Australian peace movement gathering strength
In Australia opposition to war against Iraq is growing. This was demonstrated on February 16 by the size of the peace marches, not only in the capital cities, but also in regional centres. In NSW for example, between 18,000 and 20,000 marched in Newcastle, 500 in Forster, 1500 in Tathra, 400 in Bega, 5000 in Armidale, 2000 in Byron Bay, 5,000 in Lismore, 1000 in Nambucca and 300 in Kempsey. And others attended rallies in Taree and Broken Hill. At Wagga Wagga the president of the Cootamundra branch of the Liberal Party, Arthur Schofield, told a contingent of 1000 that Prime Minister Howard is in contempt of Liberal Party values because of his subservience to Washington. At Bellingen, Vietnam War veteran Bob McLoud told a rally of more than 3000 people, (more than town's entire population), that he had sent his war medals back to Canberra. One striking characteristic of the anti-war movement is the unity, co- operation and initiative of the organisations involved. For example, in Western Australia, a recent public forum was held on "Alternatives to War on Iraq". There have been many other actions and joint activities. Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras included a purple-clad "No war in Iraq" contingent. The group "High School Students Against War", which participated in the February 16 rally, is planning a "Books not bombs" student strike against war on Iraq on March 5. They have gained support from many teachers to attend the event, and they want the teachers themselves to come along. Student organisations from both private and public schools are working together to develop joint anti-war activity. The Medical Association for the Prevention of War has denounced government participation in plans for war against Iraq, and the Prime Minister's statement that protests gave comfort to Saddam Hussein. The Association's President, Dr Sue Wareham, declared that sanctions against Iraq were not the answer, and that they had brought misery for Iraqi civilians and had left Iraqi youth "bitter, isolated and dangerously alienated from the world". The association has suggested that people fax or email letters to UN Security Council ambassadors, urging them not to vote for war against Iraq. On February 19 the ACT parliament passed a motion from Greens MLA Kerrie Tucker with support from ALP and Democrat members, opposing war against Iraq. Actions by individual organisations include a Greenpeace and Community Activists "flotilla for peace" vigil outside Kirribilli House on February 25, and a union forum "Peace is Union Business" in Sydney last Wednesday. The tide of public opinion is now running increasingly strongly against the government. Some weeks ago some 30 percent of respondents to a public opinion poll stated they opposed war even if the UN sanctioned it. In a recent Sydney Morning Herald opinion poll 78 percent said we should support the French-German plan for resolution of the conflict, and 52 percent said that they wouldn't support Australian involvement in such a war, even with UN backing. And 84 percent said the Government's terrorism kit was a waste of money! Coming events include the following: "High Noon" vigils are to be held by the group North Sydney for Peace, outside the gates of Kirribilli House every Sunday between 11.30am and 12.30pm until further notice. International Women's Day marches next weekend will be taking a No War position. The NSW State Labor Council is supporting "Think Global, Act Local" local initiatives for the weekend of 13, 14, 15 March, and suggests the following as a starting point: March 13: Local Peace Vigils; March 14: Unions Work for Peace Day, (wear purple ribbons to work); March 14, 15: Rallies, picnics, peace street parties. You can register a local action for publicising by emailing the NSW State Labor Council. Palm Sunday marches on April 13 are shaping up to be major No War actions. A "Disrobe to Disarm" event will be held on 2 March at Sydney's Leichhardt oval. The organisers point out that a similar event held at Byron Bay recently had been shown around the world, including in the US. A spokesperson stated that "Male dominated political leaders... are unlikely to listen unless we get their attention!" However, she also noted that the act of disrobing symbolises the vulnerability of war victims, and demonstrates the unity, courage, determination and commitment to the cause of peace of those taking part.