Full Streets But Empty Stomachs

15 February 2003. Britain’s largest ever protest - protesting against the Iraq war. As the organisers told us that we - protesting for a ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict - were the second-largest protest in British history, I thought of it. 20 years ago men, women and children had gathered to protest against the British invasion of Iraq. Perhaps they were dressed differently or held different coloured flags, but they had all gathered to defend a key human belief - peace. And now here I stood wrapped up warm, an hour from my home to protest for those who lay cold with no home, to defend the same belief - but why? When those men, women and children protested this belief all those years ago, did they wonder if in 20 years anything would be different? Kahlil Gibran once said, “History does not repeat itself except in the minds of those who do not know history.” Unfortunately, it appears that our politicians have skipped a history lesson or two.

You could hear the protest before you saw it. As my father and I stepped off the Tube, we could hear the faint roars in the distance. We made our way to the main body of the protest passing Battersea Power Station on the way. By the entrance there was a display - it had ‘Hello’, written in dozens of different languages. All of these cultures side by side, coexisting peacefully on this small plastic board - perhaps the only example of this in our polarizing modern society.  As the roars of the crowd and a sea of red, black, white and green drew near, someone hurrying on their way home gave us their flag - ‘Keep this’ he said. 

We made our way into the thick of it - it being the ever-growing crowd - protesters were trickling in from all sides. Like the flags they waved, they were of all different colours - people of all races, religions and social statuses had come to defend their key human belief. Speakers, young and old, Muslim and Jewish, male and female all called for the same thing - a ceasefire. There was a moving 2-minute silence after which the names of 50 children killed in the conflict were read out - 50 out of thousands. As the organizers came to the stand to read them out, their voices cracking with the weight of the sorrow and grief that hovered over us, it felt like all hope was lost.

But there is light, though it is hard to see it through the smoke of the bombs, there is light. As I write this, there has been a ceasefire, and we can only hope that it lasts. Who knows, after 20 years, maybe we have learnt a thing or two about history. Not the politicians nor the rich - but us - the common people.