would make my life easier, for the purposes of this
article, if the turn-out at Saturdays Stop the
War protest consisted entirely of naked lesbians,
students on drugs and the Malone Road Soviet of Anarchists
Against Everything and I suppose that would
make Tony Blairs life a lot easier as well.
bad news for both of us is that snide labels wont
stick to this crowd. Even here at the Art College
assembly point, its more Coronation Street than
Citizen Smith middle-aged
couples, nice old ladies, young mums, blokey blokes,
a real gathering of the tribes. Youd be lucky
to get a jury this representative.
is not to say that the usual suspects arent
here as well but their presence only underlines the
utterly normal nature of everyone else. I am not an
anti-war protester and going by the Big
Book of Political Stereotypes, neither are 95 per
cent of the huge throng now stretching as far as I
can see in all directions.
I wanted to be nasty I could mention the large Palestinian
flag up ahead of me but its being carried by
a small girl who probably isnt burning with
anti-Semitic hatred. Theres an gra Sinn Fein
banner doing the rounds as well but its in the
care of just four teenage boys, who are certainly
too young to be accused of favouring some wars
spot a few more trimmings from the lunatic fringe
in front of St Annes Cathedral Socialist
Worker placards include One War Class
War, No to War No to Capitalism
and Welfare not Warfare.
doesnt add up, Im afraid. Theres
no welfare without a middle class to pay for it, no
middle class without capitalism to support it, no
middle class if youve won the class war, and
no class war if you say No to War. Plus,
nobody in Iraq gives a damn either way.
by far the majority of placards look homemade and
heartfelt. The Guardians chilling picture of
a charred corpse on the road to Basra features prominently,
as do simple pleas for peace.
are some excellent cartoons and caricatures plus a
few truly brilliant jokes I wish I was
French isnt something you read too often,
Black Bush Not George Bush sounds
like a great idea. The stupid anti-Americanism Id
expected amounts to two lads flying the Stars and
Stripes upside down and not getting much thanks
cheering greets what I can only call a feeder parade
as it bursts out of Little Donegall Street, scattering
police motorcycles before it. We join up with them
and move off, slowly at first, our progress punctuated
by short, good-natured
charges. Entering Royal Avenue, we crash
like aliens into Saturday shopper-world. Bemused housewives
gawk from the pavement and trendy couples stare out
from trendy coffee shops but there is absolutely no
hostility, not a single suspicious look.
chants are attempted but the one that sticks is Iraq
is not the enemy and war is not the answer
the dome of city hall rises towards us, I remember
the night I came here to see Bill Clinton and how
the hope of that night mixed with the fear that any
large political gathering in Belfast was
bound to end in tears. That tension is totally absent
parade packs into Donegall Place, gathers quietly
around the stage and applauds politely as ICTU assistant
general secretary Peter Bunting takes the microphone.
are not anti-American, he says to loud cheers.
Bush is anti-American. Then he introduces Jamal
Iweida, president of the Belfast Islamic Centre, to
a respectful hush.
Jamal thanks us for our protest, assures us the Iraqi
people will hear of our solidarity and then goes off
on a bit of a rant about Israel. Oops. But he recovers
well, criticising anti-Americanism
and condemning Saddams regime.
Eamonn McCann who steals the show, though, gripping
the crowd with a passionate speech before bringing
the house down with a cry of Ulster Says No!
in front of the stage Gerry Adams sulks grimly, no
doubt wondering why everyone likes Eamonn McCann (hint:
Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter).
isnt the biggest demonstration Belfast City
Hall has ever seen, McCann cries.
it is the best. The Iraqi anti-war movement is the
hope of the world
and the hope for our little part of it.
Tommy Sands picks up his guitar to disperse the crowd,
I wander around city hall where the names of the Troubles
dead have been chalked onto the pavement but
the name Im looking for has already worn away.
must admit that Ive dreaded writing this article,
because I dont have Eamonn McCanns conviction.
I know that war means death, that the weasel phrase
regime change is an obscenity and that
George W Bush is the worst thing to happen to America
pro-war arguments still sway me, especially from Tony
Blair, whose judgment surely deserves a little respect
on the streets of Belfast. But I can agree completely
with Eamonn McCann on one thing. This was the best
protest Belfast has ever seen highly political,
broadly supported, deeply felt and totally peaceful.
would have been unthinkable 10 years ago and while
it wont change the world, it proves there really
has been change in our little part of it.
Newton Emerson is editor of the satirical website
article was first published in the Irish News and
is carried here with permission from the author.
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