Okay, I'm back from London, and it's time to file the report.
The protest was authoritatively not subversive. I walked in a solid mass for three hours, in a roundabout route from the School of Oriental and African Studies in Bloomsbury to Trafalgar Square, past a bunch of landmarks, most famously Parliament and Downing Street, and not once did anything even remotely unexpected or threatening occur. At first I fell in with a bunch of French-speaking North Africans (or so they seemed), chanting anti-Bush slogans in French, English, and Arabic. It was fun to make use of my high school French in a novel way. I never could quite make out the whole thing, but it was something like:
"Tous est a nous
Rien est a eux
Et le petrole etait vole..."
I may be getting the genders wrong. Once our group joined up with the main throng in Russell Square, there was a huge array of different causes represented:
"End unfair Agricultural Subsidies!"
"The USA is a 100% Zionist-mafia-owned fascist and terrorist empire"
"Free Thessaloniki from the US/EU!"
Flags of the USSR abounded (perhaps because I was standing in front of the Communist headquarters), but that struck me as an odd symbol to bring into the debate.
Most of the protestors, obviously, weren't Communists or anything like it. I found myself talking to a distinguished looking older gentleman when another guy came up and said "I recognize you. Are you a politician?" He answered no, but smilingly. For about five minutes the guy tried to figure out how he knew the man I was talking to. Then, finally, he said "I've got it. You're Tom from The Rise and Fall of Reggie" Something-or-other, which was apparently a 1970s BBC sitcom. I also met an economist from the London School of Economics and a woman who kept assuring me that no one there was anti-American, just anti-this-administration. Even the guy with the Zionist Fascist conspiracy sign.
Throughout the whole first part, while we were standing still in a bunched-up mass, I was looking for people with signs for 'Expats Against the War.' I found one, and was trying to stick with her, but then I went one better:
Someone wearing a Dean button.
Not only that, she turned out to be a graduate student at my very college in Oxford! So that was interesting. She was from New Hampshire, and apparently her parents are major New Hampshire Dean people. I made a new friend. GO DEAN!
We finally got going about a half hour late, having been continuously and oddly photographed by a hovering helicopter. I could see its flash going off non-stop, which I thought was weird. Anyhoo, we set off on the route, which was lined with onlookers cheering and holding their own signs. My favorite participants were a bright-pink wooden tank, manned by two kids and a stereo system (with some sweating fathers pushing the contraption), and a few people in robes who called themselves "Dumbledore's Army." Dumbledore Against the War! Oh yeah, then there was the guy holding a shredded, upside down American flag with the words "Hypocrites of the Apocalypse" scrawled on it. It reminded me of something you might see at a Pro-life rally.
Whilst crossing the river (on Waterloo Bridge), I discovered my second set of Americans. They were more experienced expats, but they soon peeled off when a nice-looking pub came into view, purportedly because they wished to use the facilities. I got to hold their sign "Shamed by your Abuse of Civil Liberties" for awhile.
A word on the police. Indeed, thousands upon thousands of police were present. Unarmed. Some looked younger than me. It was completely unthreatening, even the ones on horseback. After we recrossed the river in Westminster, the route passed a McDonalds. For some reason a large contingent of the Metropolitan Police were guarding it, probably because of the decadent symbol of globalization that it is. Or not. I asked one of them why the McDonalds warranted superior treatment, and he said that they were awaiting the 5000 cups of coffee they would get once we passed.
Skipping back in time, I was right under Big Ben when it struck four. A cheer went up. I interpret that as meaning that we were protesting Blair and Bush, not Big Ben. Something about the clock striking was comforting. It reminded me of Mrs. Dalloway, where Big Ben strikes throughout the day, even as suicide is contemplated and committed.
We stopped to shout in front of Downing Street for a little while. Nothing doing there. Finally, we arrived at Trafalgar Square. Suprisingly, there was very little police presence there, even as that was the most incendiary part of the protest. I couldn't really hear what was said, but I saw the statue.
Okay, that was fun to write. I have no way of getting a feel of how many people were there, but I was about a third of the way back in the stream of protestors coming up Whitehall, and it continued at least thirty minutes after I got to Trafalger Square. I'm not sure how much of an impact it had, with the days news of Michael Jackson and the bombings in Istanbul, but I'm glad I went.