Socialist Worker

Growing anti-war movement: From the teach-ins to street protests

by Helen Shooter
Issue No. 1772

Thousands of students in universities and colleges across Britain are mobilising against the war. The war is producing some of the biggest meetings on campuses that have been seen in years. 'We reckon nearly 500 students took part in the teach-in at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London throughout the day,' says Sandy Nicoll, a member of the university's staff, about the day-long event last Saturday.

'The lecturers loved it. Students enjoyed it and learned a lot,' said Sandy. 'After the meetings we arranged music and a bar for those at the teach-in, and there was a great atmosphere.' Many of the students were against the war, and wanted to debate wider ideas like the role of the media and US foreign policy.

But other students were more undecided about the war. One said, 'I wasn't 100 percent sure where I stood, and I found the teach-in really useful. For the first time I've heard what the issues are about.'

The successful teach-in came out of regular activities and organising meetings, and a 260-strong meeting that the Stop the War group held at the start of term. Other departments, including politics, development studies and Middle East studies, are running their own series of seminars in the wake of the teach-in to discuss issues around the war.

The Islamic society has organised a debate with a representative from the US consulate.

The SOAS experience is not an exception. Around 300 students attended a debate at St Andrews University in Edinburgh two weeks ago. Carlo Morrelli, who was one of the lecturers debating the war, said, 'St Andrews is like the Oxford and Cambridge of the Scottish system, and has traditionally been right wing dominated. But a small number of students set up an anti-war group and organised a debate. It included Paul Wilkinson, a pro-war professor of terrorism who is often quoted on the television. Roughly half the students clapped those who spoke against the war, and no one from the floor spoke in favour of the war. The following day 100 students attended a meeting held by the Middle East society.'

In Manchester University some 270 students attended a meeting over the war two weeks ago with speakers including Sheila Rowbotham, Hilary Wainwright and Tariq Mahmood, director of the film Injustice.

Arlene Finnigan, a student at the university, said, 'The debate was really good, and it was followed up last week with 400 students at a union general meeting. The pro-war speakers didn't have the confidence to speak against the motion which was proposed by the Islamic society. The vote was unanimous for the motion, which condemned the bombing.'

A lecturer at Bath Spa University initiated an anti-war meeting that around 200 students and staff attended two weeks ago. Student Richard Stephens said, 'People were really impressed by the size of the demonstration in London, and I've written an article for the student magazine about it.'

Some 200 students attended a meeting at Warwick University recently that was initiated by the lecturers and staff. Damian King, one of the students, said, 'It was mainly students at the meeting, and people raised loads of things like Palestine and how globalisation fits into the war.'

At York University two weeks ago 'the politics department seminar was turned into an anti-war meeting', explained student Hussain Ismail. Between 400 and 500 students attended a meeting over the war at Sussex University on Wednesday of last week, initiated by the university's vice-chancellor and staff.

These meetings and protests are in stark contrast to an article in the Guardian last week headlined 'Students Shun 'Stop the War' Movement'. Vic Eynon, a student at Newcastle University, which was referred to in the article, said, 'I think the article put a slant on what is happening in the university. There was a meeting against the war in the university which 60-70 students attended. Then 100 students turned up to a union meeting, and union policy is now anti-war.'

In other colleges, around 50 students attended two anti-war meetings on two sites of Westminster University. Some 50 students attended teach-ins at both Leeds University and Leeds Metropolitan.

At Cambridge University Muslim students joined members of the environmental group People and Planet and other students at a recent 60-strong organising meeting to plan anti-war activities.

At Lancaster University around 60 students came to an anti-war organising meeting two weeks ago. At Essex University 65 students attended a meeting two weeks ago to discuss mobilising the anti-war feeling around the university.

Around 70 students at Guildhall University attended a lunchtime meeting about the war on Thursday of last week. Students in colleges everywhere are eager to debate the war and get involved in activities against it.

That mood can be turned into lively groups that build opposition to the war on a local level and mobilise an even bigger anti-war demonstration in London on 18 November.

Out to stop Bush-Blair bombing

  • Around 1000 people joined a rally in Preston on Saturday against the war, called by the local Stop the War Coalition.

  • Over 300 people braved the rain to join a silent protest and sit-down outside Whitehall in London on Sunday.

  • Some 500 people marched through Canterbury against the war last Saturday

  • Hundreds joined a march through Exeter on Saturday against the war.

  • Over 150 people marched through Colchester last Saturday against the war.

  • Over 100 people marched through Shrewsbury on Saturday, where Paul Marsden, the Labour MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, sent a message of support to the demonstrators.

  • Around 150 people attended the launch meeting in Clapham, south London, of the local coalition against the war last Friday night.

  • Around 60 people came to an anti-war meeting in Cheltenham last week organised by the Gloucestershire Network Against the War.

  • Some 20 people held a street meeting in Tower Hamlets, east London, on Saturday, and 350 people joined the local Stop the War Coalition. Parents from a local school made a banner in English, Bengali and Somali saying 'Stop the war'.

  • Around 200 joined a peace vigil in Newham, east London, last week

  • A very lively street stall was held in Ayr last Saturday by Scottish Socialist Party members to oppose the war.

    Speaking out

    STUDENTS AGED 16-18 at further education and sixth form colleges are also being attracted to the growing opposition to the war. Lecturers in various colleges have organised debates that have encouraged students to start their own discussions and activities against the war.

    Lecturers in the NATFHE union at Blackburn College organised a debate on the war on Wednesday of last week. Over 70 members of staff and students came to hear two lecturers debate. Around 80 percent were students. 'It's terrible what happened in New York,' said one Asian student. 'The three-minute silence was good, but if we had a proportionate silence for all the people killed by the US we'd be silent for 50 years.'

    At the end of the meeting a vote was taken. Over 60 people were against the war and only ten voted for it. In Hackney College in east London around 50-60 students attended a lunchtime meeting about the war last week.

    Lecturers had organised the meeting, and one of them went to fellow staff members' classes making announcements about the meeting. Adeola Johnson, one of the students, explained, 'There was a great debate. Everyone in the meeting signed a list saying they wanted to get more involved.' Nearly 25 students at Bury Sixth Form College attended a meeting arranged by the debating society last week.

    Student Sian Roddy spoke against the war, while a lecturer agreed to put the arguments for the war. Sian said, 'When there was a count at the end, the majority were against the war.'

    An A-level politics class at Orpington College in Kent last week was turned over to a debate about the war attended by 40 students. At the Clapham site of Lambeth College in south London 80 students joined a lively meeting about the war last week. The Islamic society on one of the Bradford College sites organised an anti-war meeting last week that 80 students attended.

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    Article information

    Sat 27 Oct 2001, 00:00 BST
    Issue No. 1772
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