Ten million stand up for peace

IssueMarch - May 2003
News by Caroline Lauer

The demonstrations of 15 February are a milestone for peace. Never before have so many people taken to the streets to protest against war. Hundreds of cities, across five continents, were swallowed up by a tidal wave of people opposing the bombing of Iraq. More than ten million marched for peace in 603 cities around the world.

In Rome, Madrid, London, and Barcelona the number of demonstrators reached the millions. With 2.5 million pouring into the streets of Rome, two million in Madrid and one million in Barcelona, the response was unprecedented. Britain had its largest ever demonstration with around 1.5 million people marching in the streets of London.

The scale of the demonstrations in these three countries reflects the support that their governments have given to George W Bush in his plan for war with Iraq. The people have clearly shown that they feel alienated from their rulers, and demand to be listened to.

In other countries, the coalition against war has also rallied thousands of people. Half a million people protested in New York City and Berlin, while 800,000 gathered in Paris. About 150,000 people marched in Montreal and 100,000 in Dublin. There were further marches in Indonesia, Malaysia, Taipei, Thailand, India, East Timor, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, Singapore, South Korea and Japan. The protests were attended by many people who had never demonstrated before, alongside long-serving peace activists.Photo

Protesters “invade” the Volkel military base in the Netherlands.
People take to the streets in Japan as the AEGIS destroyer sets sail.
Activists in rooftop occupation at the Geilenkirchen airbase in Germany .


Moments of unity

Such numbers speaking out against the war should make it difficult for Bush and his allies to continue ignoring the will of the people. The rhetoric of a nuclear, chemical or biological threat, used by the axis of oil to justify the bombing, has failed to fool people. The masses have understood that the bombing of Iraqi people is more a matter of controlling the oil reserves of the region than any real threat from weapons of mass destruction.

In South Africa, Ivan Abrahams, a Methodist minister who was among the thousands who marched in Cape Town said: “We are saying to Bush `you are not the saviour of the world, and we will not bow down to you.'“

On this memorable day, ordinary people showed a rare moment of unity, overcoming their own internal struggles to stand up against the few in power who are willing to go to war. In the Bosnia Herzegovina city of Mostar, Bosnians, Muslims and Croats marched side by side for the first time in seven years. In Cyprus, Turks and Greeks joined together and briefly blocked a runway at a British airbase. In Tel Aviv Palestinians and Israelis rose above their divisions to protest against the war.

In New York, where the city authorities had refused to allow the march, Bishop Desmond Tutu gave a vibrant speech saying: “What do we say to war? NO! “What do we say to brutality? NO! “What do we say to justice? YES!”

Peace activism at work

Action against the war has reached its peaks on 15 February, but peace groups have been active since Bush unveiled his aggressive plan for Iraq.

From 17 to 19 January , protests took place in at least 23 countries to mark the 12th anniversary of the Gulf War against Iraq in 1991. In London, 400 people gathered in front of the gate of Britain's military HQ in Northwood. Peace activists blocked the main gate for more than eight hours and a side gate for 90 minutes. The action resulted in the arrest of 70 people. In the Netherlands, 50 people were arrested after entering Volkel Airbase. A week later, 500 people blocked Geilenkirchen airbase in Germany, which is the HQ of NATO's Airborne Early Warning Force and Control Force (AWACS).

At the beginning of February, Australian women performed a peace action that attracted huge media coverage around the world. More than 750 women lay nude on a hillside at Byron Bayon. Their joined bodies formed a figure in the shape of a heart with “no war” spelled inside.

On 26 January, two peace campaigners from ARROW wearing “Bush” and “Blair” masks gave a theatrical performance outside the US Embassy in London. The two protagonists tore up the UN Inspectors' Report on Iraq and the UN Charter, vowing they would bomb Iraq whatever other countries and the people would say. They stepped into a bath of fake blood representing the blood that would be spilled during the war.

The previous day, seventeen people were arrested during an anti-war protest outside the United Nations in New York, where chief arms inspector Hans Blix was addressing the UN Security Council about the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Between two and three hundred people chanted slogans and held up signs reading: “Let the inspectors work” and “No to Bush's oil war”.

Glimmer of hope

In December, five peace activists used home-made rubble to block the downtown Duluth, Minnesota, army recruiting office. Michelle Naar-Obed, who was arrested, said the rubble was used with ashes and pictures of Iraqi children. She said: “We wanted to show people going into the office a part of what they sign-up for. The recruits are normally told about travel and adventure, not the deadly side of their assignment.”

The peace movement seems to be in good health. Far from being submissive to the warlike mood of the politicians, ordinary citizens stand up to say “no” to war. The recent events have released a glimmer of hope that peace can win over war.

Photo Photo Photo
New York: 16 January arrests outside military recruiting office.
London: ARROW activists in bloodbath outside US embassy.
Minnesota: rubble and ashes action outside recruiting office.