the Disillusioned kid: Bloggers = Real People, Anti-War = Marches
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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Bloggers = Real People, Anti-War = Marches

Since I've started blogging I've made a number of internet friends, many of them people I never expect to have the good fortune to meet. I was more than a little surprised then to be emailed by Pranjal Tiwari of In the Water fame who was coming over to the UK and wanted to meet up. Although somewhat short of time at the moment (I've got a new job) we arranged to rendevous at the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) organised demo in London yesterday.

I turned up early and while wandering around happened to run into the guys from Nottingham with the ever reliable white banner. It was nice to catch up with people who I haven't seen in a few months, although the low turnout from the city (they barely half filled a coach) was somewhat disappointing. Clearly they can't cope without me ;)As the assigned time approached, I headed off to meet up with Pranjal. With my frankly awful directions meeting turned out to be something of a challenge, but things did eventually work out. Pranjal was there with his brother and Erika (who incidentally happens to be the purveyor of The Shadow Gallery). Once we'd all got over the shock of discovering that we weren't a figure of each other's fevered imaginations we hit it off and amused ourselves at the expense of the assembled lefty sects (who were particularly hard to avoid in the confined space where the march was assembling). After a while the march moved off and we joined the throng.

I can't really think of much to say about the march itself which was singularly uneventful, although the new route (from Parliament to Hyde Park rather than the more usual Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square) did offer some excitement. (Hint: that's sarcasm.) One of the striking things was the prevalence of the crazies in the form of conspiracy theorists who continue to allege that 9/11 was "an inside job" (carried out by those inside the WTC?!) and now claim that 7/7 had "all the hallmarks of an MI6 operation". I'd always assumed that there were only a handful of such people making a nuisance of themselves on the internet, but apparently there are quite a few of them. Which is a shame. Frankly they were less irritating on the internet, at least then there wasn't much chance of me being associated with such nutjobs. (I can't be bothered to rehash my views on conspiracy theories here, but if you're interested try this for size.)

The other group of crazies in attendance weren't so obvious until we got to the rally at the end, when Hizb ut-Tahrir (HUT, the Party of Liberation) appeared in force. Facing a government crackdown in the aftermath of 7/7 HUT seem to have moved away from their confrontational position vis-a-vis the StWC. In the past they produced stickers proclaiming "Don't Stop the War Except with Islamic Politics," but now they seemed to be looking for support from the seccularists they had previously opposed so vociferously to help defend them against the government backlash. As I've said before, I oppose the proposed ban on the party, but this doesn't mean I support the politics of this religious fundamentalist party, nor that I feel particularly comfortable about finding myself marching with them.

At the rally we encountered the Dalek pictured with Pranjal below (the Dalek's the one on the left). There were also a number of other robots in attendance in the form of paper sellers and other apparatchiks. (Geekish parenthetical aside: Daleks are actually cyborgs, but I couldn't pass up such an easy sideswipe.) We sat around and listened to a few of the speakers, but the sound system wasn't great (despite having cost something in the order of £25,000!) making the speeches difficult to hear. In any case we got bored quickly and decided to go and get some food and a drink or two.

Organisers (and a certain blogger) claim that 100,000 people took part. Frankly this is bollocks. My own estimate was closer to 20,000. Even if I was massively out (hardly an unrealistic possibility) participation didn't even approach six figures. Whatever the actual figure I have little doubt that the demo was a fraction of the size of the last such event in March. The question of numbers on demonstrations has been a recurring disagreement I've had with the StWC. I don't think I've been on one of their marches and not felt that their estimates were an exaggeration, sometimes ridiculously so.

When I've raised this issue with StWC supporters (I should stress here that while living in Nottingham I was an active member of Nottingham StWC and as such my criticisms should not intended to be taken as a criticism of the Coalition and its supporters in toto) I typically received three responses. Some acknowledged the exaggeration, but felt powerless to do anything about it, which more or less reflects my own position. Some were sufficiently convinced believers that they actually accepted the numbers given by the movement's (largely self-appointed) leadership, which is not really something I was able to argue with. The third response was to suggest that an accurate count of participation was unimportant, indeed some people suggested that we should seek to put the best spin on numers we could regardless of our own personal assesment. It is this position with which I have the greatest problems.

One of the most important aspects (if not the most important aspect) of anti-war activity is attempting to convert the thus far unconvinced. This can be done in various ways, but crucial to any efforts in this regard is that those with whom we are engaging believe what we tell them. If we cannot even be honest with people about something as insignificant as numbers on a demo, why should we expect them to believe us when we tell them about the siutation in Iraq?

For what it's worth, I think that the StWC's self-deception (I don't think that they're lying to anyone but themselves) over the participation in its marches stems from an unhealthy fascination with numbers. They have come to believe that if they just put enough people on the streets the government will cave and Iraq will be liberated. The fact that the massive demonstration of February 15 (which may have numbered anywhere from 750,000-2 million) failed to prevent the invasion of Iraq hasn't impacted on this conviction. Their apparent decision to have one demo every six months or so (one in March marking the anniversary of the invasion and one in September to co-incide with the Labour Party Conference) is testament to this belief.

The truth, of course, is that marches in London, no matter how big, aren't going to be any more succesful at ending the occupation than they were at stopping the invasion. While they have a role to play they should be just one tactic in a gamut running from street stalls in local communities, through rallies in towns around the country and on to direct action against appropriate targets. I've discussed what such a strategy might entail before and no doubt I'll have to continue doing so for some time.

Update: Erika tells her side of the story here.

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