Bush Protested in London
By Heather Turner
Interlaced with whistle-blowing, chants of "George Bush: Terrorist!", and drum-beats was the sound of a saxophone coming from somewhere near the police blockade lining the east side of Parliament Square.
David Hurcombe suddenly adopts a serious look and something of a salty tone, as he broke from playing to make his point with rhetorical questions.
"Its sad. So many people have died, haven't they? Every life is precious, isn't it?" He held up the brassy soprano saxophone he had brought with him. "Every Iraqi kid would like to grow up and play a saxophone."
On the last 'leg' of his 'Farewell Tour' of much of the industrialized western world, President George Bush's visit was greeted in London by scores of people outraged over everything from the civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan to global climate change. Expecting the typical European reception of the U.S. president, security forces were beefed-up everywhere Bush stopped.
Hurcombe and his wife, Joy, stood with 2000 other protesters before a wall of some 1200 Metro police, later to be replaced with officers in riot gear along the metal barricade that prevented protesters from completing the march as planned through the heart of London's government district to Prime Minister Gordon Brown's residency at 10 Downing Street.
None of the protesters were threats to democracy, Mrs. Hurcombe said. "Just let us protest!" she pleaded. The couple had traveled from Worthing by train to attend the demonstration, organized by the Stop the War Coalition. The Hurcombes couldn't just sit at home and do nothing, even if the government was unresponsive to their demands. "There's some of us that have enough conscience to realize what's going on!" Mr. Hurcombe said, the edge in his voice clear above the ruckus.
The tens of thousands of demonstrators that usually turn out during Bush's visits were curiously absent, not only in London. Roman authorities were stunned to find that they were far over-prepared with a 10,000 man police force mobilized to maintain the peace at a march that peaked at about 2,000 demonstrators. And, during the June 10 German 'leg' of the 'Farewell Tour,' protests were almost non-existant in the country that had once seen 6 lanes of highway close in the city of Mainz during a Bush visit in 2005. The low turnout seemed to confirm what commentators and ordinary people were saying about Bush's giant week-long goodbye wave: that many people simply no longer care what the lame-duck president does as his days in office dwindle.
The smaller numbers did not necessarily discourage the couple, but Mrs. Hurcombe did wish after-the-fact that Stop the War could of done something more, like stage a sit-in at the police blockade."For every one of us, there are hundreds who could've been here that have our same point of view," Mrs. Hurcombe said. Besides, she asked in the same tone her husband had used that indicated her question didn't really require an answer, "Have you ever seen any demonstrations for the war?"
Hurcombe had a point. Even with a diminished showing, the thousands who did stick it out to say 'Fuck Bush' still made their presence known. Although they didn't carry signs, the Hurcombe's had their voices, their bodies, and a saxophone. But after years of war and no end in sight to the 'War on Terror,' it is little wonder that the war wearied peoples strike because high oil prices hit them right in their pockets, or that they march to free Tibetans on the other side of the world. With every popular push to end the war, the Bush's, Blair's, Brown's and water-carrying pundits of the world either turn their backs on what's being said or continue making policies that suffocate civil rights. Coverage of the war has also declined over the years and the urgency to get Bush out has faded, even as articles of impeachment are being introduced (and scoffed at) in the U.S. Congress.
"When we protested against George Bush's visit in 2003, it was shortly after the beginning of the Iraq war. We were still very angry and he had one more election to finish and which we hoped we could make a small dent in his chances of being re-elected," Stop the War Coalition organizer, Stewart Halforty said. "But he got re-elected again." At that time, protesters were especially energized. Perhaps they really could stop the war. The 5,000 police were no match for the 100,000 marchers.
However, subsequent demonstrations have managed to convolute the message rather than hone it. And in London, rather than providing a moment of clarity, priorities were all willy nilly, as the staging of some abstract political idea staggered on to end after an overbearing police presence forced protesters out. If anything, Europeans in some of the richest cities in the world are without a target. Or rather, there are so many targets, so many things to be disgruntled about, that no one can really agree on who it is they should be fighting. The protest in London being a fine example.
"Well we're not just against George Bush ... we're against the British ruling class, you know, Gordon Brown," said a youthful protester who declined to give his name. He was selling papers, 40 p apiece, for the Spartacist League right next to the t-shirt stands. The protest was truly an event for anyone to air their grievances about the world as well as about the unpopular U.S. leader. Then, of course, there were the fliers: the myriad grass-roots websites promoting messages , 9/11 "Truth" groups appealing to anyone who would listen that it was definitely an inside job.
Practical chaos ensued as bobbies snatched and beat back protesters at the blockade with their metal batons. Someone with a loud-horn blared Darth Vader's theme music interspersed with the disco classic, "Stayin' Alive." Another man on a bull-horn tried to convince just one member of the stone-faced Metro police to uphold the law and arrest George Bush. Protesters were only riled more when a line of police in riot gear materialized from nowhere to block off the north side of the square. Hundreds took off in their direction, some running even, to fight on, blaring music and yelling 'war criminal' at the new man-made wall.
And suddenly, all that was left of the protest along the Whitehall barrier was a fraction of the people, abandoned by their masses. A large banner wafted above an absolutely trashed Parliament Square. It said "Campaign Against Climate Change." Yet, the earth spins on. Traffic continues moving. People still wake up, go to work, come home at the end of the day to their families, go to bed and start all over again the next day. The wars and many of the policies that have been protested over the years continue, in some cases unabated.
All the while, grass roots organizers move forward trying to tackle a growing number of issues. "When [Stop the War] started this movement it was only about the war in Afghanistan," Stewart Halforty said. "Today its about civil liberties, Islamophobia, attacks on muslims ... you know it gets bigger and bigger." With so little chance of seeing actual change anytime soon while Bush remains in office and uncertainty regarding who will be the next 'leader of the free world,' the movements push forth with no apparent cohesive idea as to what to pursue next.
"If there are 10 organizations doing 10 different things, I say let a thousand flowers bloom," Halforty said. "I think they can try and specialize on single issues and we can try to unite the whole." Regardless of the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in the fall, there will still undoubtedly be a hard-core group of individuals willing to stage events.
Mark Sabine vowed at the protest that he would be demonstrating until his dying day. "Sadly, I'm sure there will be plenty to protest about," he said. Its a sentiment echoed by Stop the War Organizer, Morag McDonald. "We're still going to have to protest. We are still going to have to build grassroots activism."
Heather Turner is a student of journalism and political science at Truman State University in rural middle-America. She is studying in London for the summer.