As we reach the Vernal equinox it’s Spring in London’s Parliament Square where the peace campaign initiated by Brian Haw is now in its 11th year.
The campaign started on June 2nd 2001 when committed peace activist Brian began his 24/7 vigil in the Square opposite the British Houses of Parliament. He had an extraordinary collection of anti-war placards and banners along the full width of Parliament Square. MPs across the road were furious with his campaign and legislation was enacted (SOCPA: Serious Organised Crime and Police Act) which made it illegal to demonstrate within 1 kilometre of Parliament without police permission. Brian successfully argued in court that as his protest predated the legislation it did not apply to him. The honourable members were not amused by his victory.
He was joined in December 2005 by Australian born Barbara Tucker. Sadly, Brian passed away from cancer on June 18th 2011 but lived to see the Campaign clock up a whole decade. This is a truly remarkable feat considering the constant harassment he and Barbara have endured from the authorities. The campaign continues with Barbara now at the helm. She has been arrested an astonishing 44 times in her six and a quarter years there – an average of about once every 7 weeks. She has served several short spells in Holloway prison during the last of which the police took away the entire display and have thus far failed to return it. Undaunted she returned to her post and with new placards she, with help from supporters, continues to this day. Like Brian her health has suffered and she is currently using painkillers. Life is difficult as she now (at the time of writing on March 21st 2012) had no tent and has to sleep in a chair.
Some people have commented on her great number of arrests; “Doesn’t that prove she is doing something illegal?” What law is she breaking? The charge is usually `unauthorised demonstration`, yet in a democracy don’t people have the right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech? Some of her arrests have been without a warrant which IS illegal.
She had a tent which was confiscated by the police on January 16th 2012 and so for over 60 days she has not been able to sleep properly. She was given a tent by a supporter of the campaign on Tuesday 20th 2012 which she hopes to be able to keep.
Barbara, from the sunnier climes of Melbourne, is a mother of two grown up sons who says: “I am a mother and mothers care.” She says the problem with the members of Parliament across the road is that she and Brian have consistently told the truth about the Iraq and Afghan wars and that the authorities can’t handle the truth.
Contrast Barbara’s ascetic lifestyle with the wonderful world of ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair. Since leaving office in 2007 he has accumulated an estimated £60,000,000 and has seven houses around the world as well as occupying an entire floor of the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem in his role as `Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East`. I wonder how he would take to sleeping in a chair in Parliament Square with field mice and drunken rowdies for company.
As at March 21st 2012 the day number of the campaign is 3,945 – it’ll be day 4,000 on May 15th.
Brian who was so committed during his ten years in the Square said that he wasn’t really into what he called “this Guinness book of records stuff.” When asked how long the campaign would go on he would say “as long as it takes.”
His spirit lives on and the campaign lives on with his Antipodean colleague.
The website for the peace campaign: http://www.brianhaw.tv/