BY KAREN FLETCHER
30,000 people shut down the centre of Melbourne three hours after the first cruise missiles were launched on Baghdad on Thursday. Victorian Peace Network (VPN) volunteers told Green Left Weekly that many of the peace activists they phoned throughout the afternoon to call the emergency rally burst into tears when told that bombing had commenced, but all pledged to activate their networks to take action in the streets. The mood of the emergency rally was sombre but determined.
By contrast, the mood of the similar-sized rally on March 21 was angry and radical. It converged on the Victorian State Parliament to protest Premier Steve Bracks' failure to come out against the war. VPN convenor David Spratt told GLW that the VPN invited Bracks to speak at the rally but were told that no state government minister will speak on a VPN platform. Spratt, an ALP member, gave a fiery speech from the steps of the Parliament, saying that the failure of federal ALP leader Simon Crean to clearly oppose the war had left the way open for Howard to do what he liked. He said: To Simon Crean we say: For 6 months you sat on your hands and gave 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: Don't expect us to welcome you with open arms. Your weakness gave John Howard free reign to support this war. Melbourne Resistance organiser and Youth Against War representative Marcus Praban also stirred the crowd with his passionate declaration that it was the duty of students and all young people to strike against the war on 26 March. The crowd responded, as one, when Praban asked whether the peace movement supported the right of school students to walk out of school on Wednesday for a mass youth rally against the war. A massive roar of yes echoed throughout the city streets surrounding the state parliament.
From Green Left Weekly, March 26, 2003.
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