People from all over the country packed into a meeting in Birmingham to hear ‘Why We Need an Anti-War Government’.
Stop the War Coalition (StWC) hosted the event, which took place at The Priory Rooms in Bull Street on Thursday, to mark 15 years since what was the largest demonstration in British history.
Guest speakers on the night included Stop the War Patron Salma Yaqoob, Moazzam Begg, Director for CAGE, an organisation aiming to empower those affected by the War on Terror, Stop the War Officer John Rees and rapper and activist Lowkey.
The meeting was chaired by anti-racism campaigner Maz Saleem and focused around Jeremy Corbyn, the former chair of Stop the War Coalition, with each speaker highlighting the significance of his 2017 election campaign that saw him win 40 per cent of the votes.
John Rees said: “For the first time in British history, there is a possibility of seeing a prime minister in this country who not only was chair for the Stop the War Coalition, vice chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament but one of the most longstanding and most principled opponents of imperialism and advocates of international solidarity that the Labour party has ever produced.”
Salma, previously a councillor for the Respect Party, spoke of people in the election being given ‘a real choice of anti-war government’ and a ‘vision of welfare, not warfare’.
This year, meetings have been held nationwide in places such as Newcastle, Bristol and Manchester.
The meeting in Birmingham took place to remember February 15, 2003 when two million people took to the streets of London in protest over the Iraq War.
The largest demonstration in British history was jointly organised by StWC, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and the Muslim Association of Britain.
Recalling the march, Salma said: “People marched in solidarity and humanity for people who did not share their religion, ethnicity or nationality and to simply say ‘we are with you’ and our government is not speaking for us.
“As I walked and marched with pensioners, some of them couldn’t even afford to heat their own homes and yet made a choice between food and warmth.
“It gave me hope and I know it gave hope to millions of people around the globe.”
She also spoke of Birmingham’s role in helping to mobilise people during the London demonstration.
“It was Birmingham that sent off 200 coaches to London and we had huge contingents,” she added.
Lowkey, a musician who combines intellectual clarity with passion and integrity, said: “When the march took place and around two million people mobilised in London, you had a global mobilisation of around 30 million people. That is unprecedented in human history.
“Anti-war organising strikes fear into the hearts of those in the highest echelons.”
He added: “Britain is currently involved in 7 covert wars, though it would be hard to discern these facts from mainstream media. Its army is the fifth strongest in the world and it is the second biggest arms manufacturer.
“You have £3.8 billion of British made weapons being given to the Saudi government. They now have more British made fighter jets than the British Army have.
“Over the last three and a half years, the UK has dropped 3,400 bombs on Iraq and Syria at the cost of £133m.
That’s £133m not being used in the NHS and not being used to house people.”
Stop the War Coalition, which was founded in 2001 in the wake of 9/11 attacks, seeks to campaign against unjust wars.
Moazzam Begg, who during the 2003 march was held at Camp Echo in Guantanamo Bay, said: “You may disagree with Jeremy Corbyn on some issues but, one thing I know, he stood with us at a time when very few would, when people were terrified of siding with those accused of terrorism held in Guantanamo Bay.”
He added: “He stood many times with me on a platform campaigning for Shaker Aamer, who was held for 14 years without charge or trial in Guantanamo, tortured, coming back to the UK to meet children, some of whom he had never seen in his life.
“This was a 40-year-old living in Battersea in London.
“This wasn’t a story from Guatemala and somewhere in Africa. This was a story from Britain and nobody had the guts at that level to do anything. It wasn’t popular to do so, but he stood firm.”
John Rees concluded the meeting by addressing Donald Trump’s forthcoming visit to the UK, saying: “Donald Trump is going to come and when he comes, he has got to be met with the most enormous demonstration.
“In February 2003, we had the biggest demonstration in Britain’s political history, but the record has stood for too long.
“I want to be able to say I was part of the second largest demonstration in British political history. That’s what we need when Donald Trump lands on our shores.”