Joe Hendren

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Travels: London

'No to Bush' March

Thursday November 20, 2003

Yesterday I stepped out onto the streets of London to 'unwelcome' George Bush in the National 'No to Bush' march.  As my friends that were keen to go on the march all seemed to be at working, I decided to meet up with the Surrey Stop the War Coalition, who were meeting under the overhanging clock inside Waterloo station.

We set off as a group of about 40 to catch the underground to Googe Street, which was one of the tube stations near the start of the march. When we arrived at Googe Street met up with a student group from Royal Holloway College. Around 1.30pm we got moving and turned right towards Mallet Street, joining the march in the heart of University College London. The march had only gone a short distance when it came to a halt. According to one of the marshals the march had been halted by the police due to the greater numbers of people than expected. Although we waited for over an hour for the march to move steadily again all activists remained in good spirits, singing, chanting and blowing whistles and foghorns. Looking around there was a genuine range of age, from babies in pushchairs to those in their 80s. The Surrey Stop the War group were mostly in their 40s and 50s, with some in their 20s and a few in their 70s. Marching near to us was an energetic group from Camden School who with the aid of a couple of megaphones managed to get some good chants going. These included 'Anti-Bush, 'Anti-Blair', 'Anti war, everywhere!'. After my loud voice was noticed, a megaphone was put under my nose. Although they didn't seem to know 'Who let the bombs out; 'Bush, Bush and Blair' they were quickly in tune.

During the march I started chatting with a woman in her late sixties/early seventies. I think her name was Dorothy. She held a large United Nations flag for almost the entire march, a symbol of her involvement in the United Nations Association for a number of years. We ended up marching down the streets of London talking about the Tobin tax, whether compound interest should be regulated (that one was new to me) and how Bush's visit was only designed to prop up a pro war government. We also discussed how the American economy would be put into a tailspin if oil began to be traded in euros instead of dollars, as a weakened demand for greenbacks would mean that the US would not service its high level of debt. It has been suggested that Saddam's decision, late in the piece, to start trading oil in euros was one of the motivations for the US invasion. It was a fun and very heartening conversation. From my contact with the 'anti globalisation' movement, I have sensed that people are becoming more confident in talking about alternatives over the past few years, as movements such as the World Social Forum and the European Social Forum have gained ground.

While the sheer size of the 1 million strong march on the 15th of February was just an awesome thing to be a part of, overall I felt the 'No to Bush' march had far more energy, and so was more enjoyable from that standpoint. The police estimated that there was only around 70,000 marchers, leading the conservative papers such as the Evening Standard to claim there were 'tens of thousands' of protestors. However, these numbers just do sit with the fact that as the first marchers were entering Trafalgar Square there were still marchers at the start point. The route was a long one, going from the north of London, down to Waterloo Bridge, from Waterloo Station to Westminster Bridge, though Westminster and up to Trafalgar Square. The Guardian remarked that the estimate of 200,000 by the organisers was far more likely.

Some of my favourite banner slogans of the day included 'Stop the Organ Grinder, and his Monkey' (Bush and Blair), 'There is a terrorist behind every Bush', 'Trees not Bushes', 'War on Terror is like Shagging for Virginity'. There was also a group three people dressed up as 'puppets' - a black Uncle Sam on stilts with a '$' on his hat, pulling the puppet strings of President Bush, who in turn was pulling the puppet strings of a tiny Tony Blair. Very clever stuff, wish my camera had not run out of film!

As we walked up the Strand towards Trafalgar Square there was a clear scent of burning in the air. I joked 'Anyone smell a burning bush?' Organisers had planned to pull down an 18ft high effigy of Bush but it had already become a bit of folk law on the march that the effigy should to be burnt. We got into Trafalgar Square just before 7pm only to find that Bush had been pulled down a couple of hours earlier. There was still a big crowd, with a few small fires being stoked with used placards as a way of burning Bush's likeness. There is a real sense that going to war without the UN backing and appearing to ignore widespread world opinion has turned Bush from an unpopular figure to a simple figure of disgust. Since I have been in the UK I have also noticed that many more people are now openly calling for Blair to go, especially since his escapades in Iraq.

At the end of the march we started walking back towards Waterloo, a vocal march of cyclists appeared. 'George Bush, on your bike' was proclaimed over the loudhailers. There must have been well over a hundred cycles, including a three wheeled bicycle done up as a 'Peace float'. Even the police were on bikes! Overall it was a heartening and enjoyable day, reclaiming the streets of London for pedestrians and progressive politics. 'This is what democracy looks like!'


You can find some info on the Tobin tax here.
Tobin Tax Initiative

Current Music: "The Masses Against the Classes" by Manic Street Preachers