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Peace Demos

a feature by Gwyneth Jones

Peace demos? Whatever makes you think I'd be having anything to do with peace demos?

Take the soundbite out of here.

Well, I dunno, I think to myself, as I shuffle along the Embankment and Whitehalll in the bone-freezing cold, in the company of about a million and a half other English, Welsh and Irish persons. Okay, he wasn't actually elected and he has a very dodgy record, but... Maybe, a clean surgical strike, if they could go in there, topple Saddam, reconstruct the country... After all, they put the bastard in charge, maybe it is their duty to take him out. Maybe 1991 was just a glitch, and they know how to do it this time. Shuffle shuffle... On the other hand, the whole idea is pretty illegal. Up there with annexing Poland, all those years ago. Up there with Greater Serbia. Yes, it has to be admitted (and I know this would make no sense to a pacifist, but I'm not one, tho' sometimes I feel ought to be), what Bush and Blair are planning to do is worse than 'unjust', it's really dangerous. Unprecedented in modern history. Unless you count the plans of, well, sort of fairly well-accredited out and out bad guys... But shuffle shuffle, what about those suffering children in Baghdad? The Iraqi Women's League to my left, a bunch of singing, drumming, laughing multiefnic teenagers from south of the River coming up on the outside (we LEAD THE WORLD for mixed race relationships, which is about the only statistic I'm proud of at the moment. Oh, that and Nasser Hussain, sort of); and a whole lot of black, green, crimson and white flags. A sizeable minority of the folks near me can't seem to get their heads around the concept that bombing the living daylights out of one brutal recalcitrant regime that won't listen to the UN is totally different, not bombing the living daylights out of another brutal recalcitrant regime that won't listen to the UN... We have Falangists, we have Mujahuddin, we have the very friendly and cheerful Communist Party of the Sudan here with us. Aaaah... All these homeless Bolsheviks and Mensheviks and what have yous, coming to roost in Kilburn and Hackney. What year is this? I wonder, distractedly. 2003 or 1903??? And of course (Sigh) the Socialist Worker Party. We have the IRA for peace (!) I'm in very mixed company, shuffle shuffle. But you always are, on these things. If you get involved in politics as a career option, I suppose you lie to yourself. If you get into the dirty business as a volunteer you can't. Forget about purity and cleanliness. No, don't forget. Regard anybody who uses those terms with fear and horror, and you will not be far wrong... Where was I? Shuffle shuffle... Oh yeah, are peace demos misguided? Well, maybe. But then I think, take a look at Afghanistan, post-surgery. Hm. The invincible US armed forces are getting their asses kicked on the ground. No one wants the job of president. It's barely marginally more fun to be a woman. A real lot of suffering children... Funny thing, Afghanistan looks just the way I thought it would look, post-surgery... And excuse me, where is Osama Bin Laden? You know, I think the dumb humanitarian issue is huge, but there's another reason we're all out here & it's personal. We're tired of the blatant lies, we're tired of being treated like idiots. There's a word for the way this country's been governed recently, and it is not democracy.

On the other hand, shuffle shuffle, four miles is a long way in this cold, at such a punishingly slow pace, maybe it's this stupid, this simple. Give peace a chance.

It's very cold. The police are friendly. The sacred holy grass in Hyde Park does indeed get stomped to grey mud. (Get a grip, it's only a bit of grass.) We go for a cup of hot chocolate in one of the excellent Lebanese cafes on the Edgeware Road. We listen to the speakers. Jesse Jackson tries to lead a revivalist meeting, but we don't get it (Cornish contingent being way back in the distance). Miss Dynamite, a nice middle-class kid with a sweet smile, masquerading as a teen rap queen, yells at us, and we get it. We shout for her. Two million on the streets of Rome. Our competitive hackles rise, well, in that case maybe we should join the sit-in? But it's awfully cold, and my sinusitis is playing up. Time to go home. On the way out of the park, we meet a huge surge of people coming towards us. What's up? Are the gates locked? No... this is the march, still arriving, five hours later. Wow. Now we're impressed.

Public transport? You're kidding. Public transport in this city has gone beyond moribund. Four miles back to the station, in the freezing cold. As we walk through the maze of coaches waiting in the dark behind Buckingham Palace we phone our parents, like a couple of nineteen year old goody-goodys. Good on yer, they say. Glad you're there. Shout for me.

© Gwyneth Jones 2003.

This piece first was first published in Wired.

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