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Reflections on the march – the power of anti-war movements


As I stood by the side of the road in Whitehall, a woman came up and bought a copy of Peace News from me, saying: I’m buying this for sentimental reasons.  I used to be a Peace News seller. (In fact, she used to sell Peace News in Charing Cross Road outside Foyles, when the regular seller was off sick.)

I wonder how many of us on the march were also there for sentimental reasons. There were thousands of us to be sure.  There was genuine anger over Palestine, many more young people than I was expecting, and some controversy over Iran (George Galloway was heckled over his recent remarks over gay rights in Iran) but otherwise, in my view, are somewhat flat tone to the demonstration.

It is nothing in comparison to the agony of the people of Iraq, but I think it is worth saying that we, that is the anti-war movement, are still traumatised by the invasion of Iraq.

The invasion, in the face of global opposition, was a huge blow to the confidence of what the New York Times called the world’s second superpower.  It was a huge blow to democracy.  (The blow to the stability and security of the people of Iraq hardly needs mentioning.)

What is hidden from us, what is hidden from history, is the story of how we nearly derailed the war.

When we go back and look at what happened in 2002 and 2003, what we see is that the North American anti-war movement was strong enough to force President Bush to need Tony Blair; the British anti-war movement was strong enough to force Tony Blair to need a UN Security Council resolution; and the global anti-war movement – particularly in Mexico and Chile – was strong enough to deny Washington and London the resolution that they could craved.

The invasion was delayed for months.  This delay nearly gave the UN weapons inspectors the time they needed to deal with Iraq’s weapons issues nonviolently (I wrote about this in my book Regime Unchanged).  It gave the anti-war movement in Britain the chance to shake the government to its core.  Just days before the invasion, the Ministry of Defence was having to draw up contingency plans for not taking part in the invasion, in case the government lost the vote in the House of Commons on the 18th of March.  The Defence Secretary was phoning Donald Rumsfeld to warn him of this dire possibility.  Tony Blair was telling his children he might be losing his job.

The British government was no doubt frightened by the precedent in Turkey, where on the first of March the government had lost a vote on a resolution to allow the US to use Turkish land and air corridors for the invasion of Iraq.  Democracy worked in Turkey, but unfortunately it didn’t work in Britain.

The movement that was successful in Turkey was made up of people like us, those of us standing by the side of the road – and marching in it – in Whitehall yesterday.

(For more on all of this see the latest JNV briefing.)

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