The attack on the World Trade Centre in New York on 11 September 2001 shook the world. But many knew it would be used as an excuse to send US troops charging around the world.
In Britain, just ten days after the attack, over 2,000 people gathered in Friends Meeting House in central London to begin to organise opposition to George W Bush and Tony Blair.
Veteran Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said the meeting was “a call to action—no blank cheque for Bush, no to bombing, no to revenge”.
At meetings in the days and weeks that followed, the Stop the War Coalition was founded. It was based on saying no to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, opposing the Islamophobic backlash and defending civil liberties at home.
On 7 October the nightmare of US vengence came true—the first bombs were dropped on Afghanistan (see below). The next Saturday 50,000 people marched in London against the war.
On that demonstration, Riaz Ali, who came with a delegation from Birmingham mosques, told Socialist Worker, “I do not care if people are Muslim or not. If they are prepared to fight to stop this war then they are my brothers and sisters.”
This unity became a defining feature of the anti-war movement.
The demonstrations grew. On 18 November, 100,000 marched from Hyde Park—workers, students, pensioners, experienced campaigners and first-timers, black, white and Asian.
The Stop the War Coalition held its first conference in January 2002.
The Socialist Workers Party was central to setting up the coalition. Now, across the country, socialists ensured local groups were created and reflected the breadth of the demonstrations.
By then Bush and Blair had Iraq firmly in their sights. Some 200,000 people marched under the banner, “Don’t Attack Iraq, Freedom for Palestine” on 28 September.
In the face of endless lies, the anti-war mood deepened. But no one could anticipate what followed.
On 15 February 2003, resistance to the war burst out around the world. Protests took place in 600 cities in over 60 countries—millions marched.
In London, history was made with the largest ever political demonstration. Two million people took to the streets.
The city came to a standstill—some couldn’t even reach London due to the sheer mass of people. Special trains brought thousands from Manchester and Liverpool.
In the belly of the beast, ordinary people had risen against the government. Kath, a student from Scarborough, told Socialist Worker on the day, “You get a gut feeling of the power we have when we all get together.”
No section of society was left untouched by the anti-war movement.
When the US and Britain dropped the first bombs on Iraq, tens of thousands of school students walked out in the biggest direct action to hit schools for generations.
Reports of the monster protests were beamed around the world, giving hope and solidarity to people in Iraq and across the Middle East.
A new political generation was born. Anti-war opinion became cemented into British social consciousness.
Military Families Against the War was set up—an unprecedented organisation of families and friends of soldiers serving in Iraq or killed there.
Media Workers Against the War organised to challenge the role of the media in putting the case for war.
And huge anti-war cultural events involved artists, musicians and poets.
Today, in Libya, our rulers are trying to rehabilitate “humanitarian intervention”—war by another name.
We must expose their excuses as just more lies.
Contact the Stop the War Coalition at www.stopwar.org.uk