Sunday, 14 February 2010

When the world said NO to war

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the largest political protest in British history: the demonstration of 2 million people, on 15 February 2003, against the impending invasion of Iraq. It was, significantly, part of a massive global mobilisation to halt the drive to war. The international dimension tends to be forgotten - in this country, at any rate - so I thought I'd use the occasion to draw attention to that astonishing moment of global co-ordination and solidarity.

The book 'Stop the War: the story of Britain's biggest mass movement', published a few years back, contains a mass of material - in words, photos, reproduced posters etc - with superb design by Noel Douglas (whose work for Globalise Resistance raised standards of graphic design on the British left). The main text is by Andrew Murray and Lindsey German, chair and convenor respectively of Stop the War, but there are also lots of brief but illuminating contributions by a wide range of people active in the movement.

The account of February 15 as global phenomenon was provided by Chris Nineham, chief steward on the massive London demo and one of the initiators of the call for global action at the previous November's European Social Forum. This is his summary:

'15 February must have been the biggest protest in history. A French academic estimated that 35 million people marched on the day, but it may have been many more. The day's protests started in New Zealand and swept round the globe, taking in more than 1000 cities and towns. Australia had its biggest demonstrations in living memory. 200,000 took to the streets of Calcutta. A similar number came out in Damascus. In Mostar in Bosnia, Muslims and Croats united for an anti-war protest. Greek and Turks came together in Cyprus to surround a British base.

The biggest single demo was probably Rome's 3 million strong march, but at least that number marched across Spain, and later well over 1 million demonstrated in the US. Rejkayavik hosted the biggest march anyone could remember. Scientists protested on Ross Island, Antarctica, and there were 15 demos in Brazil.

Days after the demo the New York Times dubbed world public opinion "the second global superpower". The great gatherings of the global justice movement laid the basis for this new kind of international protest. In July 2001, 300,000 people from across Europe marched against the G8 in Genoa, Italy. Earlier in the year the World Social Forum in Brazil had pioneered the idea of the mass international counter-conference, and in January 2002 the decision was made to organise a European Social Forum in Florence, Italy.

This turned out to be an extraordinary event - 50,000 came for the conferences and meetings alone. The demonstration that closed the forum attracted nearly 1 million people. The next morning thousands of activists crammed into the final assembly singing and chanting. In this electric atmosphere we launched the call for 15 February as a Europe-wide day of action against war.

In 2003-04 popular pressure forced governments in Spain, Poland, the Phillipines, Hungary, the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras to pull troops out of Iraq. When Bush visited Europe in 2003 and 2004 there were massive protests from Dublin in the west to Istanbul in the east.'

The brilliant video above was obtained by The Sauce after a Freedom of Information request to the Metropolitan Police, thus obtaining previously unseen aerial footage of central London on 15 February 2003.

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