A great virtue of the film is how it shows the impact 15 February 2003 had on movements that followed and even now is shaping politics
Amir Amirani's tremendous film about the great anti-war protests of February 15, 2003 is launching on Thursday 21 May.
It is a novel feeling to watch a film documenting the development of mass protest. February 15 2003 saw the biggest global demonstrations in world history.
Around 30 million people marched in over 800 towns and cities around the world against the impending Western attack on Iraq. The film brilliantly portrays the sheer exhilaration of the protests which captured the headlines around the world and turned hundreds of thousands of people into committed activists.
It conveys also how in the right circumstances a mass movement can spiral with astonishing speed. The February 15 date was pitched by the British movement the previous summer, taken up at the massive European Social Forum in Florence in October 2002 and spread across the globe in weeks. The demonstrations in Latin America, some of which were massive, were only called in the fortnight before the global day of action. The movement, coming after a relatively low point for the left, put radical politics back centre stage.
And the film also captures the way that, despite the fact that the demonstration didn't stop the Iraq war, it generated a cycle of resistance that shook the establishment.
This is important because some individuals are under the illusion that the movement ended on February 15. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A cycle of protest
In Britain the march was followed by the biggest wave of direct action and civil disobedience in our history, with a series of school student strikes leading up to a massive national walk out, and substantial numbers of striking on the day the war broke out.
Up and down the country motorways were blocked, tunnels occupied and city centres flooded with protestors. Central London was brought to a standstill by school students and community marches from North South East and West.
After the war started there was another cycle of massive protests including one of an estimated 500,000 that very weekend. Later in the year 300,000 people brought London to a standstill once again, on the biggest ever weekday demonstration in Britain, totally ruining George Bush's visit.
Blair on the brink
The movement came much closer to stopping Britain's participation than many of us realised at the time. Political comentator John Kampfner described how around the time of the demonstration "The British Government in the normal sense of the word, ground to a halt".
In fact just eight days before the invasion, British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon phoned his US opposite number Donald Rumsfeld and told him Britain might not be able to participate in the invasion. He said "we in Britain have political difficulties, real political difficulties, more than you might imagine". Tony Blair himself admitted later that "I thought these really could be my last days in office".
Though the biggest back bench rebellion in Labour's history followed, on 18 March 2003, it was not big enough to stop Blair's madness in its tracks. Blair survived but never recovered politically and announced his resignation in 2006, humiliated by the Iraq War and the protests against it.
Another great virtue of the film is that it shows the impact 15 February had on the movements that followed and the way that, even now, the movement it generated is shaping politics.
Egyptian activists explain that the anti-Iraq War protest was the first impulse to the democracy movement which brought down the Mubarak government in 2011. Campaigners from the US explain how anti-war opinion remains strong and a series of British political insiders testify to the way the movement has made further foreign interventions a hard sell for any government.
Towards the end of the film we see even David Cameron having to accept this, as he abandons his plans to bomb Syria in 2013 faced this time with an effective parliamentary revolt – the product of cumulative demonstrating and a new round of protests.
Revealing a secret
Like many films, We Are Many only gradually reveals its secret. Far from being a waste of time as the establishment likes to make us believe, the film shows that protest involving these kind of forces can make a real difference to the world we live in. It can shake and even topple governments and bring hope and confidence to people looking for change. In the process it can help to rebuild progressive organisation on a society wide scale.
In a more and more unstable and volatile world there could be no stronger argument for maintaining and growing the anti-war movement.
With a strange serendipity, the film is launching as a new movement starts to snowball, this time against austerity. The momentum behind the People's Assembly protests on 20 June is reminiscent of the demonstrations that preceded February 15. See this film, and as the campaign grows, hold the lessons of We Are Many close to your heart.
'We Are Many' is in cinemas nationwide on 21-22 May 2015. More details and to book tickets.
A number of people appearing in the film will be speaking at the Confronting a World at War Conference on 6 June at the TUC in London. Advanced booking is recommended.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
More articles from this author
- 'The resistance is taking shape': Wakefield rallies against Islamophobia
- Philosophers with No Clothes: A Review of The War Against Marxism
- Holding the bosses feet to the fire: Strikers light up the climate movement
- Sunak’s feelgood budget flop
- Talking peace, risking war: why the hawks are shaping the US’s China policy
- Brighton 2021: Members speak out on Starmer, stitch ups and next steps for the left
- 'On the road to nowhere': Leah Levane on Labour, Starmer and the expulsions - video