have the power"
Filed from London, UK on 13 February 2002
Photos and text by Tarek Atia
MP George Galloway began his speech with "Assalamu Allaikum."
Playwright Harold Pinter made a surprise appearance, and called Bush a "creature". "The US is a nation out of control," said the celebrated writer, "and unless we stop it, it will bring barbarism to the entire world."
The march had run from Embankment all the way to Hyde Park, and by 4 pm, there were still hundreds of thousands of people streaming into the park. A screen on stage indicated that 1.5 million people had turned out, a number that soon was reported to be 2 million.
Ken Livingstone, the controversial mayor of London, confirmed the turnout by saying the police had just told him that over a million people had come. "With the police you can double it, so I'd say 2 million is about right," he said. The next day's paper put official estimates at 750,000.
The organizers seemed pragmatic. They were saying this was only the beginning of their movement, and that if Blair actually followed through and did take the country to war, they would bring him down. They also urged people to strike if a war did happen, to shut down the city and take over public spaces.
Another refrain indicated that they didn't want a war, even if another UN resolution was passed.
It was amazing to see the Palestinian flags flying high at the front of the stage.
One after the other, the speakers at the march were highly critical not only of Bush and Blair and the hawks who were actively pursuing this war, but of Israel and its Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as well. It seemed amazing that Israel was being so openly criticized like this in the West, but later conversations with Londoners confirmed that it was normal, and that actually, the criticism seemed softer than at previous demonstrations.
Livingstone was also amongst those critical of Israel. "There can only be one standard for judging nations," he said. He also railed against Bush, calling him a coward for sending his country's young men to war, while as a young man himself, Bush had gotten "his daddy" to to get him out of serving.
"We are not prepared to be stooges to the most corrupt US administration in 80 years," he said.
Internal British politics were key here -- the fact that Blair had not consulted parliament before deciding to go to war, and that he was a pawn of Bush's -- were bad omens for the British prime minister. And indeed, it would seem reasonable to believe that he'd lost whatever popular base of support he might have had by choosing to got to war despite this overwhelmingly public display of anger at him. I mean, you could not have imagined a similar number of people marching in support of Blair's decision to go to war.
Whenever I asked Londoners why they had elected him the answer was always the same -- nobody knew he would turn out like this, plus, the years the country had lived under the conservatives had soured people off of that party completely.
Galloway also had a few choice words for those who were critical of France's more thoughtful approach to the whole conflict. "I would rather be eating cheese and reading Sartre on the banks of the Seine, then having popcorn with the Bible belting fundamentalists of the Republican party."
Galloway said Britons had "voted with their feet" by coming out to the protest in such great numbers.
By the time Miss Dynamite -- the most famous female British rapper -- did her song, the crowd was getting cold. When she finished, the organizers left the marchers with a final battle cry -- "if Tony Blair takes this country to war, he is not only fighting Iraq, but the British people as well -- and we will overthrow this government."
SEND YOUR COMMENTS, OR SUGGESTIONS FOR ARTICLES AND USEFUL LINKS, TO GLOBE@CAIROLIVE.COM