It is soon to be the 10th Anniversary of the London demonstration against the Iraq war. This is what I wrote at the time.
Ten days ago I went on the Stop the War march in London. Me and a disputed number of others ranging from 750,000 to 2 million. In my view well over a million. We started at the Royal Festival Hall, walked down to Blackfriars Bridge and then back down the Embankment. We reached the Embankment tube station after an hour and a half. This was the official starting point of the march and at this point we were told that the head of the march had just reached Hyde Park. We looked across the river and saw that there was still a solid phalanx of people going past the Festival Hall. We knew that another arm of the march was starting from Gower Street so at that point the march must have been some six miles long at the least. Six miles and whole streets wide. There was no question of keeping half the streets open for traffic – the whole of Central London was closed.
That is a huge number of people, almost certainly I shall never again be in such a large aggregation of my fellow human beings. The equivalent, perhaps, of twenty Twickenhams or fifteen Wembleys.
As we walked along, talking, reflecting, occasionally chanting (though it was really quite difficult for the cheerleaders to get us polite middle-Englanders into voice), the mood was surprisingly subdued. And then we heard it. The Roar.
From way behind us we heard it, quiet at first but then in a steady crescendo as it rolled down the march towards us. It came upon us like a vast auditory Mexican wave. When it hit us intuitively we waved banners, hats and shouted. Not slogans, not chants, no “Tony, Tony, Tony, out, out, out!” just a shout which melded into the great roar.
Within a few seconds it was past us. It was if the Severn Bore had passed over the march. In its wake, once more, we were quiet. The roar had touched us and passed on.
I have heard other roars. In Grosvenor Square in October 1968 there was a huge roar but that was a roar of anger – anger at a futile but vicious war, anger at the trampling police horses and flailing truncheons. This roar was not like that. At the time it was difficult to see what it was about. Every quarter of an hour or so it returned, sometimes from the rear, sometimes from the front. It must have been sweeping back and forth along the six miles leaving no-one in any doubt that something was being said.
It is only later that I can reflect and puzzle out why I was walking down those London streets, shouting and cheering. Yes, to stop an unjustified war was the clear motivation but the roar was also telling a different message – or, indeed, many messages from the very many people there.
Perhaps the roar was for the sense of powerlessness. It had some features of a primal scream (coming from deep down, inarticulate, relieving) but it was not about personal injury. We roared for a world where two-thirds of its people live in poverty. We roared for the 3,500 people who died of hunger on September 11, 2002 – and every day thereafter. We roared for society – our society – which was changing in ways we deeply oppose. Where basic constituents such as health and education are seen as ways of enriching the few at the expense of oceans of debt accrued by young people, by hospital trusts. We roared against the destruction of our planet by the rich and powerful, at the tearing up of even the most tame of environmental agreements. We roared at a globalising world that does not share resources globally but uses globalisation to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. We roared against an economic system that turns us all, each and every one of us, into consumers, valued only for what we can be persuaded to spend and thus deprived of our own humanity – our relationships, communities, cultures, loves and hopes.
All this and much, much more fuelled that Roar. We do not know what effect the day will have but we do know that on February 15, 2003 the people of this world of ours roared.