Just three hours after Washington announced the beginning of its
war against Iraq, Australians had flooded onto the streets in protests
marked by deep anger and determination. Green Left Weekly has received
reports from 25 anti-war protests on March 20, mobilising around 90,000
people in total, and it is likely that many more occurred.
Sydney and Melbourne both hosted around 30,000-strong protests. Ten
thousand rallied in Brisbane, 6000 in Perth, 4000 in Adelaide, 3000 in
Newcastle, 2000 in Canberra and 500 each in Geelong, Lismore and Hobart.
Many other cities hosted sizeable protests, including Cairns, Queanbeyan,
Darwin, Devonport, Launceston, Rockhampton, Penrith in Sydney's western
suburbs and Wollongong.
The size of the rallies, given the short notice, exceeded organisers
expectations in many cities. In Sydney, the crowd spilled out of Town Hall
square into surrounding streets, many protesters unable to even see the
In Canberra, many didnt wait for the official 5pm protest, instead
rallying spontaneously in Civic. Resistance activist Erin Killion led a
one-hour speakout with the 100 protesters, who were mostly students and
Many of the rallies were quieter than recent anti-war protests, as participants
attempted to grapple with the impending devastation. Protester Karen Fletcher
described the mood at the Melbourne protest as sombre.
Protester Emma Murphy reported that in Adelaide, many protesters were
moved to tears as they sang give peace a chance, and again during Socialist
Alliance member David Scrimigours speech condemning the immorality of
the war. The mood of sad defiance shifted to angry determination, Murphy
People reacted to the start of the war in different ways, Canberra
peace activist and Socialist Alliance member Kerryn Williams told Green
Left Weekly. Some people at the [March 20] rally were depressed that
we had not been able to prevent the launching of the war, others were frustrated
and thinking only civil disobedience would stop the war, some were more
upbeat, and determined to stop it as soon as possible. But there was unity
around one thing: absolute anger at US President George Bushs war drive
and PM John Howards support for it, despite overwhelming opposition.
This anger against the warmongers was palpable at all the protests.
In Sydney, protesters passing Liberal Party headquarters stopped to boo
and hiss. In Newcastle, protesters marched chanting to senator John Tierneys
offices. In Melbourne, when one speaker said that our leaders had taken
Australia into an immoral and bloody war, one protester called out, What
bloody leaders?, which drew a chorus of support from the crowd. A similar
response greeted Greens MLC Ian Cohen in Sydney, when he said, Lets
march! Lets show that we are bigger and better than our 'leaders!.
As the marches progressed, protesters report that the moodbecame even
more militant, and the protests larger, as people saw the marchers and
The anger had deepened by March 21, when protests were held in about
a dozen cities, with the largest protests a 20,000-strong mobilisation
in Melbourne and a 2000-strong lunchtime protest in Canberra.
At this Canberra protest, one of the most popular chants was: Georgie,
Georgie, Georgie, out, out, out! Tony, Tony, Tony, out, out, out! Johnnie,
Johnnie, Johnnie, out, out, out!. Addressing the crowd, Socialist Alliance
member James Vassilopoulos was wildly cheered when he demanded that Howard
face the people, calling on the Senate opposition parties to block supply
and force an early election. A similar response greeted Socialist Alliance
member Ruth Ratcliffe in Darwin on March 20, when she made the same call.
The ALP did not escape abuse, despite many Labor speakers on the rally
platforms. Aside from the anger directed at NSW Premier Bob Carrs car
in Sydney, Melbournes March 21 rally marched to state parliament to protest
Premier Steve Bracks failure to oppose the war. VPN convenor David Spratt,
who is an ALP member, tongue-lashed his party from the platform, saying:
To Labor leader Simon Crean we say: For six months you have sat on
your hands and given no support to the anti-war movement. You squirmed
and you did not say that this war was always going to be wrong, with or
without the UN. And now you say you are against this war and we say to
you, 'Dont expect us to welcome you with open arms. Your weakness gave
John Howard free reign to support this war.
Spratt told Green Left Weekly that Bracks had refused to speak
at the protest or at anything organised by the VPN. ALP speakers who
have been outspoken in opposition to war for some months, received warm
welcomes in many other cities.
The protests showed decisively that we will keep protesting this war.
Brisbane protester Marcel Cameron told GLW: Many people came to
the protest feeling overwhelmed by the brutality and seeming inevitability
of this unprovoked attack on the Iraqi people, but went away feeling confident
that 'people power can stop this war.
[More extensive reports of the protests are available on the Green
Left Weekly web site <http://www.greenleft.org.au>.]
From Green Left Weekly, March 26, 2003.
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