Cirencester marches among the hundreds of thousandsCirencester members of the United Nations Association, inspired by a recent visit from Bruce Kent, decided to make their presence felt in the massive Peace March on February 15th. Since the UNA were joining forces with the Stroud Peace Movement, no fewer than 12 coaches set off from our part of Gloucestershire under the brilliant blue sky of Saturday morning.
"I knew weeks ago that this March was going to be a success," said Jane Tulley, one of the organisers. The route into Central London - far from being snarled with traffic or held up by road blocks - seemed quick and effortless. We were put down on the bank of the Thames opposite the Houses of Parliament - "almost within spitting distance," I heard someone remark. We were off - almost immediately to be engulfed by a huge, cheerful, solid mass of people. Helicopter pictures later were to show the entire route below as a slowly moving dense blackness. We were in the middle.
An amazing mixtureUnlike any other experience of "demonstrating" we had ever had (and several of us from Cirencester were quite new to it) the mixture of ages and backgrounds we saw seemed a reflection of the real nature of so many of the English population - multi-ethnic, trying to do what seems to us to be right, prepared to stand up and be counted - middle-aged people, families with children, groups of young men and women, students, old people looking dogged - while clothes and skin colour were as varied as the types walking at our sides. Shoulder to shoulder indeed.
A significant statementAnd what did it feel like to be part of such a huge mass of people all facing in the same direction, most walking in silence until one of the spontaneous waves of roaring lifted everyone into a sound so overwhelming it seemed to surge through the blood? It felt extraordinary. It felt as though what was being created by this mass of people was a significant statement that hardly needed words. What we were saying by our simple presence was clear and obvious - the horror and pain of war makes no sense in any way and to embark upon war without the backing of the very organisation put in place by the sane - the United Nations Organisation - would be utterly insane.
A route to Hyde Park that would take a fit walker about 15 minutes, took the marchers two and a half hours. We were late for most of the speeches. Just as well perhaps. The British don't like to be harangued and it was interesting that those speakers we did hear who were shouting aggressively soon lost the interest of the crowd. (What on earth did such speakers think we were there for?) The atmosphere among the marchers seemed wholly peaceful and friendly. Even the placards showed more good nature than moral outrage. The worst I saw about our poor benighted leaders were "Blair - don't be a bushbaby!" and the laconic "Son of a Bush..." But others made one smile. "Make TEA not WAR" proclaimed a poster showing Tony Blair carrying a rifle with a huge teacup on his head "Give Peas a Chance! Gardeners against the war!" , "No IRAC No Phobia!" for those, presumably, who dislike spiders, and the irrefutable "War is Silly"
The 3400 policemen on duty around the march route were a restrained presence - and, it seemed to us, rather unnecessary.
When, with the aid of mobile phones, all had finally found their way back to our coach, now parked with the many, many almost identical others around Hyde Park in the gathering darkness, we reflected on the extraordinary impact of the internet and mobile phones. Could this mammoth statement of popular feeling have been made without the new technology? Both have shown their value for the exercise of democracy and sanity. Our splendid coach driver turned on the radio and we heard the news that there had been similar marches in 600 cities around the world. There had been 3 million marching in Rome. Big demonstrations in India, New Zealand, Germany, France were about to be followed by marches in the United States itself. There was a feeling that nothing like this had ever been seen before.