BY MARCUS GREVILLE
& JULIAN COPPENS
LONDON — In a tremendous display of opposition to US President George Bush's and British Prime Minister Tony Blair's invasion and occupation of Iraq, a vast crowd — estimates vary between 200,000 and 300,000 people — joined the Stop the War Coalition's (STWC) rally and march on the afternoon of November 20.
It was the main action in a series of protests during the three-day Bush visit, hosted by the queen. Organised to coincide with Bush's state visit, the massive demonstration converged on Trafalgar Square, culminating with the toppling of a five-metre papier-mache statue of Bush.
On November 19, more than 2000 demonstrators attended an alternative "state procession" organised by the STWC. A horse-drawn carriage with a fake Bush and queen led the procession, which included a giant pink tank that blew bubbles. Thousands of people also attended demonstrations across Britain, including in 7000 in Edinburgh, 3000 in Glasgow, 3000 in Manchester, 2000 in Bristol, 1000 in Birmingham, 1000 in Oxford and 500 in Sheffield.
The organisers, who were hoping for a turnout of 100,000 people on November 20, were pleasantly surprised with what was the largest weekday demonstration ever held in Britain. Hundreds of buses transported people from all over Britain, from Aberdeen in northern Scotland to Plymouth in the south of England.
The vast size of the November 20 demonstration, and the diversity and unity of purpose of the protesters, sent a clear message to Bush and Blair that the people of Britain continue to oppose the Iraq war and reject the lies both leaders put forward to justify an attack that has cost the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis, and hundreds of US and British soldiers.
The dishonesty of the Blair Labour government was further exposed when leading Bush gang ideologue Richard Perle openly admitted on November 19 that the US-led war on Iraq was illegal under international law.
Anti-Bush, not anti-American
The march set off from Bloomsbury at 2pm, led by Ron Kovic, the disabled US Vietnam War veteran, now peace campaigner, who was the subject of the Hollywood film Born on the Fourth of July. The symbolism of Kovic being at the head of the march easily countered British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's assertion that the protest was about "fashionable anti-Americanism". Kovic's placard read, "Proud of my country, ashamed of my president".
The march made its way past the Australian High Commission, Australia House, where the Australians Against the War (AATW) contingent was chanting and waving anti-war banners protesting the Australian government's support for Bush and Blair's war. They received loud cheers and applause as the crowd passed by.
Among the many groups that participated in the protest were numerous Palestinian contingents, socialists from many parties, the Greens, and thousands of trade unionists including the public sector union Unison and the Transport and General Workers Union. The Cuba solidarity organisation Cuba Si also marched with an effigy of Bush. This unsavoury character had dollar signs in his eyes and hands outstretched to seize Cuba.
Placards and banners reading "Stop Bush", "World's #1 terrorist", "Tony Bliar" and "Troops out" were the most popular. Chants included "Out of Afghanistan, out of Iraq, get out of Palestine and don't come back", "George Bush — terrorist; Tony Blair — terrorist; John Howard — lap dog", and the AATW contingent's "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, troops out now!"
STWC beats police
For the week preceding the November 20 demonstration, the London Metropolitan Police (Met) had worked hard to prevent it marching past the House of Parliament at Westminster and through Whitehall, near the British prime minister's residence, 10 Downing Street. However, on November 18, the strength of the anti-war movement forced the Met to back down and permit the march to follow the original route proposed by the STWC.
As demonstrators marched past parliament and Whitehall, the procession's already very loud chants were supplemented with a deafening roar of boos, hisses and whistles.
Many high school and university students walked out of class to join the protest. As a special edition of the British Socialist Worker reported: "At Aldwych, 1200 London School of Economics students burst through police lines to join in. On Waterloo Bridge, 800 students from King's College swelled the protest with new energy. And hundreds joined from Imperial College, not usually known for its radical students... A student from Monoux School in London came with a group of 10 friends. She said, 'We don't want Bush to rule the world, and we don't want him to invade other countries... I don't think Blair really believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He just wanted to stay friendly with the biggest power in the world'."
As the huge march entered Trafalgar Square, it was met by thousands of Londoners who had just finished work. At 5.30pm, the huge crowd cheered as the "statue" of Emperor Bush was toppled. It was announced from the stage that demonstrators were still leaving the starting point in Bloomsbury. It took another hour and a half for the last of the marchers to arrive in Trafalgar Square.
George Galloway, the MP who was expelled from the Labour Party for his anti-war stance, called for a political alternative to Blair's New Labour: "We speak for the majority in this country and around the world when we say god bless the people of America, goddamn George W. Bush. We want to send a message that in next year's European elections we want to unite all the forces represented here today in a great movement: the peace movement, the trade unions, the Muslim community — all those who are disinherited and disenfranchised and don't have a voice. We want to drive more nails into the political coffin of Tony Blair."
News early on the morning of November 20 that the British consulate and other British interests in Istanbul, Turkey, had been bombed, killing at least 27 people, shocked many at the demonstration, but it did not shake their determination to let Bush and Blair know that they want an end to the occupation of Iraq and an end of the bogus "war on terror".
STWC national convenor Lindsey Germain expressed the opinion of many demonstrators when she stated from the platform: "We have been saying from the beginning that the war on Iraq would inevitably lead to more terrorist attacks".
[Marcus Greville and Julian Coppens are members of Australians Against the War UK. Email <email@example.com>. Addition information from Socialist Worker, newspaper of the British Socialist Workers Party. Visit <http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/1878a/IX.HTM> for full coverage of the November 20 march.]
From Green Left Weekly, November 26, 2003.
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