Published on Sunday, September 29, 2002 in the lndependent/UK
'This War is Wrong and We Won't Stand For It'
Eye witness: Up to 350,000 people marched in London yesterday against military action in Iraq. And they were not the 'usual suspects'
by Simon O'Hagan
It took something to prompt Mrs Mainwaring and her family, from Walthamstow in east London, to take to the streets. But as anxiety increases over the prospect of the US launching an attack, the message of the people was being driven home to President Bush and Tony Blair, a man widely characterized as his unquestioning accomplice: this war is wrong, and we won't stand for it.
The scale of the turnout could be explained partly by the fact that this was two marches in one. For the Muslim Association of Britain, the issue was primarily freedom for Palestine. The Stop the War Coalition's aims were self-evident, and the demonstration was merely the latest in a series it has mounted since before the US went into Afghanistan. But it had never drawn support like this before, and the scenes along the Embankment, where the wait to get moving lasted up to three hours, could be compared only with last week's effort by the Countryside Alliance. September, it seems, has become the marching season.
"Whatever you think of rural issues, I think it's fair to say that the issues at stake on this march are rather more serious," said Lindsey German, the Stop the War Coalition convener. When the march finally ended in a vast rally in Hyde Park, Ms German was one of those who addressed the crowd, along with Tony Benn, George Galloway MP, Ken Livingstone and other leading figures in the anti-war movement.
But the day was only partly about people like them. It was equally about the thousands who, as with the Countryside Alliance march, were losing their marching virginity, and clearly feeling pretty pleased about it. In their very ordinariness they added up to a presence that Mr Blair might struggle to ignore.
Mrs Mainwaring, meanwhile, couldn't remember when she had last been on a march. "I'm a moderate. But I heard this being dismissed on the TV as a socialist thing, and I was determined to show that it isn't." Kevin Waddington, from King's Lynn, Norfolk, added: "It was important to show Tony Blair that he is simply not acting in accordance with the views of the vast majority of people in this country. The so-called evidence in his dossier is almost entirely speculation.."
A variety of shades of opinion were gathered, and you could argue that the items on the agenda weren't all consistent with each other. But the main thrust of it that many in Britain have no stomach for war and are not prepared to give Mr Blair the backing he seeks was undeniable.On the march
Reverend Garth Hewitt, 55, vicar of All Hallows' on the Wall, City of London. On the march because: "We've lost sight of morality and people seem to think that violence is a solution." Will be marching with a cross given to him by the Bishop of Jerusalem, Riah Abu El Assael, a Palestinian Israeli citizen. "I'm marching for the bishop's community as well," Rev Hewitt said, "that their suffering will be stopped. I don't understand where Blair is coming from. I think he's deserting his moral responsibility."
Anas Altikriti, 34, Iraqi living in London. On the march because: "We refuse to be desecrated and tarnished with the blood of innocent children of Palestine and Iraq. Everyone here and most people in Iraq pray to see the back of Saddam Hussein, but to do this with force is entirely unethical and will not achieve its aims. The Iraqi people will have to bear the brunt again and be torn to pieces. It's not fair for a whole country to suffer for the actions of one individual."
Sue Davis, 75, retired churchworker from London. On the march because: "There will be a huge conflagration in the Middle East if we declare war. The focus for me is the tragic situation of the ordinary people in Iraq who will be bombed and who will lose any of the infrastructure they have built up since the Gulf War."
Liz Hutchins, 27, head of student CND in London. On the march because: "I think this is an unjust war and people in Britain have a special responsibility to speak out against it as Blair has made us Bush's number one ally. I'm speaking out against our Government's support for the US. This is said to be the biggest peace demonstration in a decade and hopefully that will send a powerful message to Downing Street. It's about humanity and speaking out for a just and fair world."
Salma Yaqoob, psychotherapist and mother of two from Birmingham. On the march because: Treatment she received on the streets in the days following 11 September. "There was a lot of hostility towards Muslims. It was the first time I'd ever experienced a racist attack. A man came up to me and spat at me." Made the journey to London despite being heavily pregnant. "According to UNICEF, half a million Iraqi children under five had died by 1995 as a result of the war and the sanctions."
© 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd