The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Rally

Ireland has a far better chance of getting things right if there are people to constantly remind those in charge that they should take nothing for granted …. properly channelled public displays of dissatisfaction, with more questioning and scepticism of those in power, can only at the end of the day be a positive thing
- Miriam Donohoe

Anthony McIntyre • 20 February 2003

At the end of last year I took part in an anti-war march through Belfast City Centre. There were about 300 of us. From the sidewalks swathes of people, vastly greater in number than were on our march, gazed upon us. Some seemed puzzled, others plainly would rather we were not disturbing their Saturday shopping routine. It seemed Belfast was not against war at all.

After 9/11 we Belfast people had stood at the City Hall silent, our thoughts reserved for those who had been killed when civilian populations and air passengers were targeted by, for the most part, Saudi Arabian theocrats. It seemed, then, that Belfast would say ‘no’ to the slaughter of the innocent. But in our lopsided perspective on victims, some were more innocent than others. The children of New York were to be afforded a status denied those of Iraq and Palestine.

The present war mongering political leaderships in the USA and Britain hoped it would stay this way. They did not want any equivalence between all the world’s children. And they have lied through their teeth since to ensure that their way would be the only way. Plagiarised documents and allegations of links between Iraq and Al Qaida have been thrust in our faces - and this from governments that devise 'truths' to justify either refusing the extradition of Augusto Pinochet or protecting Henry Kissinger from war crimes tribunals. A number of years ago Jacques Derrida said of politics that it was `a privileged space of lying,' He challenged 'state truths' and the terms in which they were constructed - `terms which serve to produce truth, rather than reflect it'. He went on to ask `who tells the truth in Yugoslavia, Chechenya or Rwanda?' - but why stop there? One of the states being marched against in Belfast on Saturday has inserted into human discourse a word without equal for state truth - Widgery.

Perhaps as a result of so much dissembling an alternative discourse has been given life. A woman at yesterday’s march told me that it was a protest against the systematic lying of government. That could not have been true for all in the crowd. One of the notorious political liars of Ireland was reputed to be there - a man who sports facial hair, it is said, only to stop people calling him a bare faced liar. Still, I could see her general point. The new discourse was asserting very clearly that the right of Palestinian and Iraqi kids to life is as sacrosanct as that of American children. No discursive strategies, no rhetorical manoeuvring, no appeals to a higher enlightenment based sense of secular rationality can make it any different. Henry Kissinger murdering Cambodian children is no different from Osama Bin Laden murdering American kids.

After our pre-Christmas march I discussed the weakness of support for the anti-war movement in Belfast with a leading member of the city’s Socialist Workers Party. True, it had an inauspicious start and had fallen apart in disarray when in December 2001 the squabbling sects of the sectarian Left each announced that they were more anti-war than the others and to prove it would go to war on the rest. But that alone hardly explained matters. Building the movement would be an uphill battle he insisted but one that had to be fought. If we could put 500 people on the streets for the march on February 15th, he said, ‘we can build it slowly from there’.

I never saw him at that march yesterday. One reason for that was that the 500 he had hoped for was multiplied beyond imagination. It was impossible to find anyone easily in the mass that shimmied its way down Royal Avenue towards the City Hall, where security quickly locked the front gates unused to radicalism on its steps. Lose sight of a friend for a second and that was it - they would not be seen that day again. Tens of thousands was how the BBC described it. It was surreal. One moment, a former republican prisoner was expressing his dismay at ’the small turn out, there should be more’; the next saw us engulfed in a human tidal wave surging against the beachheads of establishment power. Sinn Fein were marching beside the Workers Party although few could have told them apart. And were they to have shouted 'up Stormont' at each other any sense of difference would have eluded us even further. And the sectarian sects of the Irrelevant Left did not turn up to hand out leaflets explaining that they were only there to tell us why they would not be there at our objectively centrist bourgeois demo, and urge us to construct the ‘socialist’ program -NOW.

But it was the wit along with the human elements that struck me more than anything else. One man dressed as an undertaker advertised simply but effectively 'more wars please.' My toddler daughter Fírinne sang in her own language along with the anti-war songs, stopping only to play chase with my friend Aine. A baby innocently singing was adding to the weight and clarity of the message that the voices of Iraqi babies must not be obliterated by the whining whistle of British and American bombs. Barbara Muldoon of the Socialist Workers Party was ecstatic. People were hugging her. It was as much out of respect for her efforts as it was out of their own sense of delight. Three days earlier I had spoken to her in town - she was taut with tension - would Belfast say 'no' to war? Yesterday’s answer must have deafened as much as pleased her. Her colleagues Mark Hewitt, Brian Kelly and Davy Carlin were like dogs with two tails, unsure of which one to wag. The relief on their faces was evident.

One common thread running through the marchers’ discourse yesterday was about the Socialist Workers Party. The amount of people willing to give it credit for putting the event together was staggering. While many groups and people threw in their lot there seemed to be little doubt that the sorely rubbed shoulder at the wheel was that of the SWP. If prizes are to be handed out for effort the lion's share should shower upon their ranks. As a party I do not support them, having little time for vanguards and democratic centralism. But their activists from this city have lain down in front of Israeli tanks to protect Palestinians from certain murder. Yesterday they were at it again, albeit in circumstances unlike anything in occupied Palestine. But their purpose and resolve were the same - halting the onward march of mechanised mass murder.

Tens of thousands of people walked the streets of Belfast on a cold but sunny Saturday afternoon. While growing anti war sentiment and spontaneity formed some part, that protest did not happen by chance. Intelligent planning and coordination played a major role. There is now for the first time in decades a widespread radicalism in Belfast which does not have its centre of gravity within Sinn Fein. In fact there is a growing belief that it is radical because it has managed to bypass Sinn Fein. Can Belfast recapture the radical soul it surrendered so humiliatingly when thousands of its citizens danced like prize poodles for President Bill Clinton in a Mexican Wave? Time alone will tell. But for now - full credit must go to those indefatigable activists of the Socialist Workers Party.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
- Thomas J. Watson

Index: Current Articles

20 February 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


The Shadow of the Gunman
Paul Dunne


'Ulster Says No!' to a Bush Bomb Blitz
Newton Emerson


The Rally
Anthony McIntyre


Impressions of the NYC Anti-War Demonstration
Sandy Boyer


In Praise of Father Mc Manus
Congressman Ben Gilman


"Just Get Out!"
Gabriel Ash


16 February 2003


A Plan "B" for Tony Blair and Northern Ireland
Paul Fitzsimmons


Evidence, What Evidence?
Michael Youlton


Choices to be Made
Larry Kirwan


Talking Through His Cassock
Bert Ward


Letter to Uncle
Jimmy Sands


Long Kesh Meets Peterhouse
Anthony McIntyre


Socialists, Leadership and the Working Class
Davy Carlin




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