19 February 2007

Why we voted for Brian by Virginia

When I saw that Brian Haw (the peace protester who has been camped outside Parliament for the last 5 years) had been nominated for Channel 4’s Most Inspiring Political Figure 2006 I immediately went and voted for him. I’m glad to say that so did thousands of others and Brian swept the board with 54% of the vote. After the recent awards ceremony , I idly googled to see how the news had been reported, and came across a sneery article by the Guardian’s Simon Heffer. Mr Heffer’s basic point is that it is a bit dispiriting that so many people voted for an inarticulate man whose rages incoherently at Blair and Bush. The article concluded that what we were voting for was “inchoate rage” (whatever that is, must look it up in the dictionary).

Mr Heffer in typical Oxbridge journalist style dismisses Brian’s protest because it is not expressed in the tones of an educated liberal. But it is not just for what Brian says and how he says it, that we voted for him in such large numbers, it is for what he does, and has done faithfully and persistently for over 5 years ago. Many of us knew about and campaigned against the immoral sanctions the West imposed on Iraq after the last Gulf War ended in 1991. Sanctions that caused immense suffering to ordinary men, women and children, and helped strengthen, not weaken, the hold that Saddam Hussein had over the country. We wrote letters, we held vigils, we marched and the sanctions persisted. Brian’s response was a completely human one, the sanctions were so evil, he was going to stay outside the House of Commons until they’d gone. Perhaps if some of us had joined him they would have done. Instead the UK government followed the US lead into an even more terrible war that has created carnage and near civil war in a country that once boasted the best health service in the world. Nearly 2 million of us marched in 2003 to protest at the forthcoming war, it was enough, it was said at the time to give Blair’s government a “wobble”. We all went home after that march, but Brian stayed on. Again if 2 million people had stayed in the streets with him, would Mr Blair have been quite so confident he was doing the right thing?

Over the last 4 years since the Iraq war began it has been in and out of the news. Sometimes the majority opinion was pro war, sometimes anti, sometimes activists were doing a lot, sometimes we were just all burnt out. Throughout that time Brian has stayed faithfully on, in all kinds of weather, receiving abuse from police and drunks alike. He has resisted many attempts to evict him, had an entire law (SOCPA) created to try and get rid of him, and has managed to still remain there. And where many of us cite family commitments as the main reason for preventing us from working for peace, Brian, has sacrificed his family too.
Speaking to the BBC in 2005
he explained the loss he feels:

“I lived near the seaside as a kid in Kent and my ball goes in the sea and I jump in and swim out to try and get it. I don’t have the strength to get round behind it…..the more desperate I am, I’m pushing it away. That’s what I felt like with my wife and my family…I just want to put them in my arms."

He explains that he loves his family with all his heart but that is exactly why he is there. He came because of what was being done to the people of Iraq; people as precious as his own children.

He says people should love their neighbours and love their neighbour’s child as your own….he believes that is the meaning of Christianity

If we wanted to vote for “inchoate rage” (I’ve looked it up it means chaotic) we’d have voted the kind of person who rants against the government simply because it’s the government. The man we voted for is a man with a purpose, who has given up everything and is willing to endure anything for his beliefs. A man that has enraged the government so much that they have passed an illiberal law that strikes at the heart of our freedom to protest peacefully. And a man who may shout incoherently in the wind when a key politician is passing, but who is capable of clearly stating his vision and his beliefs if you take the time to enquire. As he said in his brilliant and challenging acceptance speech (that I’m sure made a few politicians squirm),

“It’s not rocket science is it? Stop killing babies”

Brian also told us if we voted for him as “The Most Inspiring Political Figure” we should “Be Inspired”. Yes Brian, yes we are. More information about Brian’s vigil and how to support him here.


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