We Are Many Review

Rise, like lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number!

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you:

Ye are many—they are few!”

The Masque of Anarchy, Percy Shelly, 1819.

We Are Many Landscape

Many of you who has ever been to a protest will be familiar with at least part of the above quote, the final stanza of a poem written by Percy Shelley after the Peterloo massacre. We Are Many, a documentary film that tells the story of the Stop the War protests on the 15th February 2003, takes it’s name from the final line of this evocative poem. The film is not unjustified in borrowing such powerful words; it is a forceful and effecting documentary.

Directed by Amir Amirani, and first released at Sheffield Doc/Fest in 2014, We Are Many tells the story of the global protests against the imminent Iraq War on the 15th of February 2003. Up to 30 million people in nearly 800 cities took part, many of whom had never been to a protest before. The film uses news footage, interviews with participants, experts, and journalists, footage of protests, and clips of political speeches to tell the narrative of the protests themselves, as well as the events that led up to them, and the political movements they helped to inspire (you can see the trailer here).

Starting with 9/11 and the beginning of the War on Terror; the documentary traces the foundation of the Stop the War coalition; the growing opposition to military intervention in Iraq; the protests themselves; further attempts to prevent Western intervention in Iraq; the war itself; and the Tahir Square protests in Egypt. It ends with the vote by British Parliament in 2013 in which they decided against military intervention in Syria, an indication that, although the Iraq War was not prevented, the protest was not necessarily a waste of time. It is a comprehensive account, and I think it could have benefited from doing less, the last half and hour or so does drag somewhat.

2003 Stop the War March

The Stop the War march on the 15th March 2003 was one of the biggest marches London has seen in decades (Source: Channel 4).

Overall, however, I thought it was a brilliant documentary. The interviews were particularly effective: a US air force veteran who came to oppose the war and US government officials admitting the war was wrong make for convincing viewing. The documentary also featured footage of the interviewees speechless. When the narrative arrives at the 19th of March when the war started, many of the interviewees were lost for words, even after a decade. That was pretty powerful.

When a protest doesn’t result in direct changes, it can be difficult to assess its impact. We Are Many admits that the Stop the War protests failed in their primary objective, and left many so demoralised that they withdrew from political engagement. The documentary does, however, make the argument that the 2003 demonstrations had long-term, positive impacts. It argues that the democracy movement in Egypt in 2011 was the product of the global anti-war movement, and highlights that when Britain faced the choice to invade Syria in 2013, MPs made a different decision than the government made a decade before. It is an interesting attempt to assess the impacts that a protest can have.

We Are Many is a comprehensive and emotive account of the events of the 15th February 2003. The global day of protest is thoroughly contextualised in both the events leading up to it, and the possible impacts it may have had. I would recommend this film as a teaching resource about both dissent and the Iraq War, or for those who are just curious about one of the biggest globally coordinated protests the world has ever seen.

Turbulent Westminster: Time to Act and Million Women Rise Marches

Westminster was very busy on Saturday (the 7th of March), with both the Time to Act and Million Women Rise marches taking place. No sooner did the end of the Climate Change march pass Trafalgar Square towards Parliament Square, than Million Women Rise entered the square for a rally, demonstrating just how important this small area of London is to British politics. The marches represented very different issues, with Time to Act calling for urgent changes to the way we deal with climate change, and Million Women Rise demanding an end to male violence against women, tying in with International Women’s Day on the 8th of March. The beautiful weather combined with the bright placards creative chants and upbeat atmosphere to create a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle. Here are some of my photos from the day.

People had come from all over the country to protest against issues related to climate change in their local area, but  there were several London groups.

People had come from all over the country to protest against issues related to climate change in their local area, but there were several London groups (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

People of all ages attended the march....

People of all ages attended the march…. (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

...from the young...

…from the young… (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

...to the old, several generations were represented by the demonstrators. I think climate change marches tend to be more friendly and safe events than protests around some issues.

…to the old, several generations were represented by the demonstrators. I think climate change marches tend to be more friendly and safe events than protests around some issues (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This group stopped in front of a McDonalds to help make their point.

This group stopped in front of a McDonalds to help make their point (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

As usual, there were generic placards printed large numbers by groups such as the Green Party, the CND, and Left Unity...

As usual, there were generic placards printed large numbers by groups such as the Green Party, the CND, and Left Unity… (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

...as well as home-made efforts, which frequently take a comic approach to the issues.

…as well as home-made efforts, which frequently take a comic approach to the issues (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Lots of issues were represented in the Time to Act march, including fossil fuels, TTIP, runways and Trident. Drax is a coal-fired power station in Yorkshire that provides about 7% of the UK's electricity supply.

Lots of issues were represented in the Time to Act march, including fossil fuels, TTIP, runways and Trident. Drax is a coal-fired power station in Yorkshire that provides about 7% of the UK’s electricity supply (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This contingent from Oxford brought their own band. Music is a really important part of protest marches, helping to left the mood and keep the marchers upbeat and energised.

This contingent from Oxford brought their own band. Music is a really important part of protest marches, helping to left the mood and keep the marchers upbeat and energised (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Whilst fracking was a popular topic of disdain for the marchers, this gentleman decided to focus on tar sands.  Tar sands is not a method of fossil fuel extraction that is used in the UK, but many contemporary activists take an international approach to their campaigning.

Whilst fracking was a popular topic of disdain for the marchers, this gentleman decided to focus on tar sands. Tar sands is not a method of fossil fuel extraction that is used in the UK, but many contemporary activists take an international approach to their campaigning (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This protester brought his bike along, presumably to promote the environmentally -friendly form of travel. The placard in his basket is a play on Shell's logo and name.

This protester brought his bike along, presumably to promote the environmentally -friendly form of travel. The placard in his basket is a play on Shell’s logo and name (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

One of the last placards of the Time to Act march was this one, calling for spectators to join the march.

One of the last placards of the Time to Act march was this one, calling for spectators to join the march (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The Million Women Rise march arrived in Trafalgar Square just as the last Time to Act protester passed by. They too had many mass-produced placards.

The Million Women Rise march arrived in Trafalgar Square just as the last Time to Act protester passed by. They too had many mass-produced placards (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

But there were also home-made placards too, like this one.

But there were also home-made placards too, like this one (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Although violence against women is a more focussed topic than climate change, other issues were still brought in by demonstrators, such as this sign about migration.

Although violence against women is a more focussed topic than climate change, other issues were still brought in by demonstrators, such as this sign about migration (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Lots of different groups were represented on the march, from a huge variety of backgrounds. From Essex… (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

 

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…to Kurdistan, each group had a different style and approach (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This was one of my favourite banners from the day, with the bright colours and striking imagery. Unfortunately, I doubt it will ever be seen in the National Gallery! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Most marches end with a rally, witch speakers, and sometimes music. The Million Women Rise stage was set up in front of Nelson's Column.

Most marches end with a rally, with speakers, and sometimes music. The Million Women Rise stage was set up in front of Nelson’s Column (Photo: Hannah Awcock).