Westminster: Just beginning

An enthusiastic and militant crowd of around 7,000 to 8,000 anti-war protestors demonstrated in Parliament Square on the evening of March 20. The bombing and invasion of Iraq had started in the early hours of the morning, with the evidently unsuccessful attempt by the US imperialists to assassinate Saddam Hussein. No doubt under instructions from that great 'democrat' Tony Blair, the police attempted blatantly to obstruct entry to the square by sealing it off from Westminster Bridge and Whitehall: many people eager to protest were thus prevented from joining the main body. Despite this, however, the rally was lively and effective in demonstrating that Blair does not have popular support for his criminal actions. The very size of the crowd spoke for the fact that, despite the outbreak of war, the movement has not been swamped by a wave of chauvinism - there is mass opposition. Blair is still in deep trouble. Speakers included school students who had walked out to join in protests earlier in the day. The rally was chaired by Andrew Murray of the Stop the War Coalition. He read out a list of union actions that had taken place up and down the country in response to the outbreak of war - from the railways to the national health service. Small-scale actions, obviously, and very limited in scope, but really a sign of the unprecedented growth of an increasingly militant anti-war sentiment - in previous wars waged by the Anglo-American gang, even token anti-war stoppages and industrial actions were unknown. Paul Mackney of the lecturers' union Natfhe attacked the reactionary anti-French chauvinism being propagated by the government because Chirac (for his own imperialist reasons, of course) had spiked Blair's attempts to give this war the legal cover of a second UN resolution. Mackney led the crowd in naive but in some ways understandable chants of "Vive la France!" - as well as the more straightforward and to the point "Blair out! Blair out!", which was repeated with gusto at intervals through the rally. Jeremy Dear of the National Union of Journalists noted that a cartel of around 15 regional and local newspapers has been formed to deny publication to any anti-war articles or letters for the duration of Blair's war. So much for the 'war for freedom and democracy'. The rally was also addressed by Lindsey German of the Socialist Workers Party and STWC, who loudly proclaimed that the anti-war movement had "only just begun" in terms of its impact on the government and its ability to prosecute the war. The importance of the March 22 demonstration, in seeking to underline that the government will not succeed in marginalising the anti-war movement, was emphasised by comrade German as well as Chris Nineham (SWP and Globalise Resistance), who noted that a "global movement" was on the march against this war, something with enormous potential power, that had already delayed the war and forced Blair and Bush to try to get UN cover for their actions, and could do much more in terms of making such wars impossible. All in all, this was a good showing for the day that war finally broke out, and augurs well for the continuing anti-war campaign. Kit Robinson Hackney: Proud parents School students organised two separate marches from Hackney to Parliament Square on the day war broke out, leaving adults trailing breathless in their wake, and on Sunday Kurdish youth staged a demonstration with their own placards and slogans. Parents are proudly swapping emails regarding the activities of their sons and daughters on March 20. Phil Kent Cardiff: Angry and confident Around 800 protestors gathered in Cardiff city centre. Some sat down in the road, linking arms to form a human chain and causing disruption around the city. The core of this action centred around a group of university students, some of whom called themselves anarchists. On the whole, the demonstrators were confident and angry - the determination to find a channel for the outrage felt about the war was palpable. After about two hours, the numbers fell to around 300, as people began to drift away. However, this demonstration was more forceful than any the capital has seen in many years. Protestors began to run to different areas of the city centre to intensify the disruption to traffic. Generally, the police were restrained, but there were five arrests when protestors attempted to sit down for the third time in a pedestrianised area, an action that appeared meaningless. At this point, the 30 or so involved seemed to think that spontaneity was an end in itself. There was very little evidence of an organised left with the partial exception of the Socialist Party who at the start of the evening appeared to be providing some lead. Ethan Grech Swansea: Sit-down action Around 600 people assembled in Swansea. The protestors marched though the city centre and initiated a number of small but effective sit-downs, causing congestion to the city's main roads. Although the left were present, many of those on the demonstration were students from the local university. They had attended this demonstration as a follow-up from an earlier one, which had been initiated by students at noon that day. Arrests had taken place after clashes with police over the right to march. The Swansea STWC, which organised the march, is continuing to hold regular public meetings. It is unfortunate, however, that, despite a promising and enthusiastic initial local people's assembly two weeks ago, no recall seems to have been arranged. Bob Davies Dundee: Grappling with democracy Following the anti-war protests made by school students on Wednesday March 19, over 1,000 people, again mainly school students, walked out on Thursday March 20 and assembled at Dundee City Square. Teachers prevented many more from coming, although some joined their pupils in the walkout. Students from Dundee and Abertay universities and Dundee College showed up, as did a good number of workers. Afterwards the rightwing local press tried to lay the blame for this demonstration and the 'destruction to the city centre' on the Scottish Socialist Party and in particular Harvey Duke, the party's candidate for Dundee East in the forthcoming Scottish parliamentary elections. The action was condemned as pupils 'bunking school in order to riot'. In reality they risked suspension and other disciplinary action and acted with bravery and compassion that will hopefully inspire many adults. The press failed to mention the police assaults on three pupils. The vast majority of the school students protested noisily but peacefully against the war. Some students got into discussions with SSP members and firefighters. Those I spoke to were grappling with democratic ideas. One said: "I want to play my part in democracy and have my voice heard. After all I can't vote." The young people involved in the anti-war movement are becoming politicised very quickly and increasingly aware of the relationship between capitalism and war. Many joined an all-day protest outside the Scottish Labour Party conference on Friday March 21, along with firefighters and other anti-war protestors. This culminated in a sit-down protest, stopping city centre traffic, during which several people were lifted. On Saturday March 22 around 1,500 people marched against the war, including SSP supporters, school, university and college students, the Muslim Association of Britain and many others, and held a rally outside the Labour Party conference. The platform at the rally could have been more selective. Two Church of Scotland ministers spoke - the first an anti-war activist for over a decade, who gave a decent speech; the second a liberal type who urged demonstrators to go out and pray for the war to stop. Two Scottish National Party speakers were also allowed to address the crowd. Given that the SNP would have been perfectly happy to see an attack on Iraq following a second UN resolution and it has done nothing to build the anti-war movement, their presence was purely opportunistic. Jim McFarlane spoke for the SSP and there were also two speakers from the mosque. Sarah McDonald Belfast: Ulterior motives Crowds came from different schools to meet at the city hall. At my school, teachers lined up at the gates to stop people from walking out and most of my flyers were confiscated. Many juniors were frightened due to the teachers' intimidation. A group of us left anyway, but we were only about one-fifth of the crowd that originally walked to the lobby intending to leave. When the demo began there was a great atmosphere. After an hour the SWP took the crowd to the American consulate to burn the flag. This gave the police, who were being very reasonable, the excuse to wade in. From then on "SS - RUC" shouts were unceasing, as some demonstrators turned sectarian. This was disgraceful, but we managed to stop widespread escalation of violence. Typical Northern Ireland ulterior motives emerged and the police forcefully cleared the streets. One policeman commented to me: "Don't leave - we get good overtime for this." Most of the protest went very well and there was an impressive turnout. But the police got weary of the sectarian abuse; socialist and pacifist views subsided and a minority took the demo too far. Gary Wilson Surrey: Eclectic protest More than 100 people answered the call of the Surrey Stop the War Coalition to protest the start of the war in the 'conservative' county town of Guildford. Assembling in the town centre, they were addressed by John Morris, acting chair of the county STWC, Robert Cotton, vicar of the local Holy Trinity church, and a student from the Royal Grammar school. This eclectic mix was also reflected in the demonstration - christians, a few young 'anarchists', unaffiliated local people, as well as supporters of the CPGB and the SWP. Protestors slowed traffic, using a crossing controlled by traffic lights to march back and forth across the road to hoots of support from drivers. One, Joyce Kirkpatrick, was struck by a taxi, which fled the scene before it could be identified. Holding her hurt arm, she refused to leave, and hoped only that the incident might attract some publicity to the campaign. The group was joined by Sue Darling, who travelled from Guildford to Iraq on January 25 to join the 'human shield', before being forced to return last week. She complained of the bias the BBC showed in coverage of her group's efforts. Contrary to reports that this initiative had collapsed, she explained that, as she spoke, 50 or 60 western campaigners were facing, with the innocent people of Iraq, the prospect of their own government's aggression. The event was covered by local press and radio, on which John Morris of the Pacifist Party argued that the case against the war remained the same as it had before it began, expressing concern about civilian deaths abroad and anti-muslim racism at home. David Berlin Menwith: Lessons learnt Meeting at the main gate of the communications centre, well over a thousand people of all ages, carrying foil kites, balloons, wind funnels, banners and placards, marched and danced to the sounds of the Sheffield Samba Band. We made our way around to the Nessfield gate, where calls were made to invade the base. People approached the fences, challenging the police presence. The atmosphere changed, as more people moved forward, pushing at them, testing them. The police numbers increased too, but that did not seem to matter. Police attitudes began to change, and, safely behind the wired fence, intelligence teams started to film protestors. They were filmed back by activists. At the Steeplebush gate, with the samba band in full flow, some people again surged towards the gates, decorating them with foil to sabotage the communications equipment. Scuffles broke out, as the police tried to intimidate and bully protestors. Police in a heavy-handed manner tried to force people away from the gates. A cheer went up as a police helmet soared into the air. Groups got through gaps in the outer small fences and ditches. There was a mass trespass, as people surged through trees and bushes towards the base. This was met by police with dogs, and at least eight were arrested, although most were released later. Police clad in riot gear, blue helmets and the full gear, appeared from inside the base and some violence began. Some people were clubbed and kicked. Young women and men were dragged face down through bushes, mud, and trees and then ejected over fences - On the road people shouted, "Shame on you" at the police overreaction. As I left, I could still see people undeterred, breaking through to reach the fences and the war machine beyond. It was a wonderful, inspiring day, where people of all ages showed their determination to oppose this war. Lessons have been learnt. We will be back. Edited from Indymedia North East: Challenge root cause The North East has seen major demonstrations of public opposition to the war in the last week. Spontaneous protests were held in several of the region's towns and cities on March 20. On Saturday March 22 nearly 1,000 anti-war demonstrators attempted to march through Newcastle city centre, but were prevented from reaching their destination by heavy-handed policing tactics. The same day Teesside Against the War organised a magnificent go-slow motor cavalcade. An estimated 300 vehicles, adorned with anti-war slogans and most carrying several passengers, joined the convoy, which travelled at a snail's pace from Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium to a former pit village in Tony Blair's Sedgefield constituency. Hundreds of pedestrians and motorists voiced their support for the demonstrators, as the parade passed through the towns and villages on its 25-mile route. The demonstration culminated with a packed rally in Fishburn Miners' Welfare Hall, addressed by veteran peace campaigner Pat McIntyre, Teesside Against the War's chair Pete Smith and Yunus Bakhsh of Unison and the SWP. Also on Saturday morning 100 people gathered outside Trimdon Labour Club, where Blair's Constituency Labour Party was holding a meeting. On Monday March 24 around 400 people attended a public meeting in Middlesbrough town hall. Many speakers from the floor pointed out how war is inextricably linked with capitalism and will continue for as long as our current ruling class remains in power. Guest speaker John Rees (Stop the War Coalition and SWP) received a standing ovation when he called on protestors not to give up the struggle just because the conflict had started. Now it is more important than ever that we stand together and build this movement into something that can challenge the root causes of imperialism. Steve Cooke Stoke-on-Trent: Noisy start Around 200 people attended a noisy vigil-cum-demo outside Hanley town hall. Organised at short notice by North Staffs Stop the War, the event attracted an audience far beyond the 'usual suspects', and it was heartening to see that around half those present were under 25. The assembled crowd heard a number of speeches by leading figures in the local anti-war movement. Jim Cessford (Socialist Party) reported on anti-war strike action by 50 Manchester council workers, and praised a walkout by pupils at nearby Wolstanton High School. He also thanked half a dozen activists for flyposting the event along the main approaches to the city centre in the hours following the initial attack. Other speakers included Peter Lawrence of the AUT lecturers' union, who denounced Bush and his oil junta and reported on actions at Keele University. Jason Hill (CND) gave an angry and militant speech on Blair's hypocrisy, and Andy Bentley (SP) called for more workplace action against the war. The crowd eagerly snapped up papers and leaflets, signifying a hunger for the ideas capable of challenging the humanitarian gloss given to the war by the Blairite lie machine. Neil Lloyd