The bitter cold didn't stop demonstrations in 80 Canadians towns and cities, including 150,000 people who braved minus-30 wind chill in Montreal. In the US, protests were held in 225 communities.
In London, at least one million people gathered. Every European country saw huge crowds, but they were all topped by Rome, where three million people formed the largest antiwar demonstration in one place in history.
In Australia, major protests were held in all six state capitals. The scientists stationed on Antarctica held a protest on the ice. In Brazil, in Argentina - in Tokyo, in Beirut - in Dhaka and Calcutta - in Seoul and Johannesburg - in every continent of the planet - large crowds gathered, all with the same message.
In all, up to 30 million people in 800 locations came together to say no to war.
Commentary in the New York Times conjectured "that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion".
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Of course, the United States invaded Iraq, as they had intended to from at least 2001. The resident of the White House at the time, an unelected figurehead, became the most hated man on the planet.
Many Americans viewed the invasion of Iraq as a turning point in their country's history, as something unprecedented, an aberration. They couldn't have been more wrong.
The US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq was in keeping with US history from the very beginning - from the western expansion, on to Hawaii, straight through to Guatemala and Vietnam. In this regard, I recommend reading Stephen Kinzer's Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. Kinzer tells you up-front that he uses a very narrow definition of overthrow as his focus. Dozens of other military coups, assassinations, and dismantlings of democratically elected governments, all bought and paid for by the United States, didn't make the cut. Kinzer's book is just a beginning, but it's an excellent starting place to see the Iraq invasion in historical context. And of course, the United States still occupies Iraq, maintaining thousands of "security contractors," otherwise known as occupying forces.
Americans viewing the unjustified and unprovoked invasion of Iraq as an aberration only underscores so many people's ignorance of their own country's history. I'm not talking about the gun-nuts and the bible thumpers, or so many Canadians' stereotypes of Texans. I'm talking about moderate US liberals, the people who elected Barack Obama. They breathed a sigh of relief; the nightmare was over. For the people of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan - and who will join the list tomorrow? - the nightmare continues.
I found this excellent page from St. Pete for Peace: Obama Fact Sheet. I thank the good people of St. Petersburg, Florida, who put this together.
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So what of February 15, 2003? Was it a failure, since we were unable to stop the US from invading Iraq? Here's what my friend James Clark, writing at Socialist.ca, has to say.
Despite the unprecedented success of the February 15 protests, which helped keep Canada and other states outside Bush’s “coalition of the willing,” they ultimately failed to stop the war. The consequences for Iraq have been horrific: 1.2 million Iraqi deaths from war and occupation, on top of 1.5 million Iraqi deaths after 12 years of sanctions. The country remains deeply divided on sectarian grounds and its landscape and infrastructure have been completely devastated. As we mark the anniversary of the protests, we must remember these facts and remain sober about the movement’s limits, both then and now.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also recognize and celebrate the successes we did achieve. February 15 gave us a glimpse of the immense potential of mass movements, and trained a generation of activists who, in many cases, continue to be active on other fronts. The long-term effects of the protests, especially in the social movements, helped change the political terrain we operate on today, by raising our expectations about international solidarity and collective action, and by giving confidence to resistance movements throughout the region—from Iraq to Palestine to Lebanon to Egypt, the frontlines of resistance to imperialist war and occupation.
If anything, this is probably the most important effect of February 15: the developing bonds of solidarity between ordinary people in the Arab world and those outside it, particularly in countries whose governments backed the war. According to some activists in the region, those bonds contributed to emerging struggles that have subsequently developed into far-reaching revolutionary movements. Our role in this is no doubt small, perhaps even imperceptible, but it nevertheless shows that, although we didn’t stop the war, we still helped change the world.