Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Anniversary - 20 years of Stop the War

[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 74 (Autumn 2021)] 

It’s the 20th anniversary of the Stop the War Coalition. Derided perpetually by right-wing critics and those who like wars as either pacifists or supporters of terrorism (it’s quite difficult to be both) like any social movement it has its up and downs in support. It is however still here and held a 20th anniversary event at Conway Hall in London on 18 September. 

You might be forgiven for not noticing. While the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan marked the end of a 20 year strategy by the US, the UK and others, those who said it would all end in tears (and for many much worse than that) have not featured much in media coverage. This tells you unsurprising things about the British media of course - points about its narrowness of focus that have been made many times. 

The forces that came together to form the Stop the War Coalition- CND, the Muslim Association of Britain and a spectrum of the left, perhaps primarily the Labour left and the SWP, held a meeting full to overflowing shortly after the war with Afghanistan started in late September 2001. The first demonstration took place in London on Saturday 13 October 2001. I was at both. With the invasion of Iraq pending the STWC organised what remains the biggest demonstration in British history in central London on 15 February 2003. I was there with my national union banner. 

So it went on and goes on, protesting against western military interventions, not always without controversy on the left but still often ignored by the media for whom the basic message of opposition to war was often an inconvenient one. There was an exhibition at Bow Arts featuring a lot of the art work associated with Stop the War down the years and particularly perhaps the early years. The visual aspect of the protest was key and ground breaking. It’s interesting to remember and review for those who were there but as important for those who were not, often because 20 years on they were too young. A 10 year old in 2001 is 30 now. And the need for Stop the War is not going away. 

Keith Flett

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