Archive article from The Socialist Issue 325
"We're Not Going To Stay Quiet"
OVER 200,000 people - twice the expected number - marched through central London last week to protest against George Bush's visit. A youthful, exuberant and disciplined demo showed the huge anger that exists towards Bush and Blair for their brutal invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the horrors caused by imperialism throughout the globe.
The massive turnout, the biggest ever for a midweek demonstration, showed that the mood that existed against the war has not gone away. If anything, it has intensified. All the speculation of violence and even the Istanbul bombings earlier in the day, did not deter marchers from showing their opposition to the chaos that Bush and Blair have caused in the world.
Particularly evident on the demonstration were the number of school students and college and university students, as well as many people turning out on a demonstration for the first time. Many had been inspired by previous anti-war demos and felt it was their turn to get out and march.
Unfortunately, not as many trade unionists were able to attend, showing the difficulties of getting time off work to protest in Tony Blair's 'democracy'. Also, there seemed to be proportionately fewer Muslims on the march this time.
But even the police were forced to concede over 100,000 turned out - a sure sign that the march was at least twice that size. The tail end of the march was only beginning when the first contingents arrived at Trafalgar Square.
Stewards on the International Socialist Resistance (ISR) contingent, which was near the front of the demo, heard that Trafalgar Square was already nearly full, just as the contingent was about to set off.
The ISR contingent attracted hundreds, possibly thousands, of young and old alike, as it was one of the liveliest and politically cohesive and militant parts of the demonstration.
Trafalgar Square itself was more densely packed than it has been for previous demonstrations, despite there being more room at the back of the square in the newly pedestrianised area. The ISR contingent arrived just in time to see the toppling of the Bush statue and there were huge cheers as it fell to the ground.
The demonstration felt at times like a carnival. But this was a carnival of outrage at the actions of Bush and Blair and anger at the state visit of Bush.
The Socialist Party caught the mood amongst the many new young people attending the demonstration. (Signing Up for Socialism). Many came to the stalls asking for information about socialism; a sign that demonstrators were looking for something wider than the anti-war movement - looking towards challenging capitalism and changing the world.
The demonstration showed once again the real desire for an alternative to Blair. But, unfortunately, none of the platform speakers - including some from other socialist organisations (the Socialist Party had asked for speakers but been turned down) used the opportunity to call for a new Left political alternative - a new mass workers' party - to be built from the potential clearly forming around the continuing anti-war movement.
Mark Desgranges spoke to protesters on the demo.
Luke Jones 15, was one of five boys from Fortismere School in Muswell Hill who attended the demo despite being reprimanded by the school.
"It's terrible that we are going to get suspended for expressing our rights" said Luke.
He described Bush as: "Obsessed with power. He doesn't really care about the Iraqi people at all, he only cares about oil."
Many young people were critical of Blair and Bush and the chaos of the occupation in Iraq. Sarah Crawley, 18, from Sheffield said: "I want the Americans to go and for there to be peace. We should have a government in Iraqi interests."
There were many Americans on the march. Heather Downey, a 19 year old student at ULU is from Los Angeles. She rebuked Bush: "He has done terrible things. He isn't listening to anyone in America or anyone here. He does what he wants.
"We shouldn't be in there [Iraq]. Back home Bush told me that the reasons for being there were democratic. I have friends in Iraq and they have been traumatised by the whole thing."
Many of the protesters came because they wanted Bush to know that the British people were against him even though the government is not. Daniel Vanstien, 14, from Kenilworth said: "He doesn't listen to his people or anyone else. He doesn't care. Tell Bush and Blair that we are against them and that the country is against Bush even though Blair is not."
Aminah Awan, 18, from Lahore in Pakistan was unhappy with the result of the conflict. She said the occupation is: "Completely unjustified. They haven't been able to find any nuclear weapons.
Signing up for socialism
THE NATIONAL demonstration against George W Bush's visit to Britain in London on Thursday 20 November had a festival atmosphere.
Socialist Party member John Reid remarked: "Many people were on their first demonstration. One woman in her 70s said: 'I've never been on a demonstration before, But with Bush coming over here and them saying they will close off London for him, I got to the point where I had to demonstrate.' "
Chris Newby reported that at the Socialist Party stall in Goodge Street "loads of people who signed the petition and bought a paper were frustrated that they had to go to work, until explained that they could Join & protest after work in Trafalgar Square.
"School students swamped the stall, covering themselves in stickers, taking ISR leaflets and signing our petition, and we had a lively discussion about our slogan of 'Troops out of Iraq' with them."
Roger Shrives added: "We were so close to the start of the demonstration that with just Chris and me running the Stall at Goodge Street we were completely swamped with people coming out of the tube and wanting to sign our petition against the occupation of Iraq. We sold over 100 papers and collected about £50 in fighting fund, and at the Euston stall it was even busier - we raised £223 for the fighting fund and sold more than 80 papers."
The demonstration overflowed from Malet Street into the adjacent Gordon Street. Eventually it was so packed no one could move.
One fifteen year old came down from Edinburgh on his own. He came to our stall at Malet Street and bought a copy of The Socialist, a copy of Empire Defeated (our new book on Vietnam) and France '68 - Month of Revolution and wanted more information.
At Malet Street the ISR placards quickly ran out, and young people at our stalls were buying our posters and borrowing our stapler and making their own placards. Alan Hardman made up twenty placards from his excellent Bush 'Angel of Death' cartoon and sold them all.
THE MARCH took hours to leave Malet Street. As we proceeded down Whitehall our section found itself leading the demonstration.
Jane James reports: "It was such a lively demonstration. One guy who looked like a business man greeted the demonstrators with a placard saying 'Nicely dressed persons against war', and another placard said "There's a village in Texas short an idiot." Some Americans complained that they couldn't get the "Buck Fush" T-shirts for love nor money.
"We were completely swamped with people coming out of the tube and wanting to sign our petition against the occupation of Iraq"
"One woman had written on the back of her 'Stop Bush' placard the names of twelve people who she was representing, who couldn't come.
"Many others who couldn't make the demonstration made their point, like the office workers I saw who hung home-made 'Stop Bush' and 'No War' posters out of office windows. A pensioner from Cromer, Norfolk, told us he represented ten people who couldn't make it. So much for those who said the demonstration was unrepresentative!"
In Trafalgar Square festivities began early. By midday the square was booming out music and the three Socialist Party stalls were very busy. As soon as we set up people queued to sign the petition and find out more. People from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Uruguay, Poland, Lebanon and the USA signed our petition and expressed an interest in our sister sections of the Committee for a Workers' International-in their part of the world, and everyone bought a paper.
Naomi Byron reported: "What struck me was the number of people who came to the Socialist Party stall specifically to join a socialist organisation, like one school student who had been reading Marx. Then there were two elderly people from Florida who said they wanted to sign the petition because it was in Florida that Bush cheated his way to the presidency."
By the time the speeches were over we had sold well over 1000 copies of the socialist and over £700 fighting fund.
PROTESTS ALSO took place around me country. Scott Herbert reported from Leicester Socialist Party: "On a cold and dismal morning we got together to do our weekly Saturday morning sale, some of us still getting over the week before's flu, some just starting to feel under the weather, but we were determined to protest against Bush's visit to Britain that week.
"We set up our stall near the dock tower. The support was overwhelming! There was deep seated anger at the role of the UK forces and that Blair has let Bush use his visit as a victory parade, and in just under two hours we sold 37 papers and raised £20 for our fighting fund total. Together with our other activity during the week this meant we smashed our sales target for the week".
And in Reading John Gillman reported: "We sold 25 copies of the socialist campaigning against Bush and Blair on our Saturday campaign stall and nine people filled in our Join the Socialist Patty cards. There wasn't a moment that we weren't discussing with people."