this, they do it in the face of the opposition of millions of people. I went because I could not not go. But I was strangely unmoved by the whole event.
No-one will ever know how many people marched in London yesterday. The police claim it was 750,000. The organisers claim it was two million. I cannot tell, but I guess it was somewhere in the middle. It did not feel like two million - but what do I know?
London was closed. The shops were shut. The streets were empty of traffic. There were no passers by. As with 9/11 we were all participants. There were no witnesses. The streets of London had no cars, and were disturbingly post-apocalyptic. It was also bitterly cold with that biting slightly damp cold that England does so cruelly. Next time there is a war, (if there is a next time), I hope they propose to hold it in the summer.
Protests of this size create strange fellow-travellers. 'You do realise that we are marching with the Socialist Workers Party' a fellow hick from the affluent sticks said to me. 'Well, I work', I said in reply. This man was a useful person to march beside. His thermos contained the best thing I have ever discovered as an antidote to the cold wind blowing: mulled wine. If I ever get the chance to march again, I will remember him, and take mulled wine with me.
Cries of anger, pleas for mercy
There were of course habitual demonstrators marching, and they had made banners, or were carrying ones they had found or been given. But wit and jeux d'esprit was largely lacking. Some said 'Make Tea, Not War' which is a good slogan, and others said 'Don't Attack Iraq', and others gave my own personal message to Blair 'Not in my name'. In many ways the fact that most of the messages were pared to the bone was, again, moving. This appears to be a subject that makes people lose their sense of humour. It is too important to be witty about.
The march ended with a rally with some impressive speakers. Bianca Jagger is a long-time peace campaigner. Charles Kennedy leads the Liberal Democrat party in the UK. Ken Livinsgston is a thorn in Blair's flesh and is mayor of London, (presumably we have him to thank for closing London for the day, and I do thank him for that). Jesse Jackson is the well known American politician. But even if I am one of two million, I am not a rabble, and most of the speeches were sound-bites and aimed at rabble-rousing. Engage my mind, and my heart, my body and even my soul will follow. But don't give me slogans.
A world of difference
This is truly global dissent. Every single continent in the world staged a protest. In Antarctica the researchers made a peace symbol in the snow1 at the McMurdo research station, which is US-run. World Messenger estimates that 10.5 Million people attended these demonstrations, Indymedia estimate 11 Million.
This leads to more interesting questions. How much has the Internet contributed to the co-ordination of this protest? Is this the first manifestation of the Internet as a nervous-system uniting the individuals of the world against its governments? There are links at the bottom of this page to several international peace organisations.
... like f**king for virginity
Bush was elected in what appear to have been corrupt circumstances in 2000. Blair was elected by the lowest turnout in English electoral history. Neither of these men has a mandate. But given their record in ignoring these inconvenient facts I find it easy to believe that they will ignore the world saying 'No'. After all if only eleven million turned out to say 'no', that means that six billion say 'yes'.
I expect this war to happen. I expect that it will start an international conflict between the muslim world and the western world which will claim the lives of millions. I do not trust these men, driven by ego and testosterone. I do however believe their names will go down in history, though not in the way their hubris expects.
The following links are to anti-war groups and independent media groups which operate all over the world.