Feb 17, 2003
The streets of cities around the world were filled with millions upon millions of demonstrators on the week-end of February 15 and 16, protesting U.S. plans for war on Iraq. According to New York Times articles, 750,000 demonstrated in London, 600,000 in Rome, with 500,000 in Berlin, and hundreds of thousands more in Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and Barcelona. Hundreds of thousands more came out in cities around the world: Melbourne, Australia; Auckland, New Zealand; Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa; Seoul, South Korea; Tokyo and Manila. The Times reported demonstrations in 350 cities worldwide. These were all official estimates – undoubtedly low. These demonstrations show that this war which Bush intends is already a widely unpopular war.
Most significant – given that the U.S. is the architect of this war – were the 150 or more demonstrations inside the U.S. itself. According to an early report posted on the web by the New York Times about the New York demonstration, "Organizers estimated the crowd at 400,000 people. Given the sea of faces extending more than a mile up First Avenue and the ancillary crowds that were prevented from joining them, the figure was not wildly improbable." The demonstration in New York was massive, completely filling the whole of First Avenue from 49th Street to 72nd Street, and then spilling over onto side streets in between all the way over to Second, Third and even Lexington Avenues in some cases. A great big chunk of the Upper East Side of Manhattan was filled with people carrying all sorts of signs, ranging from "Stop the War Against Iraq" to "Duct and Cover."
The demonstration took part in this strange situation for two reasons. First the NYC Police Department – at the urging of the Bush administration – had refused a permit to allow the demonstrators to march, confining them instead to a single area, preventing their mass from ever being seen along one long avenue. But the place itself was chosen by the demonstrators who went to the U.N. – not in protest of the what the U.N. was doing, but as a kind of request to the U.N. to keep the U.S. from firing the first shot.
Many of the speakers reinforced the same idea, which was that the U.S. should not go to war on its own, not unless it has the backing of the U.N. Bishop Desmond Tutu urged Bush to "give the inspectors a chance." The same idea was expressed in many other demonstrations around the country on the same week-end.
It's important for those who oppose this war not to put their hopes in the U.N. What happens there has to do with "big-power" politics and maneuvers, and not the interests of the people of the world. We should remember what happened before the Gulf War, when sizeable protests had begun to develop in this country. Then, too, many of the organizers of the protests asked that the U.S. put the issue in front of the U.N. to be solved "by diplomacy and peaceful means." But the U.N., which at the beginning appeared to slow down the march to war, gave the U.S. sufficient authorization so the elder Bush could claim that the U.S. did not go to war alone.
That being said, what was most important about this week-end was the massive size of the protest around this whole country. In addition to the hundreds of thousands who came to New York and to San Francisco – the site of the other big national protest – there were demonstrations in at least 150 other cities and towns, ranging from the 50,000 or so in Los Angeles to the hundreds in small towns.
Whatever illusions might have been reinforced by some of those who spoke at these demonstrations, the numbers of people who made the commitment to demonstrate expresses the wide spread opposition which today exists to this war. And this is what is most significant.