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‘We are out to ruin the Bush visit’

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Anti-war activists are organising for a massive turnout to hit the US president's state visit to London next month
Issue 1873

THE OUTRAGE over George Bush’s state visit to Britain in five weeks time is snowballing as more people find out about it. ‘It’s not just that people are angry-they want to do something about it,’ says Robin Beste from the Stop the War Coalition in Muswell Hill, north London.

‘Our campaign stalls have been mobbed with people queuing to sign the petition and get involved. The public reaction is as great as it was in the weeks before 15 February, when two million people joined the great march through London.’

The Stop the War Coalition group at the London School of Economics (LSE) booked a room that could hold 250 people for a meeting with leading anti-war figures Tariq Ali and John Pilger last week. Over 600 people turned up. An overflow meeting was organised in the street outside.

Anti-war campaigners in Leeds had a similar experience. Leeds teacher Steve Johnson says, ‘Our planning meeting on Monday last week was given over to organising against Bush’s visit. Instead of the usual 20 people, more than 50 turned up. There were loads of students-Leeds Music College sent five. People kept arriving so we had to ask the porter to open up the next-door committee room as an overspill. There is a feeling that we can wreck Bush’s visit.’

It’s the same message from elsewhere in Britain. There is a growing realisation among thousands of anti-war activists of the potential scale of the protests.

The warmonger in chief’s three-day state visit to Britain is planned for Wednesday 19 to Friday 21 November. The Stop the War Coalition has called for three days of protests, centred on a national demonstration in central London on Thursday 20 November designed to bring the capital to a halt.

It was standing room only at an activists’ meeting in central London called by the coalition on Thursday of last week. Over 150 people-largely representing stop the war groups-discussed how to focus the immense anger at Bush’s visit into a powerful movement to stop it.

Coalition convenor Lindsey German said, ‘For Tony Blair to invite Bush here on a state visit is an incredible insult. Only two weeks ago we had 100,000 people on the streets against the occupation and Blair’s war lies. We know from the latest opinion polls that a majority of the population say the war was wrong. Many people who went along with the war now feel angry they were lied to. We should not forget how much trouble Bush is in at home. Support for him and the war has plummeted. Now Blair invites him here to provide media images to broadcast back to the US in the run-up to the presidential election.’

The meeting came up with dozens of ideas for protests and events. A single theme ran through it-how to involve even wider numbers than the hundreds of thousands who have been part of the anti-war movement so far. This can wreck Bush’s visit.

Stop Britain on 19-21 November

GEORGE BUSH’S itinerary is not yet known. But the Stop the War Coalition has already outlined a plan of action for the visit.

Petition: A petition is available from the coalition. Using it at work, college, school and where you live is a way to raise awareness that Bush is coming. Banner drops: In the run-up to the visit the coalition is asking all its supporters to drop banners from colleges, workplaces, bridges, theatres and so on to help build the protests.

Rallies: Local coalitions are organising Stop Bush rallies, which will also plan activities.

Bonfire night: Many areas have already planned to hold 5 November events, burning an effigy of George Bush.

In the week of Bush’s visit there will be many events.

Wednesday 19 November: A day of protest in every town and city across Britain with demonstrations, sit-downs, and protests at US consulates. Areas are talking about toppling a statue of George Bush. A mock procession featuring Bush and Blair in central London will draw cyclists, taxi drivers, scooter clubs and pedestrians. There are also plans for cultural events and other activities.

Thursday 20 November: The big one. There will be a national demonstration assembling in central London at 2pm organised with CND and the Muslim Association of Britain.

School and college students are already focusing on this day for walkouts and occupations. Activists are raising the idea of walkouts from work to join the protests. If masses of people occupy central London, Bush, who is supposed to be staying at Buckingham Palace, will not be able to ‘visit’ anything.

Friday 21 November: Among other events this day sees a public trial of George Bush organised by leading lawyers. There will be a ‘Goodbye George’ farewell concert. At the Leeds and London organising meetings last week many people came up with imaginative ideas for protests.

A member of the Campaign Against Climate Change told the London meeting how his group wanted to target Bush over global warming. It is organising a protest on the Tuesday before he arrives, which will join up with a Stop Bush rally in central London that night.

‘We can organise three days of hugely diverse protests,’ says Lindsey German, ‘with a range of events so everyone feels they can take part in something. At the same time we can come together, crucially on the Thursday, in huge numbers to stop him.’

Activists’ meeting

Need to build on the anger

SEAN WALLIS from the Stop the War Coalition in Haringey, north London, told last week’s meeting in London, ‘We built a significant turnout for the demonstration on 27 September.

‘Now the possibilities are far greater. Most people still do not know Bush is coming. We have to get the badges and stickers out everywhere and ask people to sign the petition calling for the visit to be cancelled.

That way we raise awareness of the visit. The media will end up doing it as well, but we cannot wait for that. We’ve got a rally in my area on 23 October. It needs to be more than a rally. It should be a convention of activity to plan what we are going to do to build the Bush protests.’

Rahul Patel, secretary of the Unison union branch at Westminster council, said, ‘Almost every union backs the anti-war movement. There is an open door to organise against Bush at work. My union branch committee has unanimously passed a resolution to back all the protests.

‘Large numbers of people will not want to be at work while masses of people are demonstrating. School students at three schools in Westminster are already organising to walk out. Teachers at one are not even setting work for the day of the big protest against Bush. We should build up that spirit everywhere. There is every chance that people will stop work to stop Bush.’

‘Developing that mood and confidence means starting now,’ says Elane Heffernan, a council worker in Newham, east London. ‘We had a meeting last week of seven union reps and activists from one part of the council to plan what we are going to do. Seven more people sent their apologies. The number of people who want to get involved goes way beyond established union activists.’

News of the meeting the night before at the LSE gave everyone an example of what is possible. LSE student James Meadway said, ‘We were overwhelmed by the size of the meeting. In January, in the run-up to the two million strong march, the Stop the War rally at LSE drew 150 people.

‘Now we are planning to occupy the college when Bush arrives and protest on the main road outside. We are coordinating with other colleges. If Bush comes here I’d like to see him leaving like the Americans did from Vietnam-taking off in a helicopter from the burning remains of the US embassy.’

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