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 march started.

"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 to move.

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 5.

From Green Left Weekly, February 19, 2003.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.