The second superpower

Worldwide peace gathering March 20th

Feature story - 9 March, 2004
On February 15th, 2003, history saw the world's first truly global anti-war demonstration. It didn't stop a fundamentally flawed war. It didn't make a US president who wasn't elected by a majority of Americans listen to the majority of world opinion. It didn't prevent over 10,000 civilian deaths. Yet that day has yielded real results, and the 30 million people who took time to say "No" to war sent a potent signal of hope: peace can speak with one voice.

Which was illegal, the protest, or the war?

One year down the road, things look different than they did in February 2003, and some for the better:

  • The concept of "Preventive War" has been tarnished, if not utterly gutted, by the failure to discover weapons of mass destruction.
  • The ability of US and UK hawks to assemble selective intelligence to justify their military ambitions has been set back, and will never again enjoy the same lack of scrutiny.
  • Multinationalism has been vindicated, with the UN inspection teams proven right and the utter failure of the occupying forces to supplant the UN as a peace-keeping or democracy-building force.
  • The decision making which led to war in Iraq is under intense scrutiny, both in the US and around the world.

What did 30 million people out in the streets have to do with any of that? Plenty. We demonstrated a democratic force that no politician can ignore. We created space for opposition by putting a face -- or rather 30 million faces -- on the world's opposition to the war.

In a world in which corporate interests long ago learned the power of globalisation, the peace movement had few examples previous to February's march of the value of globalising dissent.

But that gathering was an extraordinary thing, and an extraordinarily simple thing. People opposed to the war made a decentralised decision to name a day of protest. It was coordinated and communicated worldwide via the free information channel of the internet. People expressed and exchanged opinions against the war via email, images, pictures, cartoons, jokes, animations, and video in an outpouring of self-published creative opposition. It was the first stirring of a muscle -- like an infant learning that it can control its own hand and move things in the world.

When the civil rights movement began in the US, the first protests failed. It was nine years before Rosa Parks' refusal to sit in the back of an Alabama bus would achieve desegregation. And in fact, the earliest protests generally led to crack-downs on the "subversives," and an attempt to silence their voices with authoritarianism.

Free speech under attack

Today, true to that model, the right to free speech in the US is under attack. Greenpeace is under fire from the US Attorney General in an unprecedented case of selective prosecution. Using a typical Greenpeace action against illegal logging as a springboard, for the first time in US history an entire organisation has been indicted for the non-violent civil disobedience of its members. Major newspapers, fellow non-governmental organisations, and now a member of the US Judiciary Committee have said continuing the court case will "have a chilling effect on free speech and activism of all kinds."

In London, 14 Greenpeace UK activists are standing trial for their peaceful protest at Marchwood military base. The Greenpeace volunteers entered Southampton's Marchwood Military Port and occupied tanks, locking themselves with chains and padlocks, preventing the tanks from being loaded onto a ferry.

In pleading not guilty, they've cited their right to freedom of expression, and their belief that their acts were necessary to prevent an unlawful, unjustified war and to save lives.

We're seeking as evidence the advice which the UK Attorney General provided to Tony Blair in February 2003 about the legality of the war. There is speculation that the Attorney General raised objections to the government's position that a "preventive" war was permissible under international law.

A district judge ruled that "the lawfulness of the war and the Attorney General's legal opinion are not relevant to issues in the case."

We disagree, and we'll summon the Attorney General to defend his advice publicly in court. Downing Street has so far refused to publish the Attorney General's advice, claiming it had been given in confidence and would remain secret. Yet Tony Blair himself provided Parliament with a selective summary of later advice in order to convince Parliament to go to war.

Greenpeace UK Executive Director Stephen Tindale noted: "We've heard a lot of nonsense about sacred Whitehall conventions. Well Tony Blair broke the convention when he published a summary of the advice to win a vote in parliament. He can't shift the goalposts now. There's too much at stake, not least the right to a fair trial."

Feel the chill?

In a world in which powerful corporations have learned how to buy elections and ensure their interests are represented at the highest levels of leadership, governments need to be reminded that they are charged with protecting our interests and the interests of our children. That the future of our planet, and the hope of millions for a green and peaceful world, are things that an increasingly powerful voice will stand up and demand.

The same centreless coalition of groups and individuals who organised last year's activities want you and your family and friends back on the street this Saturday, March 20th, to demonstrate that we still say "No" to war.

On March 20th, you can join with people all over the world in reminding our leaders that the majority of this planet's inhabitants want peace and a sustainable world for our children.

Remind them that we're willing to stand up and be counted. Remind them that global public opinion is not just a minor consideration to be skirted around when it suits them.

Remind them that the global resistance to the invasion of Iraq was dubbed "the second superpower," that it's a generic expression of hope, and that it's still very much alive.

Take Action

Check out the complete worldwide schedule of March 20th events, and send this e-card to invite your friends, family, and colleagues to join you.

Post a message to be displayed in our virtual protest. We'll display the comments on the front page of our website from March 18th until March 22nd.