A new documentary opens in cinemas in the UK tonight, We Are Many. It tells the story of the protests against the Iraq war in 2003, when millions of people across every continent marched to declare that war would not be in their name.
As we all know, the war went ahead regardless, but the protests were still hugely significant. It was the first globally organised demonstration, and for that alone, it has a unique place in social history. No protest had ever rallied that many people, bringing together all sorts of people who had never marched before. It set the stage for similar global movements in future, including the climate marches, Occupy and the Arab Spring – movements that do often get results.
Less positively, I suspect the failure to stop the war and the unraveling of the case for it has played a big role in the lack of trust in politicians, and the lack of confidence in our democracy.
I’m not sure whether the film mentions it, but I suspect it was something of a turning point for globalisation too. Throughout the 90s, globalisation was a dirty word to many, associated with inequitable trade, big corporations and cultural colonialism. The Iraq war protests showed that there was a social side to globalisation too, that there were huge positives to a more connected world too, opportunities for solidarity and a global consciousness.
You can find the nearest screening of We Are Many here.