Monday, 5 October 2009

24 October: make this demonstration a turning point

The steering committee of the Stop the War Coalition met on Saturday. I was the delegate from Tyneside's local group and was greatly impressed by the level of political discussion, especially about Afghanistan and the crisis it is creating for US and UK politcal elites.

Chris Nineham, one of the national officers, introduced the main session, with contributions from a wide range of people. We discussed the growing problems in Afghanistan, with more troops being sent. Top generals are talking of being there for years and demanding even more 'boots on the ground'. But this is creating a political crisis on both sides of the Atlantic, largely because the occupation is becoming more unpopular with the US and UK public. There's widespread disillusionment with Obama, while here it's clear a majority think the occupation is wrong.

Anger about Afghanistan is being fuelled, too, by the economic crisis, e.g. disgust at how much money is being spent at a time of recession. And the rising death toll adds to popular feeling that the troops should come home. It was agreed that all this creates better conditions for mobilising opposition on the streets and building successful public meetings.

The 24 October national demonstration is of course priority number one for all activists: a great chance to force the subject up the political agenda and make visible the widespread opposition to the occupation. A number of people talked of practical successes in building it, from leafleting mosques to speaking at union branch meetings. The public meetings, currently taking place around the country, are an opportunity to build the demonstration, as well as affording an opportunity to discuss the issues.

The 24 October demo will be the launchpad for a major 'Bring the troops home by XMAS' campaign. Then, from January, Stop the War will - amongst other things - seek to make the war a big elections issue. Andrew Burgin and John Rees, both national officers, commented on how Die Linke in Germany made 'bring the troops home from Afghanistan' central to its platform in recent elections and won a surprisingly high vote.

Lindsey German (Stop the War's convenor) reported on speaking in Liverpool, where a 600-strong Stop the War meeting brought together TUC delegates and local people - and raised £4000 for Palestine. A number of people stressed the psosibilities for "branching out" by doing stalls in areas we may not have organised in for a long time (or indeed ever) and leafleting mosques, colleges etc beyond the level we may have previously.

There was discussion about other things too, including support for this December's Viva Palestina convoy and our campaigning around the Iraq Inquiry, but inevitably the campaign to bring our troops home from Afghanistan is the dominant issue. In Tyneside, as elsewhere, we're pulling out all the stops for a good turnout on 24 October.

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