10 years on – the day a million anti Iraq war marchers will never forget

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By John Millington

It’s 3am, Saturday February 14th 2003.

I’m sitting up in my room, side light streaming in my face, sipping a strong cup of Assam Tea, fighting the urge to fall asleep.

The halls of residence or “college” as we called it, was silent.

My friend and fellow student Josh, who I have just come back from the nightclub with, is stumbling around murmuring about the night’s activities.

But my mind is focused on getting myself ready for the biggest anti-war march ever.

I’d been on a few demonstrations before so when we arrived in London later on that day, it was obvious this was something special.

People thronged the streets, in some parts with more than 25 across.

Marchers climbed trees, building and walls, erecting banners and peace flags.

High flying police helicopters were laughed at.

The Met were spectators that day as the march policed itself peacefully throughout.

I remember being barely able to move, ears filled with multiple voices expressing one sentiment: “NO WAR.”

Fellow traveler Joe and I carried his heavy homemade banner with the simple words “Don’t Attack Iraq! all the way to Hyde Park, just in time to see the inspiring Rev Jesse Jackson speak.

His famous words: “Stop the War, Save the Children” still resonate today.

Nothing more complicated was needed. No other noble cause needed to be raised, at least not on February the 15th.

Marchers minds were focused. We felt representative of a cross section of society and public opinion; Working people, middle class professionals, the elderly, students and families. We all had a strong presence.

It was an empowering experience, not just politically but personally. You start thinking that with passion and organisation you can take on something or someone more powerful than you and win.

Yes the march alone failed to stop the war.

The peace movement is not the force it was and many people I interview in that “movement” believe more drastic forms of “civil disobedience” and direct action are now needed, particularly to counter the austerity cuts.

Today Europe is awash with street battles, strikes, sit-ins and the brutal regimes quiver at the sound of people marching on the doorstep of their dictatorship.

When will it be British people’s turn to strike fear into the coalition?

To many the demonstration on February 15th 10 years ago was a failure.

For me it was character building and a sign that the British public is not apathetic when faced with an issue of importance to them.

As a freelance journalist, I will be covering the rally tonight outside Downing Street, calling on Britain to withdraw from Mali and not to bomb Syria or Iran.

The future is not written but as the good Reverend Jackson said on that infamous day 10 years ago: “Don’t you give up, don’t you surrender. Your spirit and faith will be tested. The war machine will give us fierce opposition.”

“Keep hope alive, we the people will win.”

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