the Disillusioned kid: November 2003
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Friday, November 21, 2003

An unused report on Bush's state visit to the UK...

Where's a burning Bush when you need one?

It's not everyday that George W. Bush makes a state visit to the UK (in fact he is apparently the first US President ever to do so), so it is perhaps not surprising that many people from across the country felt compelled to make their way to London, where he was staying in Buckingham Palace, to 'welcome' him. So unpopular was his visit that even a normally apolitical university like Nottingham was able to muster a coach worth of students to join the festivities.

There were a number of actions over the days leading up to and during the President's visit. Other events included a march against climate change, a protest against Guantanamo Bay, a "national day of action", a protest outside the headquarters of Esso (whose parent company Exxon-Mobil was one of the biggest donors to Bush's election campaign in 2000) and a tea party outside of Buckingham Palace. Nonetheless the focus was on the Stop the War Coalition organised national demonstration that took place on Thursday November 20 and attracted by far the greatest number of participants.

The march was made up of protesters from across the country and indeed the world, being led by Americans opposed to the war including Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic. Many demonstrators had clearly travelled some distance, with banners representing groups from as far away as Edinburgh. The spread of people represented was also impressive, the usual paper-selling socialist-types mingled with students, Muslims, pensioners and even a handful of Liberal Democrat supporters.

While the focus of the march was on the invasion of Iraq and the "War on Terror", criticisms of many of George Bush's other policies were expressed. One placard demanded that Bush sign the Kyoto protocol on climate change (which sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and which Bush pulled the US out of not long after coming to power) "ASAP". Other issues touched upon included Guantanamo Bay, the death penalty, US support for Israel, Cuba and women's rights. Witty comments about pretzels also recurred frequently, indeed the University of Nottingham contingent tried selling some homemade examples as a fundraiser, albeit with limited success.

Judging the numbers on demonstrations is notoriously difficult and figures are rarely agreed on by all parties (the Countryside Alliance demo in September 2002 is a notable exception to this rule). Nonetheless that the march was huge does not seem in doubt. I was not able to complete the whole route before I had to return to the coach and there were still thousands of people streaming past Parliament at 6pm. This was clearly the second biggest demonstration this year, beaten only by the million plus marchers who took to the streets in February. Claims by the Stop the War Coalition that this was the biggest demonstration the country has ever seen on a weekday seem credible and for what it's worth the 200,000 figure is, in my opinion, at the very least in the right ballpark.

The impact of the demonstration is difficult, if not impossible, to measure, but it is clear that the world was paying attention. The route of the march was interspersed by TV vans from across the world and camera crews moved through the crowds recording the events. The visit went ahead despite the protests, but Bush was prevented from using it for a superficial photo opportunity as part of his campaign for re-election in 2004. Furthermore supposed British support for Bush's war drive offered him a fig leaf of international credibility, and in this light the demonstration can only strengthen the movement against Bush's policies back in the US.

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