I was late. Rushing outside, after the dance class (Egyptian dancing… it was the zeistgeist-y trend for 2003) had finished, I looked up into the sky and a police helicopter hovering over. Ha! The demo can’t be that far….
Sprinting to the tube, I wondered whether I would make the Embankment but assumed it had already moved off (I was wrong). Instead, after various interchanges between tube lines, I got to Piccadilly. My memory joining the demo at Piccadilly, bizarrely in hindsight, was that it seemed small. Didn’t occur to me that I was marching in a block of many… Possibly due to not joining the demo at the start I didn’t get the full experience of the vast numbers. Marching towards Hyde Park (remember how NL didn’t want us plebs to have the rally there because they wanted to “protect the grass”) I turned around and saw masses upon masses of people marching. Some carrying official placards, but many had created their own DIY placards. Then it struck me that this was one momentous and historical occasion. In the autumn of 2002, I was in Florence attending the European Social Forum. The final day was a demo in protest against war in Iraq. It was extremely large, vibrant and dynamic, protesters from all over the world coming together.
We marched, translated as Antonio Gramsci Boulevard, through a sea of red flags being waved from windows in this predominately working class area, people also cheering and shooting at us. It was a wonderful feeling of collective solidarity and warmth. People handing us bottled water and giving us hugs too.
Thing is, you don’t get that reaction on the streets of London but on 15th February 2003 you did. People joined the demo. I do remember a group of guys watching us from the pavement, they asked me why I was marching and I said, “Against war in Iraq”…. They looked at each other and nodded and replied, “We’ll march against that”.. and joined us. The strength of feeling against war in Iraq was striking. People didn’t want this unjust, illegal and barbaric war. People were on the streets marching against Blair’s impending war. It was collective anger, resistance and an almighty chorus of “Not in my name”!
For me, I didn’t get to meet up with my own branch union (Unison) banner and comrades, nor the other college unions, AUT and Amicus. Hyde Park was gridlocked and I was tired instead I went home. Speaking to people who were stewards on the demo they said they marvelled at the sheer numbers and that people just kept coming and coming and coming….
My only gripe back then is that I wished I had taken up photography…..