by David Broder
On Saturday 24th took place the last of the major London demonstrations against the war in Palestine, after almost four weeks of embassy pickets and mass marches. Coming a few days after the end of the war but with a continuing siege of the Palestinians, the protest attracted around 2,500 people. Three people were arrested after clashes with police FIT squads (i.e. cops taking pictures of demonstrators’ faces).
This leaflet was distributed by a network of anti-capitalists who have worked together on Palestine solidarity. Some photos and comments on the day appear below.
The march began with a rally close to the BBC’s Broadcasting House near Great Portland Street. This was in response to the BBC’s decision not to show the Disasters Emergency Committee charity appeal for the Palestinian victims of the conflict, which was criticised by Cabinet ministers. The speeches by the likes of Tony Benn and other Stop the War grandees were characteristic, although a bizarre touch came with a Green Party speaker singing a chunk of Manic Street Preachers hit If you tolerate this after his speech.
Broadcasting House. The Stop the War Coalition newsletter circulated on the 23rd was entitled “URGENT REQUEST TO ALL STOP THE WAR’S SUPPORTERS: GOVERNMENT COMPLAINS TO BBC FOR BLOCKING GAZA APPEAL: JOIN THE GOVERNMENT’S PROTEST: COMPLAIN NOW TO THE BBC” and furthermore commented that “it is imperative that the BBC responds to the government’s complaint and reverses its decision” – odd indeed given the government’s patent hypocrisy and previous attacks on BBC staff opposed to the war in Iraq.
Relatively speaking the placards of the Stop the War Coalition were more dominant on today’s demo than at previous protests, and there were only a sprinking of Hezbollah flags (I did not see any Islamic Republic of Iran or Hamas flags).
Not all of the sentiments on show were desirable, and this crude comparison of historical events does our movement’s credibility no favours.
We marched through Oxford Circus and through Regent Street.
Police guarded this Starbucks (the march was confined to the opposite side of the street) after the smashing-up of a Kensington High Street branch on the 10th January march.
The march had been meant to head for Downing Street, but it was blocked off by a couple of lines of police as well as stewards and barriers.
A rally in Trafalgar Square featured many of the same speakers as when demonstrators assembled, including Tony Benn (who as usual stressed the need to “talk to young people”, the SWP’s Lindsey German, a man extolling the virtues of the “anti-war” Liberal Democrats and speakers from a variety of Islamic organisations. Most interesting was a speaker from the occupation at King’s College London, although he did not exhort protestors to come and take part – thus keeping this potential way of continuing the movement a students-only affair.
As the rally came to a close we were again and again given the sentiment “thanks for coming, you’ve been great, see you next year”. The appeals to fight again next time fell rather flat… particularly as, two weeks after the biggest anti-war mobilisation in six years, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Stop the War’s conservative lobbying tactics had gone on to demobilise the campaign, including the tepid and poorly mobilised 17th January “women and children only” march.
All in all, it felt like a rather deflated end to a surge in the anti-war movement which at times brought many thousands of people into political activity for the first time.