Yesterday it was 10 years since the Anti-War demonstrations against the Iraq war. A decade on We Are Many are seeking to create a feature length documentary funded it seems though crowd sourcing. It’s a similar format to the one being used for Greenbelt at 40.
Sitting down chatting to Karl last night it was strange thinking back and realising it was all a decade ago.
I remember the run up to the day, sitting talking about it in the staff room at work. There were people who couldn’t go telling me that they were glad I was able to go because I’d be marching for them as well. That was the first inkling I got this was different. Normally there’d be a bit of an embarrassed silence if you mentioned at work you were going on a demo – but not this time.
Third Party was 8 years old with a bright pink Afghan style coat we’d got from Woolies. I was a scruffy git in a biker jacket, jumper and jeans.
As we got to London the size of the demo was something which we did and didn’t get at the time. As I remember it we got ourselves reasonably near the front of the march and slotted in without really grasping the size. What did grab me at the time though was the multi-racial nature of the event. It was the first time I really remember marching alongside Muslim activists. There were also more kids about than usual. The atmosphere was kind of like a carnival.
I remember seeing an off duty Corrie star just in front of us ever so kindly telling a media type who approached her that she was one a day off, just out with some friends. Nobody hassled her, nobody cared who anybody else was – we were all in this together.
I managed to meet up with my dad at Hyde Park and then I took Third Party to Hard Rock Cafe as a treat. We sat by the window and I was struck by how many people were still streaming into Hyde Park.
There was a sense of hope in the air that day which I saw again in 2005 with Make Poverty History and again about 18 months ago at the beginning of Occupy. In all these cases there was a sense that if enough people came together something might be achieved. They were, initially at least, empowering events.
With the possible exception of Make Poverty History, which was a different kind of campaign, the hope was soon replaced by feelings of disappointment and hopelessness. I think for many the cynicism towards politics which has characterised so much of this century really set in then.
Blair had come to power in 1997 on a wave of optimism – it was in the aftermath of this 2003 demonstration that I think the sense of betrayal by New Labour cut deepest.
Do I regret going on the demo? Do I think it achieved more harm than good in some ways?
Answer to the first question is no. My reply to the second is possibly, but I think that has more to do with Blair’s response than the demonstration itself. If I were given a choice between passive acceptance or doing the same thing again there would be no question I’d march again.