witness accounts – Samia Rahman on the 15 Feb 2003 Demo
was something different about the mood of the nation as February 15th
approached and I could sense this was going to be a demonstration like
no other I had ever experienced. The guys from JUSTPEACE told me they
needed stewards and I thought why not?
my first taste of the thrill of collective action during the protests
in London against the WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999. That was well before
everyone had mobile phones and as I was held in Euston Square by the police
for 3 hours after ‘rioting’, I managed to borrow a phone off
someone and sheepishly called my mum to let her know I’d be home
a little late that evening and suggested she might want to look out for
me on TV. She sighed her usual sigh of resignation and said she would
put my dinner in the oven!
years later and it seemed everyone I knew was gripped by a sense of frustration
compelling them to take to the streets and make their voices heard.
was amazing - all my friends and family were talking about the 15th of
February. My sister, brother and mother who had never been on a demonstration
before wanted to be there. My friends, Muslim and non-Muslim, some of
whom I had never known to be interested in politics at all, were planning
to march. Friends I had not seen for years were e-mailing, asking if I
was going on the march and we agreed to try to meet up in Hyde Park –
an optimistic plan in hindsight!
week before the march and the Stop The War office in East London was a
frenzy of activity – frantic phone calls to recruit stewards, sending
out press releases, massive media interest, calls from celebrities asking
how they can help, planning the route, figuring out how best to protect
the grass in Hyde Park… the anticipation was immense.
involved knew it was going to be huge, and I mean really huge, and that
meant a carefully co-ordinated plan to orchestrate a safe and comfortable
march for all the hundreds of thousands of people we expected.
stewards meeting on the Wednesday before the big day was packed, with
many Muslim as well as non-Muslim volunteers despite it being Eid-ul-Adha.
Everyone was briefed with essential information about the route, timings,
location of amenities etc. We then split into groups to develop a strategy
for the front and back of both the Gower Street march and the Embankment
march, the point where the marches converged at Piccadilly and Hyde Park
itself. Everyone was excited, filled with talk of the government’s
slanderous hype about a terrorist strike to coincide with Eid, and discussing
wild rumours of a possible shutdown of the tube to prevent people getting
to the rally!
February 15 had a crisp, wintry feel to it and despite the initial shock
of getting up so early I arrived at the embankment enthused and invigorated.
Positioned at the front were the likes of Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone,
Damon Albarn, Bianca Jagger and Tariq Ali and as the crowds gathered behind
us and people came, and came and still kept coming, it was an awesome
view of streams and streams of protestors as far back as the eye could
see. The atmosphere was electric, everyone was filled with a sense of
purpose… it was an unforgettable scene.
of as many as 2 million people from across the UK converging on the capital
to oppose war on Iraq were filtering through the crowds as were reports
of marches around the world. Each person added their voice to millions
of others in more than 60 cities across the world demanding peace on a
day of global protest. What an amazing thing to be a part of.
arrived at Hyde Park, careful to walk gently on the delicate grass for
Tessa’s sake. Exhausted yet invigorated, the people drank Mecca
Cola, sang slogans of ‘Make Tea, Not War’ listened to stirring
speeches by JUSTPEACE’S very own Shahedah Vawda, Jesse Jackson,
Michael Foot, George Galloway, Charles Kennedy and others and many bopped
to the sounds of Ms Dynamite. The people were still streaming in even
as the rally ended and as we set about clearing up it seemed clear to
me this was a day when the common values of humanity and civilisation
stood up to resist the slide into hatred and war.