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stop the war protest, London, Oct 8th

October 9th, 2007 | 2 Comments | Categories: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc. |

So yesterday was the Stop The War protest in London. Starting with a rally in Trafalgar Square, and then a march down Whitehall to Parliament Square. It was a relatively small affair (relative to the 2 million who descended on london on the eve of the war back in 2002), but the ranks were swelled by the Government’s attempts to declare it illegal – something on which they wisely made a u-turn at the last minute.

The speeches were the typical ‘preaching to the converted’ arrangement – does anyone go to a rally like this to get information? To have their opinions changed? I guess they have value as part of the process of disseminating information, statistics and updates on things that haven’t been in the press, but having lots of lovely trade unionists shouting at a government who aren’t listening to ‘get out of Iraq’ seemed a bit of a waste of time… Anyway, Mark Thomas and Mark Steele were both good value as always, George Galloway was as self-aggrandising as usual, and the former-SAS soldier was rather poignant. I didn’t get to hear Walter Wolfgang or Brian Haw, but I guess they were probably interesting too.

The march then proceeded down Whitehall, which was fine til we arrived at Parliament Square to find the square itself fenced off, and the police blocking the road and not really explaining to anyone what was going on. I asked a friendly looking officer, who told me it was ‘probably to get the people through into the square in larger groups’, as opposed to the stretched out nature of the march… Fair enough, would’ve made sense to let people know.

So they proceeded to let the march through in chunks, and herd people off down Millbank, instead of allowing them to assemble in the square, which quite understandably pissed off a lot of people. There didn’t appear to be any reason not to allow people into the square. Tempers flared a little, and a group of anarchists staged a sit down protest in the middle of the road at the junction between whitehall and the square. Nothing major kicked off, but it did expose the lack of a plan that the police had…

Anyway, a few observations… As Jyoti very wisely points out, while the minor altercations between the police and anarchists in the square became a protest about the right to protest, the main purpose of the day was to continue to voice the need for the UK government to a) be held to account for their part in the political disaster and human tragedy that is Iraq, b) to call for the withdrawal of troops who only seem to be rubbing salt into the wounds of a deeply lacerated country, and c) to call on the government to be unequivocal in condemning the disastrous idea of a US or Israeli military strike on Iran. Those are not, by their nature partisan political demands. They don’t require a subscription to a particular doctrine or left/right divide. So it’s a shame that the terms of engagement are defined by the old school left, the trade union movement, and the constituents of the march itself were largely dominated by the ‘usual suspects’ – trade unionists, students, hippies, religious activists and leftie political groups.

This is certainly to the shame of the anti-war contingent to the centre and right of the political spectrum, but is also a reflection of the culture within which such protests are formulated and implemented. In this ultra-brand-conscious times, the Stop The War coalition is only a partial coalition, of the aforementioned groups, and has managed to marginalise those whose opposition to the war is through a broader ethical and humanitarian framework, and less through a strongly held belief in the democratic right to protest in the tradition of the post-Marx left, trade unions and the ‘real’ Labour movement…

I’m not sure what needs to be done to change this – perhaps such people enact their democratic right to protest in other ways, via web activism, personal lobbying of MPs, signing petitions etc. But as a show of strength of opinion, few things carry the same weight in media-savvy times as footage of hundreds of thousands of people on the streets. I’m not sure how many were there yesterday – 10,000? perhaps. As a percentage of the number of people who distrust the government over their actions on the middle east, it’s paltry. Still enough to make a noise, but certainly evidence that a hell of a lot of people don’t feel inspired by or included in the Stop The War Coalition…

Anyway, it was good to be there, very lovely to see Jyoti again, and important to be a part of such a thing, and lend my support to such an obviously positive message.

click here to view a slideshow of my pictures from the day

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Huw Spanner

    I’m wondering why I didn’t hear about this march at all beforehand – except through Steve’s Facebook status. I looked for word of it online and couldn’t find it.

    I’m feeling a bit disillusioned at the mo. I went to the “big” Burma democracy march last Sunday, which had been advertised through Facebook (and maybe even organised by one of the Facebook groups). There had been so much public sympathy for the people of Burma that I imagined that 10s of 1000s would turn up. But they didn’t. The TUC steward told me, ‘We’re saying there was 10,000, but actually there was 3-5,000.’ So, imagine my disgust when I got home to find the BBC saying, on the radio news and on their website, that ‘hundreds’ had marched. And on the evening news they didn’t even mention it.

    What’s going on?

  • Jyoti

    Good seeing you too, dude! Sadly, in all the running about, I forgot to get a piccy of you :-(

    I was impressed with the turnout on a working day. But, yeah, it would be good to have had more people!

    I thought the cops made idiotic mistakes in the way they policed the whole demo. If they’d just stopped traffic for an hour and let us all on to the grassy bit, there would have been zero shenanigans.

    Funny how they can stop the traffic for *hours* for the marathon but peace protestors aren’t worth even half-an-hour’s disruption.

    Bread and circuses…