In memory of Brian Haw
A World to Win salutes the uncompromising determination of Brian Haw, who became a symbol, not only for the anti-war movement, but for the basic democratic right to demonstrate and protest. His death from cancer at only 62 robs us of an unbending voice and symbol of resistance to the state.
Haw began his vigil directly outside the House of Commons on 2 June 2001 to protest against the UN-NATO sponsored sanctions on Iraq on June. He said he would stay there “as long as it took”. The carpenter from Essex, also a father of seven, used a megaphone to denounce war-mongering politicians. He survived on donations from supporters.
His campaign against what he termed the genocide of Iraq’s children took on a new meaning after the September 11 twin tower attacks in New York. New Labour joined the United States to invade Afghanistan not long after. In March 2003, Britain and the United States attacked Iraq, a war which ultimately led to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, with many more fleeing into exile to avoid the ensuing violence.
Over the years, Haw was joined by supporters and campaigners including the Global Peace Strike, Democracy Village and fellow camper and hunger striker Maria Gallastegui, who was arrested for reading out the names of dead British soldiers outside the Cenotaph. Embarrassed by the vocal protests, Blair’s government sought to change the law to end Haw’s protest.
In 2003, House of Commons procedure committee recommended the law be changed to prohibit “unlicensed” protests in the square. The committee’s proposals were incorporated in the 2005 Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) which, despite its name, gave the police vastly increased powers to remove protesters.
On one occasion Haw was injured by a police officer who shoved Haw’s camera into his face and then forced him to the ground. In 2006, 54% of Channel Four television viewers voted Haw the most politically inspiring figure of the year. Haw used the prize-giving ceremony to demand support for his campaign to put an end to the genocide and the looting. “It’s about oil, it’s about the arms industry,” he said.
In 2007 police removed all of Haw’s placards but one and arrested him under SOCPA. He was acquitted under a technicality a year later, but continued to be harassed by not only the police, but by the Greater London Authority under Mayor Boris Johnson. At the time of his death, Haw was still battling the authorities for the right to stay in Parliament Square.
Haw inspired artist Mark Wallinger who recreated his array of banners and placards and installed them in the Tate Gallery. Wallinger went on to receive the Turner Prize for his State Britain, which pointed to the severe restrictions imposed on the right to demonstrate in Westminster.
Haw sought to name and shame the successive Parliaments which approved the decisions made without reference to any democratic procedures to go to war. He hoped that his moral stand would inspire others to put an end to wars for profit, oil and political careers.
The truth is that attacks on sovereign states by major capitalist powers are endemic to the economic and political system we live under and are used by desperate leaders of all parties. Yesterday’s admission by NATO that they bombed a residential area in Tripoli killing nine civilians provides more evidence if any is needed.
Haw’s marathon protest and sacrifice should make us mourn his passing and celebrate his achievement. It must be an incentive to unmask the sham façade that is misnamed democracy and create in its place a real alternative based on the needs of ordinary people.
A World to Win secretary
20 June 2011