Last week marked ten years since U.S and U.K troops led coalition forces into the second invasion of Iraq. It also marked ten years since the anti-war protests were at their height. A time when hundreds of thousands of people were united in opposition to the conflict, where daily rallies were happening across the country. While much of the media focus has been on the anniversary of the conflict itself, and the lessons we can learn from it going forward, perhaps more worthy of attention is the sheer scale of public opposition to the war.
Rarely before, and never since, have we seen so many people marching against a common cause. One of the most striking aspects of the protest movement at the time was how it galvanized young people and schoolchildren into vocal opposition to the conflict. Throughout March 2003 schools up and down the U.K were hit by walkouts, as students and staff decided to make their voices heard.
As a fourteen year old schoolkid in Glasgow at the time, I recall clearly the excitement of March 19th. At a time where all of us were angry about the prospect of the war we felt powerless. Staging a mass walk-out that afternoon was a small act of rebellion, but for us it felt like the most significant act in the world. We had the silent support of many of our teachers, a quiet nod here and there to let us know that they didn’t expect us back in the afternoon. Many of them would be joining us at the rally in the city centre.
As handfuls of us left together to start our noisy journey to the march, we fell in with other crowds. Students from Glasgow University draped in banners, handing us signs and teaching us slogans to shout. Other teenagers from local schools looking as nervous as we felt. When the crowds came together in George Square we brought the city centre to a standstill. There was a tremendous feeling of solidarity and power. It felt like what we were doing mattered, that it would have an effect.
One thing that angered all of us was the perception, both in the media and from any adult you cared to ask, that it was nothing but an excuse to skive. That we weren’t interested in the protest, only in the prospect of an afternoon off school. Teachers unions dismissed our protests as truancy. An attitude like that is an insult to the very real feeling of anger we all felt about the war. Schoolchildren were just as opposed to the conflict as any adult or student activist, but without the luxury of freedom to make our voices heard.
The Stop the War movement politicized many of us for the first time. It gave us our first steps into political protesting, and made us feel like a part of something important. Crucially, it was our first real experience of vocalizing our anger and frustration to the world. And ten years on that is as worth remembering as any aspect of the conflict.