Thursday, March 20, 2008

2003: Central Liverpool blocked by demonstrations as Iraq war begins

On 20th March 2003, as the invasion of Iraq began thousands of miles away, central Liverpool was repeatedly blocked by large groups of angry protesters. School children, students, and the unemployed led the protests during working hours, but they were then joined by many others, including Celtic fans on their way to Anfield. The activity went on throughout the night, with anti-war graffiti being sprayed in many parts of Merseyside.

The first anti-war action of the day was a sit-down protest on Upper Parliament Street during rush hour. Police tried to intervene, but support from local residents made them back off.

The Stop The War Coalition had organised a city centre protest for noon, which met at the podium on Church Street. At about the same time, students and staff from the University of Liverpool began their march into the city centre, and were met by whole classes of school children, who had walked out of their lessons. By the time all the groups converged, there were hundreds of children taking part. Many of the protesters marched around town, chanting anti-war slogans. The police allowed this to take place, only clamping down when they approached The Strand, and the route was blocked by police horses and vans. Soon the word got round that there was a Ministry Of Defence building on Water Street, and that this must have been the reason for the police blockade, so some people made attempts to get through police lines, chanting 'Whose streets? Our streets!' and 'We all live in a terrorist regime' to the tune of The Beatles' 'Yellow Submarine'.

These protests went on all afternoon, with a constant flow of people joining and leaving. Away from the city centre, small workplace actions were also taking place. Forty Inland Revenue staff had walked out at lunch time, and delivered a letter of protest to Sefton Council, who had made clear they supported the invasion. Employees at the Department for Work and Pensions office on High Park Street in Toxteth had united with a few social services workers for a protest. Other Social Services staff in Fazakerly had walked out briefly. Lecturers at four Liverpool Community College sites had held protests.

At 17:00, people began to congregate for the day's main event. The numbers of protesters was quickly being swelled by people leaving work, while other workers were trying to make their way home. At this point, a large group of students made a break into Hanover Street, and started blocking traffic, and others followed. When the group reached Lime Street, a major arterial route was being clogged with protesters. The reason for doing this was clear in many people's minds. If the war was being fought over oil (like the 'no blood for oil' chants suggested), and cars ran on oil, then this was one way of attacking the war machine. It was unfortunate for people trying to get home, and some shouted at the protesters, but others sympathised with the action.

When all the police had backed up all the traffic that they could, the protest moved down to the Pier Head, where a silent 'die-in' was held. It was then on down to the Albert Dock, the Army Recruitment centre on James Street, the Queen Victoria statue in Derby Square, and back to Church Street.
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