Vibrant protests ruined the visit of Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, to north west England last week.
Rice was one of the architects of the Iraq war and has been making aggressive statements against Iran in recent months.
Jack Straw, British foreign secretary and Blackburn MP, invited Rice to Blackburn and Liverpool as part of a charm offensive designed to show the unity of the US and British governments, and to soften the image of George Bush’s administration.
Instead, everywhere Rice and Straw went they were met with protests organised by the Stop the War Coalition. These wrecked the positive PR image that the most powerful politician in the world and her British lackey wanted to present.
The visit started badly when the Masjid al-Hidayah mosque in Blackburn withdrew its invitation for Rice to visit.
It then got worse for Rice and Straw when around 300 parents, pupils and other local people demonstrated outside Pleckgate High School in Blackburn on Friday, forcing Rice and Straw to scurry in through a side door.
Hanif Dudhwala, from the school’s community leaders’ forum, told Socialist Worker, “Some parents and myself arranged the protest because of the lack of consultation from the school management with the parents and governors.
“We believe that schools are centres of learning and are about setting good role models. With the visit of Condoleezza Rice, we are concerned about what role models we are setting our children.
“If Condoleezza Rice visits a mosque and a school in Blackburn she is saying that those places are of high significance. But then how can she justify bombing mosques and schools in Iraq?
“Around 100 pupils did not attend school that day and instead came to the protest. This was organised at 3pm the day before the visit.”
Yasmin Mubarak, a parent of children at the school, said, “It was a very successful protest. It has been a tough week finding out that Condoleezza Rice was visiting my hometown and my children’s school.
“I knew something had to be done and confronted the head teacher. It is astonishing that the school had not consulted with people about this visit.
“As parents we could let the atrocities carry on in Iraq or could do something to protest. We have gathered in unity to make our stand.
“Condoleezza Rice is not welcome in Blackburn. We must voice our opinion for the orphans of Iraq and the British soldiers killed in Iraq.”
Rice and Straw also had a bad Friday afternoon. Protesters jeered them as they entered the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA).
The decision to bring Rice to the institute angered a number of students, including those who were to perform for her.
Performer Jennifer John made the organisers let her sing John Lennon’s “Imagine” to Rice and Straw.
Halfway through the song she broke into Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance”.
Other students hung anti-war banners out of the building’s windows. More than 20 students stood in a silent protest against her.
Jamie Fatzi, a LIPA student who joined the protest outside the school, told Socialist Worker, “They told us four days ago that Condoleezza Rice was coming.
“Students played no part in deciding this. Inviting the US secretary of state is like saying you support the US government.
“Most students don’t agree with her coming.”
Then it was on to the Liverpool Philarmonic Hall, where poet Roger McGough and actor Cathy Tyson had pulled out of compering and performing for Rice.
Around 3,000 people, many of them local students, marched from Liverpool’s Catholic Cathedral to the hall.
Rice faced her final humiliation in Blackburn at a meeting with “Muslim leaders”.
A crowd of around 1,000 people booed and jeered as she entered. Protesters’ chants were heard in the meeting.
Michael Lavalette, a Preston Respect councillor, said, “We have shown Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw the real values of multiculturalism. We have made this visit an utter fiasco.
“We stopped the mosque visit. We stopped children being used at Pleckgate High School.”
Rice left the town hall, and the north west of England, with the chant of “Condoleezza Rice—terrorist” ringing in her ears.
Labour Party members bitter against their leaders
Abu Bakr Deghayes, whose brother Omar is being held in the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, came from Brighton to protest against Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw.
Abu Bakr said, “My brother has been hijacked and kept hostage.
“George Bush wants to intimidate and frighten us. That will not happen. We will stand firm for justice around the world.”
Lindsey, Stephanie and Amy from Belvedere School in Liverpool joined the protests. They told Socialist Worker, “Our ‘Make torture history/send Condi to Guantanamo’ placard was influenced by the Make Poverty History campaign.
“This is our first protest. We wanted to tell her how bad she is.”
Joyce Bishop from Blackburn said, “I am a Labour Party member.
“I believe in Labour’s social policies but I can’t support the killing of thousands of innocent people and bombing children in other countries.”
Kulsun Patel, who joined both protests in Blackburn, told Socialist Worker, “How dare Jack Straw invite Condoleezza Rice to Blackburn. He will learn his lesson at the local election. We have told her she’s not welcome here.”
Stephanie Howard, the mother of an army medic who was sent to Iraq and member of Blackburn Stop the War Coalition, said, “Because of greed and lust for power, my child was put in danger.
“I am appalled that Tony Blair and his ministers have been so cowardly and disrespectful in expecting us to welcome Condoleezza Rice here.
“The Iraqis and the British and US soldiers who have suffered are demanding justice.”
Dave Harling, a Blackburn Labour councillor, said, “I have been a councillor for nearly 20 years.
“Sadly the Labour government has let me and the party down.
“Jack Straw and Tony Blair made the wrong decision to invade Iraq.
“The US is a superpower—super arrogant and a super bully. We have to get the troops out of Iraq now.”