Originally Published: February 19, 2013 9:59 p.m.
Happy birthday. You may not know it but we, humanity, just passed the 10-year anniversary of a remarkable event: a birth. The birth of a global human awareness, of a global human sense of morality, and of global grassroots action.
Ten years ago this month, on the 15th, the largest ever, most globally encompassing human action occurred: the demonstrations against the U.S. plan to invade Iraq. The protests wrapped the globe, from Australia to Bangladesh to Brazil, from the Ukraine to Ireland to the U.S, the largest demonstrations the world has ever seen. In a column later that year I wrote, "We have only had near-instant communication over most of the globe for a few years. In that time the world has had no occasion to be in agreement on any one issue, and feel impassioned about it. This was it. A sort of global birth event."
The only thing that comes close in numbers and global scope were celebrations when the end of WWII was announced. This was different in several ways. For one, it wasn't something drummed up by the powers that be, or an organized event. What other global actions had there been? The mobilization by countries around the world to fight WWII? The organized celebrations of the start of the year 2000? At the end of WWII the celebrations were neither organized nor grassroots. Rather they were spontaneous shouts for joy.
The plan of the U.S. to invade Iraq, along with anyone else we could cajole into taking some minor part with us, could have passed quietly without protest, certainly in most countries, but people around the world chose to not go along quietly. So this was not an event of the powers that be, but of the people; a grassroots, agreed-upon expression of conscience, of moral passion.
It was also the first such event since the Internet and the almost omnipresence of mass communication. Again, not communication as in TV, limited to what major media outlets choose to broadcast, but mass communication on the small scale, the many small communicators speaking to the many others until it became an engulfing wave of communication. That's the way the "Arab Spring" came about. Years earlier this was the "Human Day."
It is, of course, a bittersweet birthday. The protests failed to dissuade the determined Bush and Cheney and the neo-cons from their rush to a mistaken and tragic goal, but let's take that bittersweetness for what it is. The bitter reality: the simple fact that humanity is moved about something does not guarantee some magical change for the better. The sweet truth: humanity as a whole can come to an understanding of what we feel about an issue, an understanding that spans cultures and "races," that can result in human-wide action, and our first such effort was for the noblest of reasons, to object to a moral crime.
This country was roughly split, at the time, about a possible invasion. Evidently the rest of the world was not.
In the months before and after the invasion there were massive demonstrations in cities around the world and around this country, but the many local groups managed to settle on the 15th, via the digital grapevine, as one day for global demonstrations. They started with daylight in Australia and moved east as daylight came to each region. Somewhere between 10 and 30 million people (references with this column online) took part in 600 cities in 60 countries, one to 3 million just in Rome. Can you imagine? One to 2 million demonstrated in London. Countries you wouldn't think would have much interest participated: Ireland, Canada, Japan, South Africa, India, Malta, Serbia. Here, cities from coast to coast had huge demonstrations, and in the heart of the country, in Chicago, Philadelphia and many other locales. Thousands demonstrated in Montpelier, Vermont in 12-degree weather, a group of elderly gathered in Venice, Florida, and we had our own little demonstration here in Prescott.
To conclude with more from my column at that time, with slight revision for brevity:
Many people over the ages have hoped humanity would see itself more as one. Thomas Paine said, "The world is my country, all mankind my brethren..." Astrology buffs and optimists of the '60s looked forward to a new age of enlightenment. Well, I don't know if we're any more enlightened, and we will always be a world of diverse cultures, but this event does mark a point that humanity has not seen before.
You witnessed it, yet it may have passed right under your nose, unnoticed. Take a look back at what happened; we passed a milepost. There may yet be some who disagree with the protests, but you can't disagree with the goal: peace.
We, humanity, brought ourselves to this particular marker in our history by a noisy, rambunctious, restless clamoring for peace. That's a good thing to know.
Tom Cantlon is a longtime local resident, business owner and writer. Contact him at TomCantlon@TomCantlon.com.