The peace rally the British government tried to ban went ahead as planned earlier today [2003.02.15]. In solidarity with eleven other European countries, 2,000,000 anti-war supporters gathered in the heart of London to send a clear message to Bush and Blair: Stop the War on Iraq! By 4 p.m. the organizers, and the Mayor of London himself, declared that the crowd had swelled to the largest political gathering in the entire history of England.
The peace rally the British government tried to ban went ahead as planned earlier today [2003.02.15]. In solidarity with
eleven other European countries, 2,000,000 anti-war supporters, campaigners, politicians and poets, plus the biggest
Muslim political mobilisation this country has ever seen, gathered in the heart of London to send a clear message to Bush
and Blair: Stop the War on Iraq!
By noon hundreds of chartered coaches were parked along the embankment of the river Thames, dropping off scores of protesters
from across the UK. From there the marchers wound through Parliament Square, passed Tony Blair’s Downing Street residence and
continued to Trafalgar Square. A second demonstration from the north of London converged with those coming from the south at
Piccadilly Circus, and the combined mass marched on to Hyde Park.
Although all police leave had been cancelled, the 4,500 officers on the streets were discreet and well behaved. Unlike the
fear engendered by the anti-globalization protests of the last few years, the Stop the War on Iraq demonstration was met with
sympathy by the businesspeople that lined the route of the march. One national pub chain even welcomed demonstrators in to
use their facilities, so long as placards were left outside.
The rally was jointly organized by the Stop The War Coalition ( http://www.stopwar.org.uk ), the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament ( http://www.cnduk.org ), and the Muslim Association of Britain ( http://www.mabonline.net ), to voice opposition to the United States’ and Britain’s plans to go to war
against Iraq, and to promote the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and the creation of a Palestinian state.
The march was characterized by diversity. The sound of Muslims chanting Allah Akhbar (Allah is Great) alongside others
singing Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance,” reflected London’s cultural diversity and illustrated both the breadth of popular
opposition to the impending war on Iraq, and the British Muslim community’s new found confidence to express itself as an
equal within a larger political constituency.
The carnival atmosphere of whistles and drums, which has become tradition at demonstrations, was present to help lighten the
effects of the long slow procession to Hyde Park, where speakers across the political spectrum were speaking throughout the
In late January the UK government tried to stop the planned demonstration by banning the Stop the War Coalition and the
Centre for Nuclear Disarmament from using Hyde Park in the center of London as the focal venue for the event. A spokesperson
for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said the rally organizers had â€œbeen refused permission to stage a rally in
Hyde Park for safety reasons and concern over the park itself.â€Â¹ The Stop The War Coalition disagreed with the departmentâ€™s position, arguing that Culture Secretary Tessa Jowellâ€™s actions were
Jowellâ€™s ban ran into fierce opposition and, thanks to a concerted effort by the various demo organizers as well as some MPs
(Members of Parliament) and both the rightwing and leftwing media outlets, the Culture Secretary reversed her decision in
time for the rally to go ahead. Nonetheless, she defended her original decision by stating that, “The right of protesters to
organise and take part in peaceful marches and rallies has never been questioned. The issue has only ever been to find a
venue that is as safe as possible for those taking part.â€Â²
Stop the War Coalition officer John Rees countered: â€œFreedom of speech in this instance was only defended by the actions of
the people. The minister wanted to abrogate this fundamental liberty and we have prevented her from doing so.â€Â³
The government’s frustration with growing anti-war sentiment was highlighted when it was reported that Tony Blair was due to
state at a trade union conference today that “torture, imprisonment and death”* would await demonstrators were they to stage a similar rally in Baghdad. Perhaps it is
no surprise that some commentators in the left wing press have remarked lately that Mr.Blair is becoming increasingly out of
touch with both his party and the electorate.
In Hyde Park, Mr.Blair had few supporters. By 4 p.m. the organizers and the Mayor of London, Ken Livingston himself, had
declared that the crowd–many of whom were still marching towards the park–had swelled to two million people, making it the
largest political gathering in the entire history of England.
From the stage and on two giant televisions, politicians, artists, community leaders and trade unionists all invoked the
rallying call, Stop the War on Iraq! Each one argued for more United Nations weapons inspections, for a peaceful
resolution to the Iraqi crisis, and equally, for the freedom of the Palestinian people and the establishment of a Palestinian
state. As British Palestinian lawyer, Mr. Michel Abdul-Massih asserted, “There can never be peace in the Middle-East,
therefore there can never be peace in the world, until there is freedom for the Palestinians.”
Former Labour MP, Tony Benn, declared, “We are here to launch a new movement: to stop the war on Iraq, to build a Palestinian
state, and to build democracy around the world. We are starting something really big!”
The Reverend Jesse Jackson closed the day with a warning to the leaders of the “Wild West,” George W. Bush and Tony Blair, to
be wary of the excesses of power. “The arrogance of certainty,” said Jackson, “precedes the fall.”
According to the police 750,000** people were on hand today to show
opposition to the War on Iraq, contrasting substantially with the estimates of the rally’s organizers. Nevertheless, as the
events in Hyde Park ended and the crowd dispersed, the historical scale of today’s event dawned on many as they faced
thousands more people still making their way to the park along Oxford Street and Park Lane.
29 January, 2003, ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/2704137.stm ).
Â²Anti-war rally gets park go-ahead, BBC Online,
Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/2725435.stm ).
Â³Tessa Jowell Hyde Park anti-war rally u-turn, ( http://www.stopwar.org.uk/release.asp?id=040203
15 February, 2003, 18:04 GMT.
Author: David Ledden
News Service: TheExperiment