Brisbane streets erupt in protest



Hearing news that war had begun, more than 10,000 people jammed into Brisbane's King George Square in a 5pm emergency rally called by the Queensland Peace Network on March 20. At first the mood was sombre and reflective, but this quickly turned to defiance as the crowd swelled and young people in the middle broke out into loud chants: "One, two three four — we don't want your racist war! Five, six, seven, eight, we will not cooperate!"

The very diverse and colourful crowd came from all over Brisbane and beyond. A lively contingent from Griffith University Nathan campus filled a bus and marched into the square to loud cheers and applause. City workers came straight from work to the protest, some bringing handmade placards. They were joined by a sea of uniformed high school students, families, the elderly and even tourists. Small children rode on their parent's shoulders, some carrying peace messages and paper doves. One man wore a grinning caricature of George W. Bush.

Among the speakers to address the rally were Brisbane lord mayor Jim Soorley, Aboriginal activist and community leader Sam Watson, Queensland Council of Unions secretary Grace Grace and an Iraqi refugee now living in Australia. Soorley condemned the Howard government for sending troops to participate in a war that had not been endored by the UN. A UN flag now hangs from City Hall in a symbolic gesture of support for the institution. Watson, a member of the Socialist Alliance, likened the US-led invasion of Iraq to the invasion and dispossession of Aboriginal people. "This war's been going on for more than 200 years", he said.

As dusk fell the march, which stretched for more than two city blocks, chanted a simple message over and over again: "No war! No war!" Some sang John Lennon's classic song, "All we are saying is give peace a chance". As the main body of the march began to disperse at King George Square, members of Resistance and the International Socialist Organisation led a break-away contingent of a thousand mostly young people for a second, spirited march around the city. Stopping briefly outside the Defence Force Recruiting Centre, speakers condemned the recruitment of young people by the army to be used as cannon-fodder in unjust wars. The march ended with a sit-in at an intersection which lasted for two hours. The spontaneous political speeches, chanting and singing continued while the Queensland police minister held a media conference nearby to announce his decision not to move the protesters by force.

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 determined and defiant.

From Green Left Weekly, March 26, 2003.
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