HUNDREDS OF thousands of people took over central London last Saturday to march against war on Iraq and for freedom for Palestine. The size of the demonstration stunned many people. Marchers waited around four hours to leave Embankment, while speakers at the end rally were already addressing demonstrators as they poured into Hyde Park. Thousands more joined splinter demonstrations that spilled out into other parts of central London, including a march up Oxford Street.
Many have been enraged at the police's underestimate of the numbers on the march, in contrast to their craven support for the Countryside Alliance's dubious claims of how many attended their march.
Observer journalist Euan Ferguson, who joined last Saturday's march, commented, 'Scotland Yard said at 2pm that perhaps 40,000 had turned up. The Stop the War Coalition claimed the total was more than 350,000. The police reluctantly moved up to 150,000, and the truth was, if anything, higher than either. It was a big, big, important march, and quite angry and quite mixed.'
The anti-war march was the largest in London since anyone can remember. It was also one of the most diverse. There were Muslim groups, black and white trade unionists, students, veteran peace campaigners and community groups from Scotland down to the south coast of England.
The march had a joyous spirit, with a flavour of the anti-capitalist demonstrations that have taken place around the world. Many home-made placards reflected the march's political concerns. They attacked Bush and Blair for being war criminals, demanded justice for the Palestinians, and declared that a war on Iraq was really about oil.
The marchers who reached Hyde Park in time for the rally applauded enthusiastically at speeches from trade union leaders, socialists, leading Labour Party dissidents, and campaigners like John Pilger. The speeches only ended when the police threatened to cut the power, denying many marchers a chance to hear the last speakers.
The marchers last Saturday knew they had taken part in a historic event. Many, many more wish they could have been there too. It was a confident declaration to Tony Blair and George Bush that the anti-war movement is growing and is determined to stop any war on Iraq.