I was there at the peace protests too but in London, which was one of the biggest protests in Europe. We left Oxford (where I study) for London at 9:30. There were over 1500 of us from Oxford- students and ordinary residents alike. When we reached London we had little inkling of the huge numbers that were already amassing.
We met the other Oxford groups, got our band, complete with pots and pans stolen from JCR kitchens, ready and headed for Embankment. Progress was slow, we were slowly coming to grips with the fact that there were probably more than the expected 400,000. There was a wide variety of slogans on display- from the simple "Drop Bush not Bombs" to the more innovative poster showing female genitalia and proclaiming "The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own"!
As we marched past the Thames, there were some people on loudspeakers egging us on and telling us that in fact there were a million of us in London on that day. It was rather easy to get lost and we would occasionally stop to make sure that everyone from our group could be found. I was marching with this Jamaican girl who was telling me all about a protest she had seen at Ramallah where a group calling themselves "The British Grandmothers' Association" had opened picnic baskets and begun making tea right in front of the Israeli soldiers and refused to budge. To our amusement, as she was narrating this story, we saw a slogan that said "Make Tea not War".
At one point, just before we reached the Big Ben, there was a police diversion with a Ministry of Defence notice. Someone had very creatively covered the word defence with the word "War" taken from that morning's Daily Mirror newspaper.
Everytime we crossed a major public building, like Westminster there would be a huge cheer from the crowd. There were people with these one pound whistles (with fluroscent ribbons to add to the effect!), which make an incredible racket but are remarkably effective. There was also the human voice to add to the commotion.
There were three things that struck me in particular:
first, the presence of a huge group of Kurds with a large banner saying "The Kurds dont want war, do u?" and flags with the face of Abdullah Ocalan on them (he looks rather like Saddam and that caused a fair bit of confusion at first). Considering the fact, that if anyone has a stake in the war, it is them, I was amazed to see so many of them there and taking such a brave and well thought out public stance.
Next, I was very impressed with the way the London Police handled it all. Knowing that they were hopelessly outnumbered, they stuck to directing people and being helpful. There was little of the hostility that protesters in NY or Athens faced. A friend walking with me, told me how in Washington D.C. for the protests against the World Bank and WTO, they had been confronted with snipers on roof tops. He was astounded by how tolerant the police were here.
Finally, I was amazed by the diversity of the people around me. Yes, London is a cosmopolitan city- but the sheer range of age, sex, race, ethnicity, hair styles, opinions, creativity and most importantly, hope, that was on display was both mindboggling and heartwarming.
By the time we reached Hyde Park, the main speeches were over. I was told that the speakers weren't too impressive. But the speakers were never really the point of the march- it was about numbers, it was about feeling, and it was about democracy at its best. As we marched, we heard from people around us, how other cities had responded as well. As news spread that Rome and Barcelona were matching London in terms of numbers, people began talking about how this march could change the way politicians treated their electorate for ever. This is an era of globalisation, of instant communication, of being constantly in contact. And that's what the march in London was about. Right from its conception, to its organization, to its eventual execution, it was about being in touch- with the people, with sentiments, and with cities across the world and what they felt.
I must of course mention the various bands that were playing with livened up the atmosphere. Everytime we passed under a bridge, the noise would reverberate and so people under the bridge would just pump up the volume and begin clapping and cheering rhythmically. It was all very heady.
There is a great deal of confusion about the exact numbers in London on that day. All I know is that the first group of marchers, reached Hyde Park at 1, (when we hadn't even started!), that we reached only at 5:15 p.m. and that when we left at 7, there were still hundreds of people streaming in. As I end this little note, I will not pontificate about the significance of the march. Enough has been said about that. This is just my personal memo about a day that I will never forget.