Stop the War demonstration, London 2 March 2002

by Stephen Hewitt

Stop the War demonstration, London 2 March 2002
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On Saturday, 2 March 2002 thousands of people marched from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square in a demonstration organised by the Stop the War Coalition. This was the third major demonstration of public opposition since the US and Britain started military attacks on Afghanistan last year.

Speakers in Trafalgar Square included MPs Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway, human rights lawyer Louise Christian, Tony Benn, journalist Yvonne Ridley , NATFHE general secretary Paul Mackney, writer Tariq Ali, Selma of Birmingham Stop the war Coalition and Stop the War Coalition convenor Lindsey German.

Reports of some of the speeches are below.

Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali said that the Israeli soldiers who have refused to serve deserve our support and are a model for soldiers everywhere. He suggested that those of us opposing the US and British military aggression should directly address soldiers here.

He also said that if Iraq is bombed, people should come out onto the streets to protest. He told people not to wait until they were told to do it, just do it straight away, as soon as you hear the news.

Yvonne Ridley

Yvonne Ridley introduced herself as the journalist who was captured in Afghanistan, "fortunately by the Taliben" [rather than the americans]

She said that she had recently re-visited Afghanistan, where people are starving and eating grass. She also reminded us of the failure of the US to achieve its stated objective, which was the capture of Osama bin Laden and that they have stopped talking about him altogether:

Now they want to wage war in Iraq, Iran and wherever George Bush decides to stick a pin in the globe. the war against Afghanistan was unleased by George Bush as a war against terrorism and yet where are the goals they set out to achieve? They no longer talk about Osama bin Laden, they no longer talk about Mullah Omar. That was one of the goals that they set out.

The truth is the Americans are still in a lot of pain from September 11 and they have had no no relief at all from this phoney, phoney war. If only they had stopped and asked why September 11 happened. We are now reaping we are now reaping the whirlwind that has its roots in Palestine, Kashmir, Iran Iraq Somalia Sudan, the list is endless. This doesn't mean that I'm anti-American. We're told that we've got a very special relationship with America. Well if that's the case, Tony Blair should be able to tell his new best friend George Bush something that obviously his closest aides in the White House daren't tell him and that is that his policy stinks.

Finally I would like to quote the words of Gandhi and I hope that guy in number ten is listening to this. I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary, the evil [inaudible] is permanent.

George Galloway, MP

This is a complete transcript:

Brothers and sisters, comrades and friends [foreign words] peace be with you.

Now Mr. Blair is a long way away. He's at the other end of the world in Australia. So we're going to have to sing this next bit loudly so he can hear. Words and music by my comrade Tariq Ali, join with me. Are you listening Tony Blair? No bombs on Baghdad. Are you listening Tony Blair? No bombs on Baghdad. Are you listening Tony Blair? No bombs on Baghdad. Are you listening Tony Blair? No bombs on Baghdad.

Now Mr Blair better be listening to this great demonstration today - and friends there are still people arriving in this square from Hyde Park two hours after we left at the head of the march - Mr. Blair has to be listening to the 86 out of 100 backbench labour MPs who last Sunday for the BBC said that they were against a new war against Iraq and incidentally 86 out of 100 also said that they rejected George Bush's simplistic nonsense about an axis of evil.

An axis of evil is not a phrase that I myself would ever use or would have chosen to use but Mr. Blair if there is an axis of evil in the world, it's the axis which begins in a White House on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington and ends in the cabinet room in west Jerusalem of general ariel sharon.

And it's that axis which even as we speak today sees sharon's soldiers roaming above and within two refugee camps in Palestine, in Nablus and Jenin hunting down the young men and women of the intifada and murdering them in cold blood with american weapons supplied by george bush at one end of the axis of evil and fired by sharon's soldiers at the other end of the axis of evil. And that's why we say from the stop the war coalition victory to the intifada, victory to the Palestinians, long live free Palestine.

And I hope that Mr Blair will listen to this next part also. The whole world is against a war against Iraq. All of the Arab countries, the European Union, Russia China Africa Asia all imploring the United Nations to avert this catastrophe. Mr. Blair this war can only go ahead if you join it. If you join us instead in saying "hands off Iraq", "no more war against Iraq", we can stop the war against Iraq and that's why those Labour MPs who spoke in private to the BBC must now speak in public, and vote in public in parliament against this war against Iraq.

And my last point, Andrew, is this. I myself do not believe that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction. Indeed I believe Iraq is the only country in the whole region which does not possess weapons of mass destruction. But if I'm wrong but if I'm wrong and you are right, as you have declared that this is a war to change the Iraqi regime who by definition will all be shot down or hanged from the lampposts at the end of it, then that's what the Americans call a zero-sum game.

You win everything or you lose everything. And if you are right and Iraq does possess these weapons, then you'd better be sure that Iraq will use them. You'd better be sure that this war will spread, spread throughout the Middle East, set the whole region on fire, and in those circumstances the regime in Baghdad will not be the only regime to be changed at the end of that war. Some of your best friends will fall from their puppet thrones and presidencies as well. We don't want to see the Middle East on fire. We don't want to see any more people dead.

More than 1 million Iraqis are already dead as a result of Bush wars against that small Arab country. we want no more deaths, no more war, no more sanctions. Let the Iraqi people live. Thank you very much.

Louise Christian

The following is a complete transcript:

Thank you can I first of all say that this demonstration is yet again absolutely brilliant. Again we've filled Trafalgar square, again there are thousands of people here, again there are new people here who've not been on our demonstrations before and we've shown that we're not going to give up, we're going to keep going on, we're going to keep getting more support, we're going to keep building support against this war,and we're going to show that the British public will stand up to their government and will insist on democracy in our own country.

Right from the beginning, the Stop the War Coalition has been clear that this war would mean an attack on civil liberties and human rights and that's been put at the forefront of our agenda from the beginning that was before we knew that David Blunket would push through a bill through parliament against so-called terrorism it was before we knew about Guantanamo bay and it was before it became clear just how selective Bush and Blair are when they talk about human rights and civil liberties.

The thing about human rights is that they are indivisible they are universal as the American Declaration of Independence puts it all men and indeed all women are created equal. Human rights are for everyone. You cannot have pick and choose human rights. If you criticize the government of Afghanistan then you must stand up to the state of israel. If you criticize the government of Zimbabwe then you cannot behave yourself in the way that the US are behaving in Guantanamo bay. If you condemn as we did the attacks on the world trade centre, then you cannot bomb innocent civilians as a response, because that is not the way to wage any kind of defence of civil liberties or human rights in the world generally.

And also I would say to the British media who have raised an outcry about the fate of the detainees in Guantanamo and I'm going to talk a bit more about that, but what about the people who are being held in Belmarsh? It's not good enough even just to condemn the US, you also have to look at what the UK government is doing to people here.

In this country we already had the most draconian legislation on terrorism in the whole of Europe before David Blunket even pushed through his new anti terrorism crime and security act with hardly a debate in parliament. We banned 21 groups, refugee groups like the PKK. If the if the terrorism act had been in force when apartheid was in South Africa we would have been banning the ANC. And this week two of those refugee groups went to court to try and overturn that ban and we should be supporting them and we should be saying that the Terrorism Act 2000 which replaced the old Prevention of Terrorism Act which used to have to be passed every year, is unacceptable.

But but even even given that draconian legislation they pushed through the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act which they could only do by what's called derogating from the human rights act saying that means that saying we're not going to abide by article five of the human rights act we're going to derogate from it because we want to lock up people indefinitely without proper recourse to a court and but the people who are in Belmarsh who have been described as being in concrete coffins they don't know how long they're going to be there, they've got no proper right to a trial and they've been forgotten about by the British media nobody's talking about them and we need to be talking about them too.

In Guantanamo the people there are being held in cages open to the elements without sanitation with only a bucket to relieve themselves in with no exercise and that is inhuman and degrading treatment. Now I believe that even though they are being held completely incommunicado, without access to a lawyer, without access to a doctor, I believe they may well know about the protests that are occurring here about their treatment because they have gone on hunger strike, it was over being denied the right to wear turbans, but when people like us protest it often does get through. It is no accident that the Campsfield detention centre is being closed. It is not being closed 'cause it is out of date, it is being closed because of the success of the brilliant close Campsfield campaign.

And that's why it's important to go on making a fuss about gross breaches of human rights because protest does work because dissent does work, because governments listen when people stand up and protest and that's why this demonstration is important and that's why it's important that a main aim of this coalition is to stop the attacks on human rights, to stop the attacks on civil rights, and to fight for human rights universally over all the world. You cannot secure human rights by killing innocent people. You can't bomb your way to civil liberties. Thank you.

Tony Benn

Tony Benn said that the situation was such that for the first time in his life he advocated non-violent resistance. He said that in retrospect, and I'm an old man now, I think that we could have done more to resist such things. He said yes, come out onto the streets if Baghdad is bombed, and endorsed other things that previous speakers had said, and then he added a new proposal. He said if Iraq is bombed, then stop what you are doing for one hour. Stop your work. Make everything in the country stop, the buses, the trains. And people will ask you why you are doing it. And then the debate will shift away from the media and parliament, to the people. He didn't expect it to be widely taken up, but advocated it anyway.

Tony Benn was particularly warmly received by the crowd that remained in the square.

I don't have a recording of this speech. The following complete transcript is taken from http://www.banthebomb.org/peace/020322i.htm It matches the partial transcript from the printed Pledge Newsletter of the Pledge of Resistance No.2 June 2002 . (See http://www.justicenotvengeance.org/ for information about the pledge of resistance)

Comrades!

Comrades our slogan today is "not in our name" but unfortunately, it is in our name. The bombs that are dropped on Iraqi will be British bombs funded by British taxpayers like ourselves. The depleted Uranium that was used before was paid for by us. All the crimes that have been described today are crimes that will be committed by a government that we have elected and which is accountable to us and the question for us now is what do we do now to stop them doing what they are planning to do now. That is to say, the responsibility belongs to all of us who are here in Trafalgar Square and everyone else in Britain who opposes the war.

Now, Jim Mortimer said quite rightly the trade union movement should take action to bring pressure to bear, I agree with that. Tarqi Ali said that when the bombing begins we should go into the streets and I agree with that but I want to go further than that. When I look back on my life, and I am and old man now. I look back and I think we never did enough to stop the things that were done in our name and we must now see if this war begins that we do more than we did in the past until the people that we elect hear what we say and take notice of what we do.

On Armistice Day ever year we stop for two minutes to remember the people who died. I have come with a proposal that when the war begins we stop for one hour every day to prevent the deaths of people who are now alive. We should now seriously think of something I have never suggested in my life before, in this way, that we should have non-violent resistance to the government which is doing these things in our name. Instead of two minutes silence at the end of every year remember the women in Baghdad today who will be widows in two months' time, the children who will be orphans, the towns that will be destroyed, the people who will die and resolve now that the moment that bombing begins we go to where we are and we stop for one hour.

Stop the buses. Stop the trains. Stop the schools. It's all very well going to Downing Street, I've spent half my life at Downing Street, in, outside Downing Street. It has to be more than that, its got to be something we take up in every town and village.

I put it to you, go home to day, talk at your school about what you will do in your school when the bombing begins. Raise it in the churches, in the mosques in the synagogues, raise it at your place of work because we could well be headed for a third world war triggered off by stupid men who are now in charge and are governing in our name.

I think we have to take some lessons from some of the greatest leaders in the world, I think of Mahatma Gandhi who was in and out of prison half his life, never did any harm to anybody, but by God he made it clear he would not accept British imperialism in India and we should not accept American imperialism in the world in which we live.

That is my proposal I dare say it won't be widely taken up but everyone who stops for an hour will be asked "why have you stopped" and we can get the debate going. Take the debate out of the television studios and the Mill Bank tower and the House of Commons and bring it back to us because we are responsible for the future of the planet and the future of the human race and comrades we cannot let our children down.

Good luck. Thank you very much indeed.

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