With an impending US Invasion of Iraq and a lot of anger about potential UK involvement I knew today's demonstration was going to be BIG. In fact it exceeded my wildest expectations, with probably well in excess of a million people taking part (I will spare you the cliched breakdown of how many church-going grannies, Buddhist software engineers etc were actually present). Needless to say, these million were just the tip of a phenomenal iceberg of dissent which we were were hoping would be big enough to force Tony Blair to alter course.
As we shuffled along in the cold to our destination in Hyde Park I chatted, listened to music and just soaked up the vibe. People had gone to a lot of effort and though there were many mass produced placards on display there were a lot of highly original and amusing creations like the understated "Tony Blair is really annoying".
I missed Jesse Jackson's speech but like he said, despite the bitter wind my heart was warm. The remedy for the cold body was vigorous dancing to tunes spun by the "Wheelbarrow DJ" under a banner strung between trees declaring "Autonomous Zone". A couple of Asian rappers spiced it up with some defiant lyrics while those not dancing stood round one of several bonfires which had been started with the wood from discarded placards. As it started to get dark I headed across Park Lane towards Grosvenor Square to check out the heart of the beast. I joined a small but growing crowd with some Brazilian energy at its core and we attempted to reach the Embassy. Either we were considered a threat or the authorities were concerned that we would upset the Embassy staff with our viewpoint but in any case the police had been ordered to stop protesters getting anywhere near the place and all roads leading into the square were blocked by lines of rozzers, horses and riot vans. Not quite ready to admit defeat we started an anti-clockwise circuit of the block making as much noise as we could. Before shouting myself hoarse a dude from Brighton lent me a horn and I started some rhythmic blowing to accompany the samba beat - the walls of Jericho came to mind!
Eventually we dispersed and on my way to meet a friend at the Royal Festival Hall I passed Piccadilly Circus which looked like - well, a circus! A cordon of about 150 yellow jackets formed an arena in the centre of which sat about 30 protesters who were clearly not in a hurry to go anywhere. Around the outside of the cordon were many hundreds of other demonstrators some of whom wanted to join the sit down crew but didn't fancy taking on the Met. I decided not to linger and am wondering how the road was eventually cleared.
I eventually reached home tired but satisfied that I had done my bit and pleased to have been a part of a historic event. Exactly what effect the demonstration had will of course never be known because we don't have a control universe in which it did not take place. If the Exxon/Bush/Blair machine goes to war regardless then people may say we failed - but at least no one can say we didn't try.
www.zenatode.org.uk Ian Gregory 2010