What a day! We met in the morning -- my Greenpeace friends, a few strangers who joined us at our invitation, a group of elderly pensioners -- and joined the peaceful crush of humanity marching to Hyde Park to hear Jesse Jackson and others speak out against this unjust, imminent war against Iraq. And it was magnificent.
Along the way my mum kept ringing me on my mobile, enthusiastically updating me on what she was seeing on the television at home. "Good girl, good girl, good girl!" she repeated breathlessly.
By 2 p.m., we were in the park. On a huge video screen behind the stage, news reports flashed by. Both Sky News and the police, it said, had estimated the crowd at over a million people. A cheer the size of Europe erupted from the hundreds of thousands of people who had already entered Hyde Park. Half an hour later, electronic flashes on the screen were talking about 2 million protestors. Another eruption!
We realized, then, that we were a part of history: Saturday's demonstration was the biggest protest ever mounted on British soil, and the very first in advance of a war about to take place.
So much could have gone wrong that didn't. God bless the organizers, the police, the weather, and the placard and poster designers. One read, "Make Tea, Not War." The funniest one I saw was, "George W. -- The Only Bush I Wouldn't Go Down On!"
It was about peace, and it was peaceful. I watched a policeman push an elderly woman in a wheelchair -- her great granddaughter on her lap -- up a steep bit in the roadway so she could carry on with the marchers. The old-age pensioners who were with me told us that this was the first protest they had attended in their long lives, but that they were moved to participate unlike any time before. They handed out chewing gum to appreciative fellow marchers along the way. The day before, one of them had confessed that her trepidation about joining in stemmed more from worry that she wouldn't be able to find a loo along the way than any physical or political doubts!
I kept a number of the posters and placards our group carried -- most of them designed and supplied by Greenpeace -- and a few I found along the way or purloined after the rally ended. I plan to nail them onto the trees at my house in West Sussex, which overlook a busy road. At the edge of my garden, the collected signs will make a fabulous piece of installation art. The 100-foot fence along that road will read: JUST SAY NO TO WAR.
It was a long but invigorating and joyful experience. What a day! Let's hope the world is listening.
(Photos courtesy of Robert Leslie / firstname.lastname@example.org)