The anti-war message was carried to every corner of Britain by last Thursday’s day of action called by the Stop the War Coalition. In towns big and small, from Cornwall to Scotland, people took to the streets to stage a wide and imaginative variety of protests against war. In at least 24 colleges students staged occupations in some of the biggest student protests seen for many years.
Traffic was halted and roads were blocked in scores of towns. Vigils, rallies and meetings took place in dozens more. In many workplaces people distributed and wore anti-war badges and stickers. In some, people held anti-war meetings or left work to join local lunchtime protests.
One of the highlights of the day of protest was the student-initiated protest which surged through central London. The students took over the streets, repeatedly sitting down in the road, carrying the anti-war message right to the gates of Downing Street. Workers with their union banners joined the student demonstration, and together they marched to link up with a thousands-strong rally outside parliament.
James Meadway is a student at the London School of Economics. As the students marched off towards parliament he explained, ‘We had been building for this for weeks in our college. We’ve had 50 or so students out leafleting, arguing with people. We said that students here protested against Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, and we had to protest now. Today we had a 400-strong union meeting and there was a big argument – people who were for the war had mobilised. But people put the anti-war case and we won convincingly when it came to the vote.
‘We took over the Old Lecture Theatre, and had speakers and debates. There was so much energy, people making banners, art stuff. It’s had a real impact in the college ‘Now we have been joined by students from other colleges across London, and staff and other workers, and we’re marching on parliament.’
As the march left the LSE a huge cheer went up as hundreds more students suddenly marched around the corner. They had come from the SOAS and UCL colleges. The two marches fused together and, chanting ‘No war’, headed for Westminster.
‘This is just fantastic, brilliant,’ said James. ‘This shows the spirit that can stop the war.’
A CROWD of up to 2,000 assembled near the university. The colourful protest marched on the Scottish Parliament. We decided to have a sit-down at one the city’s main junctions, singing, ‘Peaceful protest is no crime.’
The demonstrators chanted and carried torches.Near the parliament we listened to speakers. There was a minute’s silence for the people of Iraq, who have already suffered from bombing and barbarous sanctions.
THE STOP the War group in Falmouth in Cornwall held a banner signing. All and sundry were invited to put a message on a giant scroll which will be handed to the local MP. The result outstripped all expectations. The banner was full, with hundreds of messages which were written on to the accompaniment of drummers, dancing and flame-throwing.
We were joined by anti-war campaigners from Truro and local villages in south Kernow.
WHAT A great day of protests! We started with a 500-strong rally in the Market Square. Then around 230 Cambridge University students occupied a university building which is used for military research.
This was the biggest student occupation Cambridge has seen since the 1970s, and as well as students we were joined by workers from the town. Our occupation lasted until 5pm when we voted to leave.
Cambridge students Hassan Akram, Sam Caldwell and Dan Mayer
OVER 150 anti-war protesters stopped Swansea. A great mix of people gathered. A series of sitdowns were reported on the radio, headlined, ‘Traffic At A Halt Due To Anti-War Protest’.
All the protesters then visited Sainsbury’s, where the store management were forced to announce, ‘We apologise for the inconvenience – there is an anti-war protest going on in aisles six, seven, eight and nine.’
Swansea Coalition Against War
IN WATFORD about 50 people protested at lunchtime outside the town hall. Some then occupied the entrance lobby. A tape player was brought in and soon anti-war songs were blasting out. Protesters voted to stay sitting there until the town’s Liberal Democrat mayor came to see us.
Eventually she arrived, and said to protesters, ‘I have met hardly anyone who is in favour of this war.’
OUR PROTEST in Kingston University was a great success. I was one of the organisers and was quite nervous that the turnout wouldn’t be good. But in the end there were a large number of students showing interest. We had banners and T-shirts flying with the mottos of ‘No war for oil’ and ‘Don’t attack Iraq’.
Most importantly I obtained the names of people who want to start a university group. Ben Tidman
WHAT A fantastic day! Brighton University students occupied part of the town centre site for a day of debate, workshops, music and dance. In the afternoon 200 Sussex University students on bikes took over the main road.
Then at 5.30pm several hundred people gathered opposite the war memorial. We marched to the main roundabout and sat down and blocked the traffic for an hour and half, despite police attacking the protest.
UP TO 100 people protested outside the tube station. A very large contingent of students from local schools led the march with imaginative chanting. A ten foot high skeleton and sounds gave the protest a carnival atmosphere.
It was the liveliest and youngest demonstration this place has seen. We took to the streets and stopped the traffic and are planning more protests against the war.
A SAMBA band and firefighters in their engine led a 700-strong march through Bristol. Protesters took over several roads and had a sit-down protest blocking the road between the BBC and the Territorial Army.
Events also took place in Gloucester, Cheltenham, Stroud, Bath and several towns in Somerset. Students from the University of the West of England blocked the road as they marched to the Ministry of Defence in Abbeywood.
WE HAD a successful day of action in Devon despite the rain. In Exeter 150 people attended a rally and held an impromptu march down the high street. This followed morning leafleting and banners over bridges for rush-hour traffic.
Exeter University students held a 50-strong march round the campus, There were also protests and leafleting in Barnstaple, Crediton, Sidmouth, and Lyme Regis – in Dorset, but they come to our Stop the War meetings!
HUNDREDS OF students attended a rally and ‘die-in’ at Essex University in Colchester. The day began with anti-war banners hung from buildings and lecture theatres and thousands of leaflets being handed out.
The start of the protest was marked by the sound of air-raid sirens played over a sound system. Students were particularly inspired by news of other occupations. Documentaries about the history of the Gulf War were then shown.
Essex University Peace Campaign
STUDENTS OCCUPIED a university building after a mass rally and demonstration through the town centre. The atmosphere was electric. We seized control and plastered the place in banners and posters. Veterans spoke of past occupations.
We sang anti-war songs and discussed politics well into the night. And when we awoke (those who went to sleep) we began chanting again! Four weeks there was no stop the war group here. There is now.
Joe Kisolo-Ssonko and Jethro Bor
AROUND 150 students occupied Liverpool University’s Senate House for about two and a half hours during the day. There were also protests across Liverpool, with people occupying a NatWest bank and banner drops.
Later it was great when over 400 people joined a rally and blocked three of the main roads around Lime Street. We had firefighters, Aslef union members from Arriva trains, loads of students and car workers in the TGWU from the Vauxhall plant.
Lynne McGowan and Paul Sillet
WE HAD an excellent protest in Chester, where around 100 people came to a vigil. Some people stayed in the city centre while most of us marched round the city. We also had banners hung from some of the road bridges around the city. In Wrexham there was also a good protest, which had a lot of young people on it.
School students on the protest had a banner saying ‘Kids say no to war’. There were also protests nearby in the smaller towns of Mold and Holywell.
WE ORGANISED a general meeting of students at Warwick University. It went on for one and three quarter hours with between 150 and 200 there. Then we voted to occupy the university. We gathered in the campus piazza and tried for the senate house, making lots of noise.
The security stopped us getting into the building, but we managed to blockade the entrance. Later we held a meeting to discuss what we do next to help stop the war.
AT LEAST 150 people, maybe more, and a samba band took part in a march around the University of Manchester before regrouping and occupying the maths tower. Later around 2,000 people congregated in the centre of Manchester after a series of protests around the city.
A cycle protest saw people riding slowly round the town dressed in Halloween costumes. Protesters blocked Oxford Road for over an hour as they marched handing out flyers. Meanwhile in Bury, 100 school students blocked roads.
SOME 50 to 100 people gathered in this Cambridgshire village to demonstrate. Among those protesting was an 84 year old veteran of World War Two who explained how his experience convinced him to oppose all wars. The demo was passed by some youths on their way to a halloween party. They asked questions and when we explained why we where demonstrating, they joined in.
We marched around the village chanting anti war slogans and handing out leaflets to a mostly supportive public.
OVER 200 students passed an anti-war motion which also condemned Israel after a stormy debate at a union meeting in Queen Mary and Westfield University. Around 60 students then staged an impromptu march around the campus, before some went on later to join the central London student march.
In Ilford around 80 people marched through the main shopping areas. At lunchtime Tower Hamlets saw a number of protests involving workers leafleting, petitioning and stickering.
AT CAMDEN Girls School we had a very vocal protest. We joined with workers in the local social services to hang banners along the Camden Road. The response from passing cars was great, and everyone took a sticker. Inside school, girls as young as 11, who weren’t allowed out, ran a petition stall in the lobby where we got hundreds of signatures.
We made sure that no one escaped a leaflet. The next day everyone was still talking about it.
A GREAT day at Woodford Green postal sorting office. All you could see were ‘Don’t Attack Iraq’ stickers on coats, hats, bags and vans. Some stickers will be on for weeks. Us frontline staff all wore them. A woman collecting a parcel was impressed by what we were doing. We explained that our union was affiliated to the Stop the War Coalition.
She said, ‘Good luck to you all.’ We need to reach more people. We have shown people in our area our feelings. This day was a great idea.
Socialist Worker would like to thank everyone who sent in reports and pictures, including those we haven’t found space for this week! Pictures on the print page by Jess Hurd, Jeff Brewster and Richard Searle
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