Peace march stops the city

The walk against the war
Bruce Childs

"...there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion."

- New York Times, 17 February 2003

Around 300,000 people marched against war in Sydney's day of protest, Sunday 16 February. Marching 50 abreast around twelve city blocks, so large was the protest, police were forced to re-route it while it was in progress for safety reasons.

Planned to start and finish in Hyde Park, the marchers at the front had already returned to the park while tens of thousands were still waiting to join the procession. Sydney's CBD was surrounded, and police were forced to divert the head of the demonstration towards the Domain to avoid the likelihood of people being crushed.

What is the significance of last weekend? I could tell you all the things that went wrong on the day. But what went right?

In one of the hottest and most humid of days, Sydney saw the largest anti-war peace march in its history. Twice the size of the anti-nuclear peace marches of the eighties. Just 75 days since our 30th November rally, fourteen or fifteen times more people voted with their feet against war.

Despite the heat, humidity and delays, the vast majority of people were of good humour. They felt good. They celebrated their diversity, their humanity, their mateship. Most of them were demonstrating for the first time in their life. They were validating their own inner feelings by seeing so many other people of a like mind. An hour and a half after the march started, there was still a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at St James Station determined to complete their walk.

What is the political significance of this? This was the highest level of political activity. This was a mass crossing of the line of inertia that our modern media culture encourages. This was everyday Australians making news, not watching it. For the entire 300,000, there will be ten more who have similar views or to whom they will talk.

I have previously described the globalisation of economic, military and political power. It is not corny to say that what we saw last weekend was the globalisation of people power, as more people in more countries said no to war, and as they clearly said no to President Bush.

Among the many protests all around Australia, demonstrations of up to 100,000 took place in Adelaide and Brisbane, following a 200,000 strong demonstration in Melbourne on Friday evening. And around the world, up to 3 million demonstrated in Rome, as many as 2 million protested in London, making it the largest in that city's history; some 500,000 participated in Berlin; over 100,000 demonstrated in Dublin; about 400,000 demonstrated in more than 50 cities in France; between 300,000 and 500,000 protested in New York; there were up to 200,000 in San Francisco and 150,000 in Montreal. From Athens to Oslo, from Capetown to Tokyo, from Vienna to Tel Aviv, from Hong Kong to Almaty, people took action.

The combined global estimates of organisers have put the total out protesting on the weekend at about 11 million. We are therefore looking not just at the largest protest in Sydney's history, we are also looking at the largest protest in world history: a stunning manifestation of globalisation from below.

There is now an increased need to maintain the spirit of co-operation and mutual respect that has characterised Sydney's Walk Against the War Coalition. We must make sure that egos, political differences, religious or cultural differences cannot be used to divide us.

John Howard is right. We now need to be alert but not alarmed. We need to be alert to when General Murdoch and Private Alan Jones of Howard's media brigade go into action; and not alarmed when their salvos to manipulate public opinion intensify. Notify others of their suspicious practices. Arm yourself with a pen and send letters of complaint. Reach for the phone and engage the shock-jocks in verbal battles. And at all times wear your purple ribbon so that other patriots who believe that war is not the answer can recognise you.

Bruce Childs is a former Australian Senator, the President of the Evatt Foundation and a co-convenor of the Walk Against the War Coalition. 

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