Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
But this wasn’t your usual act of terrorism. A local peace and justice group was holding a mock arms exhibition just as Europe’s largest arms fair, the DSEi, was taking place at the same time in London. The suspect package was a dummy “cluster bomb” – a tin of baked beans wrapped in cardboard.
Welcome to the new face of the anti-war movement. Far from disappearing, it has taken root in the most unlikely places. And with the latest national demo drawing tens of thousands compared with the million who marched on 15 February, the local groups have become the movement’s heart and soul.
The continuing bloody occupation of Iraq, the disintegrating road map in Israel and Palestine, the threat of future wars, the lack of WMD and the public’s distrust of the government following the Hutton Inquiry all provide impetus to the local anti-war groups. Dorset Stop the War Coalition (STWC) organiser Lucy Carolan says that while some groups affiliated to the coalition packed up at the beginning of the summer “new ones are starting up as we speak”.
“Now,” says Carolan, “it’s about ending the occupation and addressing issues at home.” During the Labour Party conference Dorset anti-war activists gathered outside the Bournemouth convention centre to heckle unsympathetic delegates. Just before Blair’s big speech, they toppled a Saddam-style statue of the prime minister and performed a funeral march in the street.
Individuals who have met through Dorset STWC have gone on to campaign together against the BNP. Some stood as anti-war candidates against the fascist party in May’s local elections.
What’s happening in Dorset is a telling example of the continuing creativity of the anti-war movement on the ground. The challenges then become: how does the national movement harness this energy, what should its strategy be to prevent future wars and how can it campaign against the ongoing occupation?
From its outset, the STWC has played a major role in galvanising a diverse group of people – many who otherwise would not have been engaged with activism at all – and has brought them together as a united opposition. Along with CND and the Muslim Association of Britain, the STWC organised the largest demonstrations in British history and has made it almost impossible for the UK to remain committed to Bush’s war on terror.
Just Peace, a group that promotes Muslim participation in the social justice movement, was formed immediately following 11 September and became part of the STWC steering committee. Just Peace chair Shahed Saleem says the group benefited from the coalition’s experience and its quick formation: “The achievement of the STWC is that it enabled a stratum of people not previously politicised to channel their new radicalisms. For such groups, like ours, a stable STWC leadership with a clear focus, with resources and with experience in political organisation was essential. If a lack of democracy in the first 18 months was the price of this stability, then I think it was necessary.”
But Saleem says we”re in a different phase now. “It may now be the time to start unpacking the STWC, perhaps because its very success threatens it with institutionalisation and ineffectiveness. If for the anti-war movement to remain meaningful means that it has to be opened up and handed over to a more diverse array of groups, then that should be allowed to happen.”
Saleem has hit on a major dilemma: although the anti-war movement has moved on, the STWC’s national structures and strategies haven”t always kept up. The coalition was successful at mobilising, but what happens now?
There is a debate underway which is of wide significance and needs public airing without weakening the underlying unity of the movement. At the heart of it are questions fundamental to how the left opposition to New Labour pulls itself together as a coherent force. What is the most effective and most democratic relationship between local and national organisation? And how can we build a genuinely pluralist alliance in which everyone restrains their desires to be in control?
The activities of the STWC tend to be largely events-based. Right now, for example, it’s preparing for George W Bush’s stay in Buckingham Palace later this month. Maybe this is the specific job of a national organisation. But then what about the kind of work that needs to be done regularly and is beyond the capacities of any single local group? One resolution at an STWC people’s assembly expressed the need to “disseminate information about the realities of life under the occupation” and to “support and participate in Occupation Watch” (an international organisation based in Baghdad that monitors casualties and the activities of the occupation forces).
These kinds of things are important. At present they tend to fall by the wayside. This is partly because the national coalition is overwhelmed by the work involved in organising national demonstrations (-no one should underestimate the amount of work required,” says STWC officer Jane Shallice), and partly, some would argue, because they do not conform to the approach of the dominant political grouping in the coalition – the Socialist Workers Party.
With direct action, too, it is the local groups that have taken the lead. Critics have charged the STWC with a lack of imagination and variation in its tactics. STWC officer Asad Rehman realises with hindsight that the national coalition should have organised military base demonstrations to try and stop US B52s from flying, or at least given strong support to the local groups who did organise such action.
At present the STWC’s national officers keep in touch with local organisations through the exceptionally high number of meetings they attend (they speak to four or five groups a week) and the hundreds of emails and letters they receive. They largely gauge what action to take through these activities. One of those officers is Andrew Murray, who points out that it’s impossible to act on every single idea that the coalition receives, and that most events are not centrally organised by the coalition. “The coalition will evolve. It’s not a hierarchical thing; we don”t control what local groups do and don”t do.”
Many people feel that there would be even less hierarchy if more was known about what was decided at meetings and who attended them, and if there was more support given to local groups attempting to organise with each other. Some STWC affiliates and other individuals, for example, are currently setting up Grassroots Opposition to War (Grow). The impetus for Grow came from the perceived need for bottom-up structures through which local activists could meet up and share ideas that they could then take back to their respective communities. Grow organiser Jesse Schust says: “It’s a way for local activists to speak with each other so it’s not the same people talking.”
Schust argues that Grow complements the STWC. At an inaugural conference to discuss Grow’s future there were workshops on subjects like “anti-war campaigning in the dead times” and “anti-war electoral action”. Collectively decided actions will be posted on the network’s website. The conference would have been better attended if the central STWC had publicised it as a supplement to the national demo that happened the same weekend and circulated the details to its extensive email list. Grow’s organisers insist that no matter how difficult it is to practise democracy, it’s critical to have a group that supports what its members are doing, gets them together on a regular basis face-to-face, enables them to build relationships and share ideas, and provides a means for them to feel that they are part of the movement. Only then can the movement go forward.
Bush’s visit will be an important test for the anti-war movement. Much has been achieved, but the movement needs to build in the democracy it so yearns for and demands from other institutions. Otherwise, it will lose an extraordinary opportunity to shape the political landscape and 15 February will become a distant reminder of what could have been.
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
'We wanted to use a shared love of the beautiful game to stand in solidarity with those living under occupation', writes Kate Hadley.
Priti Patel's shady deals are business as usual. Enough is enough, writes Eleanor Penny
Boris Johnson is a local disaster and a national embarrassment. He must go, writes James Clouting
The global elite have been stealing from society on an unprecedented scale, writes Tom Walker
Richard Murphy says that the appropriate political will and understanding of tax can put an end to offshore avoidance and evasion
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes