online: 16 february 2003

15 february 2003 against the war

Instead of going to the heath I went to see the anti-war demonstration in Hyde Park. The police were expecting more than half a million and, now it's over, journalists are saying that over a million came. Some of them were still arriving when the speakers had finished and some were already leaving. Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, said this was the largest demonstration of British people in 2000 years.

I enjoyed seeing and being with so many people in one place - especially as many of them, or us, seemed to be new to demonstrations. The majority looked to me like 'ordinary people', not politically informed or fanatically driven.

Looking up at the pale grey clouds I noticed a solitary white balloon rising above our heads, and sailing away to the south-west.

As I looked at the people, and at their banners and placards, some home-made, I felt that they were of all political opinions and types. And as we stood there listening to the speakers, and seeing their faces on a large video screen, I felt that indeed this is an historic moment - likely to have some repercussions though perhaps not sufficient in itself to stop the war that is threatened (by elected leaders frightened of new weapons that can be used not only by themselves, or by dictators, but from now on by 'everyone')... The history and nature of warfare is changing.

I looked at those close to me, standing in the cold wind, and then I looked down the trampled grass and wished that we were not destroying it. As I listened to the speakers I found it difficult to applaud as I did not like the way in which some of them spoke - too much Christianity from Jesse Jackson (surely many of us were non-believers and many others were Muslims?) and too many commands and authoritarian remarks... I walked away disgusted when one of the speakers began to tell us all what to say, what to sing, what to do, and what to think! The old centralist culture is the wrong medium for this, dear celebrities.

On my way out of the park I picked up some leaflets:

A thoughtful leaflet from Hizb ut-Tahrir, an association of Islamic intellectuals, stating that 'the practical way to stop the war is not by calling on the UN to intervene, nor by lobbying Western states'... 'we believe the correct way ... is to force the corrupt Muslim states around Iraq to withdraw support for the Anglo-American war machine'.
A leaflet requesting people to sign and send back to the Daily Mirror (one of the most popular newspapers) the following message: 'Mr Blair, I hereby register my opposition to any war with Iraq not justified by unequivocal UN evidence'.
A leaflet advertising the Star Trek adventure (a big screen spectacle showing in a vast tent next to the demonstration in Hyde Park). 'Experience the history of the future.'

As I was leaving the park an American voice asked me the way to the tube station. It was a man from San Francisco, with his wife. They were going in the same direction as I was so we went together, avoiding the most crowded tubes and buses and walking most of the way. He works for a dockers' union in the USA and she as a freelance travel writer. Both were glad to have experienced the demonstration and we found plenty to talk about as we walked through Marylebone to Euston...

...Yes indeed, in gatherings such as this, as in any part of industrial living,

We have chosen the meaning
Of being numerous.*

It was a good feeling today but it could be terrifying, he thought afterwards. We have yet to learn (or to invent) the right way to govern ourselves without centralised authority and leadership - and without terror. Let go of likes and dislikes, said John Cage, and wake up to the beauty of the world as it is, all of it (or words to that effect)... I am thinking again of the trampled grass, the white balloon, the pale grey clouds and the presence of so many people.

*from George Oppen's poem, and book of poems of the same name: Of being numerous, New Directions Books, New York 1968.

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© 2003 john chris jones

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