February 15, 2003

Hyde Park February 15th, 2003

Hyde Park February 15th, 2003

It was a big rally, all right. Probably the largest in British history. Around 750,000 to 1,000,000 persons ended in or around Hyde Park protesting the impending war in Iraq. I began to hear the low din of anti-war chanting from my flat in Belgravia around 1:30 in the afternoon and made my way to the park shortly thereafter. It was an odd experience to shiver in the cold London afternoon and listen to speaker after speaker bash the U.S. and (more often) W. Never did I expect that I would be present at a rally where Jesse Jackson began praying, requested that all present hold the hand of a person next to you and then have my hand clutched by a perfect stranger as hundreds of thousands prayed collectively.

The woman who grabbed my hand was likely in her late 40s. She appeared a typical middle class Briton, perhaps a schoolteacher from central England, a small shopkeeper, a librarian? When she grabbed my hand I glimpsed at her face. She wore an expression of real concern and fear. I suspect a good chunk of the protestors (not the old line Yank haters, hard left, anarchist fringe etc) attended this march more out of fear of the ramifications of a conflict than out of deep-seated grievances on this or that policy issue.

What am I saying? I'm saying that Bush and Blair have more work to do. They have to a) persuade more of the public of why Saddam is in breach of 1441, and b) reassure the public that they have a workable plan for post-war Iraq. Blair, in particular, has to appeal to the great middle of the British polity in the coming days and make his case with greater intensity than he has before. Much of the public is confused, fearful, in need of additional explanations from its leaders.

This undertone of general anxiety and fear aside, there was much that was offensive and predictable about the rally. The war is solely about oil, I heard repeatedly. The U.S. has more WMD than any other nation on earth, why doesn't it disarm? (It hasn't used WMD since WWII, Saddam has repeatedly in the past decade plus, for starters). Amidst Chirac for PM signs, George Galloway amused the crowd by stating that he would rather be eating cheese on the Left Bank reading Sartre than chomping on popcorn amidst the guns and bibles of Crawford, Texas. Ken Livingstone stated that W didn't give a damn about human rights. There was repeated reference to the plight of the Palestinians and invective hurled at Sharon--with express linkage being made between Iraq and the ongoing problems in the Holy Land. More rationally, some speakers broached the theme about why non-enforced U.N. resolutions dealing with Israel were of no particular concern to the American government in sharp distinction to violated U.N. resolutions dealing with Iraq. Yoko Ono couldn't make it, but a message was read on her behalf. The gist: imagine this or that. Bianca Jagger blathered on a bit about when a nation can legally go to war (no surprise, the U.S. had no legal justification in legal eagle Bianca's estimation). Harold Pinter painted the U.S. government as run by sociopaths and war criminals and then, when he began reciting poetry, got even nastier.

And, of course, there was the young woman puffing on a joint who, missing the beginning of a chant, turned to her friends and queried: "what are we supposed to be saying now?"

Peace in our time, perhaps?

Posted by Gregory at February 15, 2003 10:12 PM
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