Almost 1 million Australians march against war
MELBOURNE — Kicking off a weekend of massive international protest
against war on Iraq, nearly one in 50 Australians attended an anti-war
protests on February 14-16.
The weekend began with the largest peace demonstration in Australia's
history, as 220,000 people took to the streets of Melbourne on February
14. The sea of people brought the CBD to a standstill and sent a clear
message of peace and unity.
Organisers and police were shocked at the huge turn out. Protesters
spanned eight city blocks, many with their own placards or banners. By
4.50pm, all traffic in and around Swanston Street had come to a virtual
standstill. Tens of thousands marched from Flinders Street to the State
Library, filling Swanston Street as they went.
The official start time of the rally came and went, and still people
poured from Flinders Street station, slowing to a trickle by 6pm. By then,
the rally had filled Swanston Street from the State Library to Bourke Street.
Rally goers were packed in tighter than fish in a can. At 6.15, the official
"Disarm America’‘, "No blood for oil’‘ and "War is terror" seemed
to be crowd favourites — others tapping into the lighter side with "Make
lunch not war’‘ or "Send Waugh not war".
Thunderous applause greeted trade unionist Michelle O’Neil’s comment,
"We oppose the war, no matter what the UN says".
A similar roar of approval greeted state Construction, Forestry, Mining
and Energy Union (CFMEU) state secretary Martin Kingham, when he told protesters
that if war broke out, there would be "a massive strike" the next day.
Unionists’ participation in the rally was hard to gauge, because the
sheer size of the protest made contingents hard to pull together. Visible
and sizeable union contingents in the march, however, included the CFMEU,
the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Australian Education Union
(which carried "Books not bombs" banners), the National Tertiary Education
Industry Union and the Australian Nurses Federation. One of the biggest
contingents was from the Independent Education Union.
Other contingents included political groups such as the Socialist Alliance,
the Greens, the Democrats and Young Labor. Women for Palestine marched
near the noisy and vibrant Puppeteers for Peace. Kurdish and Greek communities
were among migrant groups who organised and profiled their contingent.
Groups such as Refugee Action Collective and the Asylum Seekers Resource
Centre marched with messages reminding onlookers that "War creates refugees’‘.
Connies for Peace (the old Melbourne tram conductors) marched in uniform
and Doctors for Peace came prepared with full-colour printed placards.
Other more surprising groups included the Aquatic Peace Bloc — people with
large fish puppets on their head.
Some, frustrated with the slow pace of the march, chose to samba down
the Swanston Street footpath. Others, dressed as doves, walked in absolute
silence. Almost everyone carried a placard, either homemade or provided.
All rally-goers had their faces turned out — the pride and confidence of
marching with so many thousands of others was electric.
It was the first time David, who owns a 120-hectare dairy farm in regional
Victoria, had been part of a protest. “I just got sick of watching and
whingeing about it”, he told Green Left Weekly. “I had to do something
about what is happening in this world... The hardest thing was getting
someone to milk the cows so I could stay in Melbourne overnight.”
Dianne, a young worker and a more experienced protester likened the
protest to the blockade of the World Economic Forum in 2000. She told GLW,
“There are so many different people here, it's so huge... it's like there
are a dozen protests here today!”
Organisers had planned a meeting point at the State Library and a relatively
short march to Federation Square. As people streamed into the city, the
bulk of the march route was soon filled with people. An hour after the
start of the rally began marching, people at the back were still waiting
In a reflection of the enthusiasm of the rally, thousands of people
waiting for the opportunity to march, spontaneously took a detour down
Melbourne streets before meeting up with the main protest once again.
At 2pm on the same day, 1000 high school students staged a strike and
rally, marching to Melbourne Central behind a “Youth against war” banner.
Dozens of young people armed with chalk soon left their mark on the city
— body outlines and graffiti covered the streets, with messages ranging
from “NO hoWARd” to “our future, our decision... no war”. There was also
a positive response to plans for a student strike and walk-out on March
From Green Left Weekly, February 19, 2003.
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