Brian Haw

The 20th Century’s Greatest Peace Protester? 

downloadProtesting for greater peace around the world has come and gone as a major cause for younger generations for at least the last century, but it was Brian Haw who took the practise to an entirely new level. Haw’s protest, which began in June of 2001, was dedicated to a better foreign policy focus in the Middle East, specifically on the then-sanctions against Iraq in light of Saddam Hussein’s weapons capabilities and his potential to use those weapons on his own people. Haw, who was greatly affected by the Mariam Appeal, looked to use his life as a talking point and as a way to change the course of American and British foreign policy.

His protest against Iraqi sanctions, which eventually grew into a protest against war and intervention in both Afghanistan and Iraq during the ensuing decade, were viewed by many as a heroic effort. Even so, legal questions were raised about the viability of his extended protest, including his alleged obstruction of pavement and other issues. Though there were quite a few legal challenges presented during Haw’s eleven-year stay in Parliament Square, his protest endured until his eventual death from lung cancer in 2011.

Challenges: A Parliament Square Protest is No Easy Task, at Any Age

Though anti-war protests and those begging for greater peace efforts are most commonly associated with those in their 20s or early 30s, Brian Haw broke the mould by beginning his protest at the considerably older age of 52. His protest would go on to break other standards, including the many legal challenges designed to thwart his occupation and essential residence in Parliament Square.

The first of these challenges came in in 2002, when Haw was prosecuted for allegedly blocking the pavement with his banners and encampment. Despite a lengthy trial, it was found that the banners were not an impediment to movement and Haw was allowed to stay. Further legal challenges came in 2005, several times in 2008, and once in 2010. In all of these cases, Haw and his peace protest won out.

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The End of an Era: Haw’s Death Ends His Protest

Haw protested as a single individual, and it was his 2011 death from lung cancer that ended his more than decade-long Parliament Square protest. At the time of his death in Germany from the condition, Haw was celebrated as everything from an unsung hero to a man of principal and conviction. Tributes were made by British authorities, those who agreed with his cause, and even the Al Jazeera news network. His legacy remains one that will inspire anti-war and pro-peace demonstrations for generations to come.

Brian Haw’s protest might have involved just a single man protesting with staunchly anti-war protest signs, but it certainly generated quite a few remarkable moments that served to create a long-lasting legacy for Haw and his convictions. Whether it was the legal cases that attempted, and failed, to remove him from his post in Parliament Square, or the pop culture movements that came to life around Haw’s protest and his convictions, the decade-long protest is full of highlights that will make for great reading in history textbooks and first-hand accounts for a generation.