10 years and a day ago, an intern for Al Jazeera was persuading me of the merits of jumping on a train to go to Washington that night. She was interning at the UN and Washington was to be the scene of more than a million people congregating to protest America’s planned invasion in Iraq. I had been listening to the Security Council proceedings and statements everyday and was surrounded by foreign (and American press). I had a very good idea of what was going on. The UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei were saying Saddam Hussein was complying and that the inspectors needed more time, whereas the American representatives would say something that could only be described as crafted for prime time broadcast – statements that were perhaps crafted to provoke and justify military action, statements completely opposite to those of patience and negotiation called for. Historian Howard Zinn had said, “you can’t be neutral on a moving train” meaning if you don’t speak up against something, you too are complicit in it. So I rushed home after work, packed an overnight bag and within an hour was at Penn station taking a train to D.C.
I had lived in Canada in temperatures averaging -20C in the winters but that day in Washington, despite marching for hours in the sunshine I remember being cold, cold, cold. Our saving grace was the inspiring energy, diversity and the belief which had drawn people from all over the country (and world) to do one thing: stand in opposition to the invasion. I remember looking down on the mall in DC, to the left, to the right and seeing people stretching into the distance. This must have been what a million people looked like, and I wondered if major newspapers would downplay the turnout (they didn’t).
So 10 years on, what has changed? What has remained the same? The cries of weapons of mass destruction, the justifications of invading to bring peace and democracy all failed. Is Iraq a worse off place now that it was more than 10 years ago? That can be debated but the facts remain that over a million people have died, been maimed or uprooted. Suicide bombings have become a bitter mainstay of a post US led invasion of Iraq. Millions marched around the world that day in what was arguably the biggest show of global unity against violence but it failed to derail what those millions foresaw. Now with a Europe in economic crisis, with Arab countries in the throws of social upheavals and changes, with an America also economically hurt, was it all worth it? And if millions of people around the world cannot have their voices not just heard but listened to, what hope is there? Are we really better off today?