London: "One Million and Still They Camer" (excerpt)

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Sat Feb 15 20:47:38 MST 2003

The Observer (UK)
February 16, 2003
One million. And still they came

Euan Ferguson reports on a historic peace march whose
massive turnout surpassed the organisers' wildest
expectations and Tony Blair's worst fears

By Euan Ferguson Sunday

'Are there any more coming, then?'

There have been dafter questions, but not many. At 1.10
yesterday afternoon, Mike Wiseman from Newcastle upon
Tyne placed his accordion carefully on the ground below
Hyde Park's gates and rubbed cold hands together. Two
elderly women, hand in hand in furs, passed through,
still humming the dying notes from his 'Give Peace A
Chance'. They were, had he known it, early, part of a
tiny crowd straggling into Hyde Park before the march

Half a mile away, round the corner in Piccadilly, the
ground shook. An ocean, a perfect storm of people.
Banners, a bobbing cherry-blossom of banners, covered
every inch back to the Circus - and for miles beyond,
south to the river, north to Euston.

Ahead of the marchers lay one remaining silent half-
mile. The unprecedented turnout had shocked the
organisers, shocked the marchers. And there at the end
before them, high on top of the Wellington Arch, the
four obsidian stallions and their vicious conquering
chariot, the very Spirit of War, were stilled, rearing
back - caught, and held, in the bare branches and
bright chill of Piccadilly, London, on Saturday 15
February 2003.

Are there any more coming? Yes, Mike. Yes, I think
there are some more coming.

It was the biggest public demonstration ever held in
Britain, surpassing every one of the organisers'
wildest expectations and Tony Blair's worst fears, and
it will be remembered for the bleak bitterness of the
day and the colourful warmth of feeling in the
extraordinary crowds. Organisers claimed that more than
1.5 million had turned out; even the police agreed to
750,000 and rising.

By three o'clock in the afternoon they were still
streaming out of Tube stations to join the end of the
two routes, from Gower Street in the north and
Embankment by the river. 'Must be another march,'
grumbled the taxi driver, then, trying in vain to
negotiate Tottenham Court Road. No, I said; it's the
same one, still going, and he turned his head in shock.
'Bloody Jesus! Well, good luck to them I say.' There
were, of course, the usual suspects - CND, Socialist
Workers' Party, the anarchists. But even they looked
shocked at the number of their fellow marchers: it is
safe to say they had never experienced such a mass of

There were nuns. Toddlers. Women barristers. The Eton
George Orwell Society. Archaeologists Against War.
Walthamstow Catholic Church, the Swaffham Women's Choir
and Notts County Supporters Say Make Love Not War (And
a Home Win against Bristol would be Nice). They won
2-0, by the way. One group of SWP stalwarts were
joined, for the first march in any of their histories,
by their mothers. There were country folk and
lecturers, dentists and poulterers, a hairdresser from
Cardiff and a poet from Cheltenham.

Cheer upon cheer went up. There were cheers as marchers
were given updates about turnout elsewhere in the world
- 90,000 in Glasgow, two million on the streets of
Rome. There was a glorious cheer, at Piccadilly Circus,
when the twin ribbons met, just before one o'clock.

The mood was astonishingly friendly. 'Would you like a
placard, sir?' Sir? The police laughed. One, stopping a
marcher from going through a barricade in Trafalgar
Square, told him it was a sterile area, only to be met
with a hearty backslap. 'Sterile area? Where did that
one come from.' 'I know,' shrugged the bobby. 'Bollocks
language, isn't it?'

'I'm not political, not at all. I don't even watch the
news,' said Alvina Desir, queuing on the Embankment for
the start of the march at noon. 'I've never been on a
march in my life and never had any intention. But
something's happened recently, to me and so many
friends - we just know there's something going wrong in
this country. No one's being consulted, and it's
starting to feel worrying - more worrying than the
scaremongering we've been getting about the terrorist
threat. I simply don't see how war can be the answer
and I don't know anyone who does. And, apart from
anything else, as a black woman in London, it feels
dangerous to spread racial tension after all that's
been done.'

A Cheshire fireman nearby said: 'They will take notice
of a protest like this. Our MPs, and Blair himself ,
were voted in by ordinary people like those here today.
Blair is clever enough not to ignore this.'

Linda Homan, sitting on bench at 9.30 in the morning,
watching a bright and dancing Thames, had come down
early from Cambridge and was wondering at that stage
whether many would turn up. Palettes of placards lay
strewn along the Embankment, waiting. A trolley was
pushed past filled with flags and whistles; there were
more police - then, way back then - than marchers.
'I've never felt strongly enough about anything before.
But this is so different; I would have let myself down
by not coming and I think this will be something to

For Linda, like so many along these streets, it was her
first march. Twelve-year-old Charlotte Wright, who came
up by train from Guildford, Surrey, on her own. 'My
parents aren't very happy about this but I think it's
important. Bombing people isn't the right way to sort a
problem out.' Jenny Mould, 36, a teacher from Devon. 'I
drove up last night. It took seven hours but it was
definitely worth it; the Government should, it must,
listen to the people, otherwise what's the point in

Retired solicitor Thomas Elliot from Basildon, Essex, a
virgin marcher at 73, said: 'I remember the war and the
effect the bombing had on London. War should only be
used when absolutely necessary.' Andrew Miller, 33,
from New Zealand, whose feeling, echoed by all around,
was that 'all the different groups that are marching
today show the world that the West is not the enemy,
that British people do not hate Islam and Arabs and the
coming together of people is the greatest way forward.'
Lesley Taylor, a constitutional law lecturer who's
lived across here for 29 years, holding a forlorn
placard reading 'American against the war.' Why only
one? 'I don't know any other Americans here. In the
Eighties here I saw a lot of anti-American resentment,
and now it's back. I accept that the perception of
George W. Bush has something to do with this, but
still... these are the same people the thinking middle-
classes, who were so shocked and honestly sympathetic
after September 11: how can they turn so nasty so

'Because America is making your Prime Minister go
against the huge majority of the British people. And
that won't be forgiven. Look about you. That's what
this is about; not fierce party politics but a simple
feeling that democracy, British democracy, has been

Chris Wall, a Nottingham mother who had brought down
eight children with her: 'They talk about it at school
and that's a good thing. Children need to be aware of
what's happening in the world. And this is, of course,
a peaceful protest.' It remained so all day, despite
the numbers; by five o'clock police were reporting only
three arrests.

In Hyde Park itself, a long line of purple silk lay on
the grass, facing Mecca, and Muslims took off their
shoes to pray. Beside it, artist Nicola Green had set
up her Laughing Booth, and was encouraging people in
to, obviously, start laughing, on their own, and be
recorded; it was, she says, the most disarming of all
weapons. The sky above the nearby stage grew dark, and
the park grew even more astonishingly full.

Charles Kennedy won loud applause for stating that 'The
report from Hans Blix gives no moral case for war on
Iraq'; George Galloway won both applause and laughter
for suggesting a new slogan: 'Don't attack Chirac'. Mo
Mowlam warned: 'We will lose this war. It will be the
best recruiting campaign for terrorists that there
could be. They will hate us even more.'

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