The Day We Sat Down In The Road

Anti-War Protests – Boar Lane,Thursday, March 20th, 2003.

In the previous weeks, thousands of people had marched in London, but it seemed to me to be just as important to have local protests; after all, it was my MP in Seacroft that I was faxing, not the lost souls in the cabinet, or Blair, or Bush.

So I’d already marched through Leeds the Saturday before and attended the rally on Hyde Park. I’d already incurred the wrath of weekend shoppers, already been told to “Get a job”, “Get a wash”, and “F**ck off back to Iraq”, and, as the march had slowed near Leeds Market to turn onto Boar Lane, nearly got thumped for no good reason, by some red-faced bloke who obviously didn’t share my views or value my right to voice to voice them,  while walking down the middle of Vicar lane with my hands in my pockets, blowing on a whistle. Still, I felt a compulsion to keep on saying ‘No’. This would be no war on terror, just the terror of war.

Back then I bathed every day and I had a job, with management wages and more accrued lieu-time than I knew what to do with, which was why, the day they invaded Iraq, I was free to leave the office at lunch time and spent the rest of the day and the evening rampaging around Leeds city centre. As for Iraq, the cradle of civilisation was the last place I wanted to be at that moment. I just didn’t think it was a good idea to bomb it flat and waste thousands of lives, and the reasons I was being given felt like lies.

So, I found myself sitting in the middle of Boar Lane in the late afternoon, stopping traffic, faced by a barricade of police and mounted officers lined up at the junction by McDonalds.

They wanted to stop the march progressing towards the station and City square, and were trying to turn the protesters up Briggate and back along the Headrow, to be corralled again in front of the art gallery steps. Instead we just sat there chanting, banners waving, buses backing up along Boar lane; and, for a very brief moment we felt the certainty of our collective convictions, permitting us to step outside ourselves, discard  our ordinary lives, and turn the world upside down.

But that brief, golden moment was soon broken and we decided, for the time being at least, to behave ourselves and do as we were told, rising and following the prescribed route towards the Town hall. The same route we marched again that evening, and every Thursday and Saturday for weeks, until the numbers dwindled and to continue seemed pointless.

At the beginning they promised us shock and awe and weapons of mass destruction, but in the end, we got the London bombings, Wootton Bassett, and unimaginable numbers of dead and wounded.

I didn’t take to the streets because I thought we would stop the war. It was more about the importance of not being ignored or alone. I marched to lose the feeling of powerlessness and out of a conviction that the only course of action left was dissent.

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