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I don’t know which was more inspiring—attending the February 15 demo in New York, which with its sister event in Los Angeles, and the February 16 rally in San Francisco, has altered the political environment in this country—or reading the reports from around the world about the unprecedented day of global resistance to the planned U.S. war on Iraq. Just a few points about the worldwide campaign:
1. The international antiwar movement has developed rapidly, thanks in large part to the internet. An unprecedented degree of global cooperation has become possible, and in pulling off the near-simultaneous manifestations of popular opposition to an Iraq attack, the informally organized planetary antiwar community has achieved a major feat. This may, indeed, be a turning point in human history.
2. At least 10 million people demonstrated in major cities against an Iraq attack, in open-air rallies and marches. If we include smaller demonstrations, the figure will be larger; in Greece, for example, between 100,000 and 150,000 are reported to have rallied in Athens, but another 60,000 rallied in 52 other communities.
3. The demonstrations occurred on all continents (including Antarctica, where 50-55 scientists staged a half-hour rally) indicating extremely widespread opposition to Bush policy, and effective lines of communication linking the U.S. and European antiwar movements, and also international links between anti-globalization activists in the western countries, Latin America, Asia and Africa.
4. News reports indicate that there were at least 60 demonstrations of over 10,000 people. Almost 40 of these occurred in Europe, the greatest center of economic power outside the U.S. and the likely focus of contention for years to come.
5. Five of the demonstrations probably exceeded 500,000: Barcelona, Rome, London, Madrid, and Berlin. There is a big gap between the Madrid and Berlin figures, so the first four are especially conspicuous. And notice: the top four demos all occurred in nations with governments pledged to support the Bush-Blair Terror War on Iraq.
Five Top Antiwar Demos, Feb. 15
Barcelona 1.3 million Rome 1-2 million London 750,000 [police] ? 1.5 million [organizers] Madrid 660,000-800,000 Berlin 300,000-600,000
Spain, Italy and Britain are all members of the “gang of eight” pieced together as the relationship between the U.S. and France and Germany deteriorated, to reassure the U.S. public that Bush has international backing. Their heads of state all signed a letter circulated last month indicating their intention to cooperate in a future U.S.-led attack on Iraq. (Other gang members include Portugal, Denmark, and the former Soviet-camp members Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary.) The demonstrations are a stern rebuke to Blair, Berlusconi and Aznar.
5. Within the “gang of eight” governments, that of Spain meets with particularly widespread opposition in supporting the U.S. war plans. Of the four largest demonstrations, two occurred in Spain, in widely separate regions; there were also several other demonstrations of over 100,000 in the country. It appears likely that between 2.5 and 3 million Spaniards (out of 40 million total) took a stand against war on Saturday.
6. There appears to be strong support in the vilified European nations of France, Germany and Belgium for the antiwar stands currently assumed by their regimes. The massive demonstration in Berlin was complemented by large gatherings in Stuttgart (50,000) and Gottburg (30,000). Paris heads the list of venues of the thirteen demonstrations I’ve found so far estimated to involve 100,000 to half a million.
7. There were huge demonstrations in Australia around Feb. 15, including two in this next category of rallies between 100,000 and half a million. Australia’s another key ally in the U.S. war effort. Demos of 100,000 to 500,000
Paris 400,000 Sydney 250,000 [Feb. 16] Damascus 200,000 Ovidio (Sp.) 200,000 San Francisco 150,000 [police]; 250,000 [organizers] [Feb. 16] Las Palmas (Sp.) 100,000 Cadiz (Sp.) 100,000 Melbourne 100,000-200,000 [Feb. 14] New York 100,000 [police] 375-500,000 [org] Los Angeles 100,000 Montreal 100,000 Dublin 100,000 Athens 100,000 [police]-150,000 [organizers]
8. The demonstrations in the U.S. building upon earlier events in April and October 2002, and last January, were the largest yet, and rival anything seen during the Vietnam War protests. The antiwar movement here seems to be just keeping pace with the Australian and Canadian movements.
9. Greece may be a swing vote between “old” antiwar Europe and the new alliance the U.S. seeks to forge. The large numbers of Greek protesters may encourage Athens to reject military cooperation in the upcoming war.
10. There was a big demonstration in Lisbon, capital of another “gang of eight” nation, as well as one in Porto. Perhaps Portugal, with a population a quarter that of Spain, has an antiwar movement as pervasive as that in its Iberian neighbor. Meanwhile there were demonstrations of 20,000-30,000 in Copenhagen and Budapest, 10,000 in Warsaw, and hundreds in Prague. One hopes the eight may begin to waver.
Demos of 50,000-100,000
Lisbon 80,000 Amsterdam 70,000 Seattle 60-75,000 Oslo 60,000 Seville 60,000 Brussels 50,000 Montevideo 50,000 Buenos Aires 50,000 Stuttgart 50,000
11. Seattle’s the only U.S. city listed in the third category. It has emerged as a center of radical/progressive organizing since the anti-globalization protests of 1999.
12. There was significant participation in antiwar organizing in Latin American cities, especially Montevideo (Uruguay) and Buenos Aires (Argentina), but also in Mexico City and Sao Paolo (Brazil). There were demonstrations in Havana, San Juan (Puerto Rico) and Santo Domingo.
13. In Asia (leaving aside southwest Asia), the largest demonstrations I’ve heard of took place in Japan. I am not sure of the size of the one in Seoul, South Korea.
14. The only demonstrations of around 10,000 to take place in Southeast Asia were in (predominantly Muslim) Pattani, in Thailand, and in Manila. Twice that number rallied in Pattani Febraury 16. There were smaller demonstrations in Djakarta (following one of between 10,000 and 50,000 a week earlier), Kuala Lumpur (3,000 despite a police ban), and Bangkok. Largely, one supposes, because of government repression, the antiwar movement remains low-key in the region.
15. In South Asia, 10,000 rallied in Calcutta, India, and smaller numbers in Dhaka, Bangladesh and Karachi, Pakistan. In this region, too, the movement faces organizational difficulties.
16. In Africa, protest against the war has been largely confined to the large cities of South Africa. There were demonstrations of 4-5,000 in Durban, Capetown and Johannesburg.
17. The Arab “street” remains largely silent. The 200,000-strong rally in Damascus, Syria, was among the top ten demonstrations February 15, but (like the massive pro-Saddam rally in Baghdad the same day) this was a government-sponsored event. In Beirut, perhaps 10,000 protested; in Amman, 3,000. Riot police attacked a rally of 3,000 in Sfax, in Tunisia. Palestinians demonstrated in Ramallah and Jews and Palestinians marched together two or three thousand strong in Tel Aviv. A few hundred protested in Bahrain, as if to test the monarch’s commitment to democratic reform. But in Cairo, greatest city in the contemporary Arab world, only a few hundred rallied, some suffering arrest and torture for violating security regulations. (This is the third time this has happened since the Cairo Conference helped launch the Egyptian antiwar campaign in December.) The fear of repression restrains a potentially mighty anti-imperialist movement in the Arab world.
18. Although over 90% of the Turkish population opposes war, the Turkish street also remains relatively quiescent, even as the U.S. prepares to force tens of thousands of troops upon the country preparatory to an attack on Iraq. Students and over 1000 lawyers rallied against a U.S. Iraq attack in Istanbul last October, and several thousand attended a demonstration in Ankara in January. Sixty medical workers and supporters of the leftist Freedom and Solidarity Party rallied against war in downtown Ankara February 22. With over 90% of the Turkish public, and most parliamentarians against war, one would expect the outbreak of hostilities to bring many more out into the streets, despite government repression.
Demos of 20,000-50,000
Bern (Switz) 40,000 Stockholm 35,000 Glasgow 30,000-50,000 Gottburg 30,000 Girona 30,000 Toronto 25,000-80,000 Tokyo 25,000 Copenhagen 25,000 Vancouver 20,000 Budapest 20,000 Trondheim (Norw) 20,000 Brisbane 20,000 Vienna 15-30,000 Montpelier 15-20,000
Canberra 16,000 Helsinki 15,000 Newcastle (Aus) 15,000 Bergen (Norw)15,000 Munich 14,000-20,000 [Feb. 8] Mexico City 13,500 Sao Paolo 10-20,000 Toulouse 10,000 Calcutta 10,000 Porto (Port.) 10,000 Copenhagen 10,000 Thessaloniki 10,000 Zagreb (Cro) 10,000 Philadelphia 10,000 Leipzig 10,000 [Feb. 10] Hobart 10,000+ Warsaw 10,000 Perth 10,000 Manila 10,000 [Feb. 14] Pattani, Thailand 10,000 Auckland 8-10,000 Seoul 2,000-10,000 Beirut 10,000
There’s a big, global, still largely Eurocentric antiwar movement emerging. Short-term, it’s most likely impact will be to somewhat weaken the resolve of the European regimes that have signed on to the Iraq War, and thus to pose difficulties for the Bush administration’s timetable for aggression. I don’t think the movement will stop the attack, but it will be positioned to mobilize greater opposition once that occurs. The movement in the U.S. will, I think, be increasingly seen by Americans as part of a global effort, rooted in reason and a concern for genuine justice and peace; while the Bush administration will increasingly be seen as dishonest, paranoid, greedy, and demented in the pursuit of its Terror War policy. Weakened at home, the warmongering regime will command less respect abroad, as will its underlings who strive to silence the Arab masses who will be most enraged by the attack on a brother Arab and Muslim state. The world is bound to experience big changes. The demonstrations of the weekend indicate the masses will not be the passive pawns in that change, but potentially regime-changers in their own right.
GARY LEUPP is an an associate professor, Department of History, Tufts University and coordinator, Asian Studies Program. He can be reached at: email@example.com