There was huge build up of hope for this march. The Norwich Stop the War Coalition: www.norwichstopwar.org.uk
was working hard to encourage our supporters to book the coach seats early.
19 coaches travelled from Norwich with many people booking too late for us to order additional coaches and many people then travelled by train from Kings Lynn, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and other locations in Norfolk and Suffolk, UK.
It was a cold and grey morning as a small team of us checked the 900 or so people onto the coaches but spirits were high – there was the feeling that: ‘Blair has got to listen to us, this huge crowd, and stop this drive to war’.
We would have done anything to stop the attack on Iraq. Many had not marched before. There were old and young, Quakers, a huge turn out from the ‘left’ and even Tories, those with no religion, Christian groups, Muslims, Jews, all ethnic, religious and secular groups, enraged that this country was heading for an illegal attack on a country with broken down military defences that had endured decades of UN sanctions which had already cost the lives of half a million Iraqi children.
Yes, Saddam was a ruthless dictator- but attacking the country was not the way to remove him, leaving aside the question of whether the UK had any right at all to remove him.
Ali, a Mandean Iraqi living in Norwich, and I went on local Radio (BBC Radio Norfolk) to argue against the intervention but a hawkish history professor from the University of East Anglia was given the last word.
It seemed as though the media were contracting the case against the war and giving the advantage to the pro-war hawks. This was later proven by studies through bodies like Media Lens which found that the majority of the country was against any military intervention, despite the fact that Downing Street and Blair’s cabinet, including Norwich’s own MP Charles Clarke with Blair’s spin doctor Alastair Campbell were working hard on constructing the argument for war, when there was in fact no basis for it.
Prior to the 15th of February a posse of us lobbied Clarke in his Norwich South constituency surgery, arguing against any attack but he adamantly supported Blair’s and Bush’s drive for war. There was a cold bloodedness about these politicians arguments.
There was an overwhelmingly feeling of oneness and purpose as the Norwich coaches joined the masses flowing into London. We disembarked from the coaches and assembled around the Norwich Stop the War banner in wait for the start of the biggest anti-war march in history.
We managed to get to the perimeter of Hyde Park and catch some of the speeches by Tony Benn and Jesse Jackson. Some members were left behind as we had become separated in the melee as the coaches began their return journey. We all nervously awaited the outcome of the march and the impact that it would have on the government’s forthcoming war vote.