Thursday 20th March was a day of contrast.


Waking up to sunshine streaming through the windows we heard of the bombs falling in Iraq.
Listening to birdsong, we felt their blast.

We, like the children of Iraq, could not go to school that day. In a different context, but for the same reason the schools emptied. As they stayed at home in fear of bombs and tanks, we left our homes to protest in solidarity with them.

We loaded 2324 hands in packs of 20 into the back of a car. They looked like flowers of every shape and colour as they waved out of the boot - over flowing with hope and messages. With the banner, the cameras and a bucket full of sticks and sellotape we set off for the tube station. Driving there we passed other kids, coming from all directions, on their way to meet us. At the station we began to assemble.
The station manager, surprised, held the gate open in amazement as student after student marched down on to the platform with bunches of multicoloured hands.         

We have to do this today. If we don't, it's not just us we're letting down. It's the 2324 young people that cared enough to take the time to make these hands we're carrying, and the thousands in Iraq who have never had the opportunity to get their voices heard.

We got to Westminster at 10:30am. It was flooded with young people.
Hundreds and hundreds of students had reclaimed Parliament Square in the name of democracy. Kids had come from all over London to help us plant the hands but hundreds more were there in spontaneous demonstration and the energy was running high. The police were everywhere like road workers in highlight jackets although they were unable to fix the anger, unable to suppress the unrest. We were worried - and not just because of the huge police presence - we weren’t sure if the hands would slip in to the ground on their fragile flower sticks. Not only that, but ‘Youth Square’ was occupied by students running and shouting in all directions. Surely any attempt to put up the hands would only end in their being trampled?
But young people don't want destruction - that's why we’re protesting.

We lined up along the back of the square and began to plant the hands.

As we began to plant, students we'd never met ran over to us. The response was amazing. Young people, desperate to help, were picking up bunches of hands and planting them in the ground. As more saw what we were doing, more began to do the same. Within ten minutes the banner had unfolded against a backdrop of over 2000 hands raised against the war started that very day. Caught in the sunshine and held up by young people the banner became the backdrop to a field of representation. Kids from every school, religion, university, college, background, faith came together and stood up for something they believed in. Kids that didn't know each other came and worked together.
They came and they planted hands.
Grass roots up.

The square stopped. Transformed and frozen in time it was as if all the horror, all the shock and all the hope had melted in to the ground and grown in to a field of hands. The children, blocked by the hands, had stopped running. The traffic, blocked by the children, ground to a halt. The square became graveyard quiet. Big Ben froze at 12. It was as if the whole world was standing still in silent respect for the messages which we had collected. It seemed as if the hands of the civilians, of the innocent, of the slaughtered, could not be repressed in to the earth. It was a moment of solidarity with the Iraqi people, with the children who had sent their messages from around the world.
A snapshot of the future the image stood.
Timeless.

Outside Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament the only thing that seemed to move were the hands waving gently in the wind. Facing the House of commons, they were raised in the name of democracy in a message to Tony Blair. Unlike his campaign, our protest was conducted not in the name of people but in direct representation of them. Every hand represented one young person, horrified at the face of ‘democracy today’. It was like the grass was full of still, silent protestors.

 

People began to move - parents sat with babies in between the hands. Photographers, journalists and news reporters stepped around them in awe.
The police, no longer having to worry about children running over the square watched with quiet admiration. The odd businessman out for lunch stopped to read the messages of children throughout the world.

 

TV reporters, newspaper and magazine journalists from the BBC to Sky, from the New Internationalist and the Daily Mirror to Sugar magazine all wanted to interview us and hear what we stood for.

As we talked, more students arrived with more hands and the count exceeded 2500.

But even as we hugged and congratulated each other there was a certain
sadness that permeated the Square as the hands stood raised unobtrusive and
sombre in the spring sunshine.
A day of contrast.
A day in which the sunshine was chilled.

A day when the silence was heard.

As the hands continue to pour in and the bombs continue to drop the future
waits alongside the Iraqi people, silently, in the hands of children.

 

For more photos of the banner at the anti-war demos (February-Sept 2003) visit the gallery. If you have an image of the banner or hands you'd like us to include, please email us.

 

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