Nine years ago today more than fifteen million people marched against the Iraq war in cities all over the world. Over a million of those were in London, despite the freezing cold – and I was one of them.
I’ve been on many huge demos since that day, but never one quite that big or quite that impassioned. Almost certainly the biggest demonstration in British history, it brought together people from all walks of life and from all over the UK – all of whom were demanding one thing: that Tony Blair’s government must not go to war against Iraq.
In an article published in The Observer the following day, Euan Ferguson described the remarkable turnout:
There were, of course, the usual suspects – CND, Socialist Workers’ Party, the anarchists. But even they looked shocked at the number of their fellow marchers: it is safe to say they had never experienced such a mass of humanity.
There were nuns. Toddlers. Women barristers. The Eton George Orwell Society. Archaeologists Against War. Walthamstow Catholic Church, the Swaffham Women’s Choir and Notts County Supporters Say Make Love Not War (And a Home Win against Bristol would be Nice). They won 2-0, by the way. One group of SWP stalwarts were joined, for the first march in any of their histories, by their mothers. There were country folk and lecturers, dentists and poulterers, a hairdresser from Cardiff and a poet from Cheltenham.
I remember – at various points – marching alongside a group of young mums with their little ones in pushchairs decorated with anti-war banners, a gaggle of old-school punks (complete with multi-coloured mohicans), and an elderly vicar in full vestments, who energetically waved one of those SWP placards that seem to turn up at every major demo in London.
I remember people waving placards demanding that we ‘Make Tea, Not War’ (a sentiment I highly approve of), or quoting the late, great Bill Hicks’ famous comment about knowing the Iraqi government had WMDs in the first Gulf War because “we looked at the receipts”.
I remember reaching the junction of Westminster Bridge and Parliament Square by Portcullis House and – bizarrely – the whole march stopping as one as the traffic lights turned red (I’m still not sure if that was a co-incidence or not!)!
I remember climbing onto a traffic island at the top end of Piccadilly and turning back to see where the end of the march was – and being astonished that I couldn’t. There was just a huge sea of people everywhere, as far as the eye could see and beyond. That’s when I realised just how big this was. It was a jaw-dropping moment.
We must have been pretty close to the front of the march, because we actually made it into Hyde Park for the rally. I’ve since spoken to many people who didn’t, and have heard stories of marchers who were stuck, freezing cold, on the Embankment for hours and hours in what was basically a human traffic jam that stretched for miles.
It was an incredible, inspiring day and I’m proud to have been part of it, even though it didn’t stop the war. However, nine years on, we can all see the damage that has been caused by governments worldwide ignoring and dismising the massive and outspoken public opinion that was expressed on February 15th 2003 in so many places.
Indeed, I vaguely remember Tony Blair himself, a man who could quite rightly be categorized as a war criminal, describing those who marched in London as having “blood on their hands”, a comment which made me even more angry at the hypocrisy and greed of our government and others.
We can all see the damage that was caused by the war in Iraq – and the blood of many thousands which will never wash off the hands of the politicians involved in the invasion and subsequent conflict. We can all see the damage that will continue if David Cameron and co. get their way and invade countries such as Iran to further protect oil supplies.
We can all see the damage. When will it end?
Nine years on, and despite the many millions of ordinary people who have been killed, injured, displaced or who have lost everything as a result of these conflicts, there is still warmongering – and it is still not in my name…