Joe Hendren

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Travels: London March Against the War

Stop the War, London

Saturday February 15, 2003

One of my favourite photos ever.  Says it all.

Today I joined over 1 million people marching against the War on Iraq.  I caught the tube to London Bridge station around 12pm, expecting that this would be about as close as I would get to the Embankment starting point.  There was also another starting point somewhere else, with the two streams converging at Piccadilly Circus before making their way to Hyde Park.  I joined the masses near Blackfriars station - soon after one of the organisey people with a megaphone informed the crowd there had been an 'awesome' turnout.  He told us the march was already stretching from Trafalgar Square, to Westminster, right back to Blackfriars.  A huge cheer went up.

Looking around the crowd, two things especially thrilled me about the march.  Firstly, there was a genuine cross section of people involved.  While the young outnumberd the old, there were far more older people on the march than most New Zealand marches I have been involved in.  A thought also struck me.  Many people that had not been on a march before would today be exposed to a new array of facts that do not get coverage in the western media. Like the fact that the US has more nuclear, chemical and biological weapons than anyone else, like the fact the Palestinians remain under illegal occupation.  In this way the march gave me a lot to be hopeful for.

My favourite quote of the day came from an older lady in her 50s. Looking over at a group of march drummers, covered in green body paint and spouting mowhawks and various punk hairstyles, the lady turned around to her friend 'They don't look much like the Salvation Army do they!'.

While most were there for the march, others saw it purely as a commerical opportunity. Some of the tourist street vendors had taken to selling whistles and foghorns, which only served to discourage people from joining in chants and give many people hearing problems by the end of the day.

Going past number 10 Downing Street

The Daily Mirror tabloid, who have taken an anti-war stance, produced placards for the march, together with their logo.  An advertising ploy I was not going to fall for.  I found an alternative placard calling for 'No War in Iraq' and 'Freedom for Palestine'.  I held it aloft once I had ensured that 'MAB' stood for the 'Muslim Association of Britian', not representing anything commerical.

Thankfully I took my camera. I hadn't bothered to do the seeminly obigitory touristy shots in central London until yesterday, but I am glad I waited.  I would much rather have a shot of big ben with a big protest below, a photo of the Nelson statue in Trafalgar Square covered in pacifists and banners, and Piccadilly Circus overrun with anti-war sentiment.

It was a long march and made due to congestion of people it made slow progress at times. Once I had reached Hyde Park many of the speakers had already finished. Appeared that I had missed the famous Tony Benn, but I heard the last two speakers Ken Livingston and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Ken Livingstone told the crowd that the march was the biggest in 2000 years of London history. I even got to see the back of Jesse Jackson's head. The style of Jackson's speech was more like something you would expect in a Southern American Church, addressing us as 'brothers and sisters'. A constaint refrain of his speech 'there is hope, there is hope', 'there is hope' and 'Another world is possible'. After Jesse Jackson a Muslim guy spoke briefly. He told us of another London Muslim who had heard from his family in Bagdad by cellphone. Their simple message was 'thank you, thank you, thank you London'. The musician Ms Dynamite then did a short set.

 Hordes of principle in Hyde Park

As I was making my way out of Hyde Park thousands and thousands of marchers were still coming in, even though it was past the 5pm finishing time. It made getting out of the park difficult! On my way to Victoria Tube Station I came accross rows and rows of buses, each with an A4 piece of paper on the window advertising the group who had hired the bus and where they had come from. It seemed every Anti War Coalition, CND and peace group in the lower half of the UK had their own bus - a really heartening thought. I heard later that 65 buses came from Bristol alone, and that the firefighters union had organised two trains to transport marchers south to London.

It was an amazing day, and at its end many went away with the comforting knowledge of being part of something special.