One of the most infuriating myths peddled as received wisdom by arm-chair Nick Robinsons across the nation is that protests never change anything. The second most infuriating un-truth they then point to, to justify that this is pessimism clothed as realism, is the historic Stop the War march of 2003. Because the war in Iraq still happened, and Britain still took part in it. So there you go, over a million ordinary people rallied to defend the unseen lives of millions in Iraq, and it was pointless. Might as well buy shares in BAE systems and put your feet up.
We Are Many (2015), Amir Amirani’s moving tribute to the millions of people who marched on February 15th, is perhaps the most compelling antithesis to that hackneyed lie. Not only does the landmark documentary comprehensively catalogue the years, months, weeks and days leading up to the march, as well as the march itself, the subsequent votes for war, and the invasion of the war in Iraq; it moves beyond that.
Beyond the shallow confines of a history written by the victors, and beyond the stories perpetuated by the coalition of willing murderers who crow that they won the day, Amirani’s compilation of footage and interviews ventures into life after that defeat. Initially, that means delving into the void; a pitch black well of despair, in which we are confronted with erratic and unverifiable estimates of civilian casualties, ranging from 600k to over 1 million. A despondent realm where the weight of global public opinion could do nothing to prevent a host of supposed liberal democracies causing those 1 million tragedies.
This comes so close on the heels of such a beautiful day for humanity. After we witness the bravery of activists across the globe, from the men who painted the Sydney Opera house to read “No War” to the Antarctic researchers willing to lose their jobs to make a statement for peace against the snow. After the intensely evocative showing of public determination in the United States and in Britain particularly – Blair, Bush and co.’s campaign of parliamentary coercion to commence shelling brings us back down to earth, with an agonising thud.
Amidst the footage of the ensuing carnage, we also witness the continued lamentations against the slaughter at home. Throughout this, we also consult a stellar line-up of the good and the great collectively moved by the experience. Notable cameos include author John Le Carre, who passes comment on the despicable clandestine nature of the lies that led us to war, as well as Stephen Hawking, who sheds silent tears before speaking at a rally to commemorate the countless civilians lost in what he can only think to describe as “a war crime”.
But out of this well of despondency, the film provides us something truly precious; a case for genuine hope. And it begins, fittingly, with the ghost of Stop the War’s long-time president, Tony Benn, flickering across the silver-screen. In a reworking of the billing of the global day of action as “the largest in human history”, the veteran campaigner stated simply that regardless of the initial outcome, the marches were a glimpse of “the future history of humanity.”
And while former government stooges Charlie Falconer and David Blunkett are present in the film to gloat over their shameful Parliamentary “victory”, it is Benn’s statement that undeniably wins out. Amirani’s footage unflinchingly documents the details of the defeat, don’t imagine for a second he skirts around that to paint a rose-tinted picture of unstoppable people power, but by the end he builds an undeniable case that that day really shook the world – and led to sweeping changes in the following decades.
It is a legacy powerful enough that Nato and its parliamentary lickspittles still feel the need to discredit Stop the War as they push for a potentially world-ending war with Russia. In particular, the likes of David Lammy and Keir Starmer show a determination to bury the lessons of the bloody Blair years. And why wouldn’t they? By supporting a war for ‘freedom’ overseas, they can continue to neglect the immense social and democratic failings present in their home state. After all, if by some utterly biblical miracle, they were to form the next government, they might otherwise be expected to do something about them.
This article is adapted from one first published on the Hollywood Hegemony blog in 2015.