The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

‘Ulster says no!’
to a Bush bomb blitz

Newton Emerson • 20 February 2003

It would make my life easier, for the purposes of this article, if the turn-out at Saturday’s Stop the War protest consisted entirely of naked lesbians, students on drugs and the Malone Road Soviet of Anarchists Against Everything – and I suppose that would make Tony Blair’s life a lot easier as well.

The bad news for both of us is that snide labels won’t stick to this crowd. Even here at the Art College assembly point, it’s more Coronation Street than Citizen Smith – middle-aged couples, nice old ladies, young mums, blokey blokes, a real gathering of the tribes. You’d be lucky to get a jury this representative.

Which is not to say that the usual suspects aren’t here as well but their presence only underlines the utterly normal nature of everyone else. I am not an ‘anti-war protester’ and going by the Big Book of Political Stereotypes, neither are 95 per cent of the huge throng now stretching as far as I can see in all directions.

If I wanted to be nasty I could mention the large Palestinian flag up ahead of me but it’s being carried by a small girl who probably isn’t burning with anti-Semitic hatred. There’s an gra Sinn Fein banner doing the rounds as well but it’s in the care of just four teenage boys, who are certainly too young to be accused of favouring some ‘wars’ over others.

I spot a few more trimmings from the lunatic fringe in front of St Anne’s Cathedral – Socialist Worker placards include ‘One War – Class War’, ‘No to War – No to Capitalism’ and ‘Welfare not Warfare’.

This doesn’t add up, I’m afraid. There’s no welfare without a middle class to pay for it, no middle class without capitalism to support it, no middle class if you’ve won the class war, and no class war if you say ‘No to War’. Plus, nobody in Iraq gives a damn either way.

But by far the majority of placards look homemade and heartfelt. The Guardian’s chilling picture of a charred corpse on the road to Basra features prominently, as do simple pleas for peace.

There are some excellent cartoons and caricatures plus a few truly brilliant jokes – ‘I wish I was French’ isn’t something you read too often, ‘Black Bush – Not George Bush’ sounds like a great idea. The stupid anti-Americanism I’d expected amounts to two lads flying the Stars and Stripes upside down – and not getting much thanks for it.

Sudden cheering greets what I can only call a feeder parade as it bursts out of Little Donegall Street, scattering police motorcycles before it. We join up with them and move off, slowly at first, our progress punctuated by short, good-natured ‘charges’. Entering Royal Avenue, we crash like aliens into Saturday shopper-world. Bemused housewives gawk from the pavement and trendy couples stare out from trendy coffee shops but there is absolutely no hostility, not a single suspicious look.

Various chants are attempted but the one that sticks is “Iraq is not the enemy and war is not the answer” – controversial, eh?

As the dome of city hall rises towards us, I remember the night I came here to see Bill Clinton and how the hope of that night mixed with the fear that any large ‘political’ gathering in Belfast was bound to end in tears. That tension is totally absent today.

The parade packs into Donegall Place, gathers quietly around the stage and applauds politely as ICTU assistant general secretary Peter Bunting takes the microphone.

“We are not anti-American,” he says to loud cheers.

“George Bush is anti-American.” Then he introduces Jamal Iweida, president of the Belfast Islamic Centre, to a respectful hush.

Mr Jamal thanks us for our protest, assures us the Iraqi people will hear of our solidarity and then goes off on a bit of a rant about Israel. Oops. But he recovers well, criticising anti-Americanism and condemning Saddam’s regime.

It’s Eamonn McCann who steals the show, though, gripping the crowd with a passionate speech before bringing the house down with a cry of “Ulster Says No!”

Just in front of the stage Gerry Adams sulks grimly, no doubt wondering why everyone likes Eamonn McCann (hint: Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter).

“This isn’t the biggest demonstration Belfast City Hall has ever seen,” McCann cries.

“But it is the best. The Iraqi anti-war movement is the hope of the world and the hope for our little part of it.”

As Tommy Sands picks up his guitar to disperse the crowd, I wander around city hall where the names of the Troubles dead have been chalked onto the pavement – but the name I’m looking for has already worn away.

I must admit that I’ve dreaded writing this article, because I don’t have Eamonn McCann’s conviction. I know that war means death, that the weasel phrase ‘regime change’ is an obscenity and that George W Bush is the worst thing to happen to America since McCarthyism.

Yet pro-war arguments still sway me, especially from Tony Blair, whose judgment surely deserves a little respect on the streets of Belfast. But I can agree completely with Eamonn McCann on one thing. This was the best protest Belfast has ever seen – highly political, broadly supported, deeply felt and totally peaceful.

It would have been unthinkable 10 years ago and while it won’t change the world, it proves there really has been change in our little part of it.

Newton Emerson is editor of the satirical website the Portadown News

This article was first published in the Irish News and is carried here with permission from the author.




Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

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




The Blanket



Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices

To contact the Blanket project with a comment, to contribute an article, or to make a donation, write to: