British peace activist Brian Haw and the Iraq war

This video from Britain is called Recharged Magazine – Unseen Brian Haw Interview.

By Lesley Docksey in Britain:

Brian Haw and the right to protest

Friday 22 March 2013

It’s sad that well-known peace campaigners should drop below the radar not just of the politicians who hate them but of the peace campaigners who used to idolised them.

One such man, who dedicated the last 10 years of his life to confronting Parliament over the outrages of British foreign policy, was Brian Haw.

As a committed Christian and a father, Haw was appalled by the sanctions the West had imposed on Iraq which resulted in the tragic and avoidable deaths of so many Iraqi children.

Brian left his home and arrived in London’s Parliament Square, where he camped at the side of the road facing the Houses of Parliament.

Always, for those of us who continued to protest about the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the awful damage our actions were doing to that nation, Haw was a figurehead, an inspiration. Few of us could claim his courage, his determination or his perseverance.

For nearly 10 years he stayed. Night after night of sleeping on the pavement, in all weathers and with little protection.

Nothing the police or Parliament did could break him and make him move. Haw’s protest caused them no end of problems as he and his anti-war placards and banners were a constant reminder of all the lies that were told in the run-up to the attack on Iraq in 2003 and continued to be told to justify the invasion.

Members of Parliament had to pass his huge collection of displays and peace messages every time they went in and out of the building.

In his haste to be rid of this “turbulent priest” of a campaigner, who harangued MPs daily with his megaphone as they went into the august halls of Westminster, the then home secretary David Blunkett introduced the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 – aimed at removing Haw by banning protests within one kilometre (0.6 miles) of Parliament without police permission.

This came into effect on August 1 2005. But where else should we protest for peace if not outside the place that had rubber-stamped Tony Blair’s desire to illegally attack Iraq?

Comedian Mark Thomas headed an action to keep protest going within the 1km barrier. He wanted to demonstrate how very ludicrous the ban was.

“The point is simply that if one person with a banner can be deemed to be a protester by the police and they need to get a licence six days in advance to enter the designated zone, then we have reached a state of absurdity,” Thomas said.

A point made all the clearer when a woman was threatened with arrest for having an iced cake with the word “peace” written on it.

On certain days individual protesters, who had each registered their very individual protests with the police – including, for instance, the right to jump off Westminster Bridge – held their protests within the designated zone. It made the new law look very stupid indeed.

But so hasty had Parliament been in creating the law that when it was challenged it discovered that the one person they had failed to ban was Haw himself.

So he stayed – and stayed. For some time he was alone, although visited and supported by many well-wishers. He became a tourist attraction.

MPs complained that they could not properly debate in the chamber because of the noise of his megaphone protest in the square outside. Presumably the constant traffic noise complete with police and ambulance sirens is conducive to a good debate.

In May 2006 his much-photographed display of placards and banners was reduced from 40 metres to just three metres in a night raid by 78 police officers – which cost a staggering £27,000.

Not so oddly, this happened within hours of artist Mark Wallinger showing two curators from the Tate Gallery Haw’s display and announcing he wanted to recreate it for an exhibition. Nevertheless Wallinger had his way and the exhibition, State Britain, ran at the Tate from January to August 2007.

Haw continued to protest with his truncated display despite numerous arrests and assaults. He was on crutches for his last years in the square. He died of cancer in June 2011 and the world became a poorer place.

Haw was joined in December 2005 by Melbourne-born Barbara Tucker. While Haw had some legal authority to stay there, Tucker doesn’t – which has meant she has been arrested an astonishing 47 times while in the square, usually on a charge of “unauthorised demonstration.”

When Haw died she nobly carried on. She has served two short spells in Holloway prison as well as suffering constant harassment from police, heritage wardens and passing rowdies.

Until January 2012 she had a tent but that was confiscated under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act.

After that she sat in a chair on the pavement, trying to sleep under a large green umbrella wrapped up in multiple layers of clothing. She has slept in the open for over a year now without a tent and has been treated for exposure. In the hope of getting her confiscated tent back, Tucker took the decision to go on hunger strike, starting on December 27 2012.

While Haw managed to achieve some media recognition for his stance, Tucker has had little to none.

One day maybe, when the world stops fighting needless, illegal and cruel wars, people will finally give these dedicated campaigners they recognition they deserve.

I’d like to see a statue of Haw in Parliament Square, confronting Westminster and challenging its dishonesty and hypocrisy as he did for so many cold, hard years.

Until then, those of us who still call ourselves peace campaigners should at least make the effort to remember how much he once meant to us all. Parliament may not like dissenters – I, for one, do.

5 thoughts on “British peace activist Brian Haw and the Iraq war

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