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Why has Mark Rylance launched a campaign to honour peace protester Brian Haw?

Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance says a statue of the late campaigner Brian Haw will “stand for all of us awake to the horror of war”

Mark Rylance, image: supplied

Mark Rylance, image: supplied

Mark Rylance has launched a campaign to erect a statue of the campaigner Brian Haw. The statue in central London would remember Haw, who camped out in Parliament Square for almost 10 years to protest war.

Rylance said: “Given the obvious anger and frustration at the state of our nation, its economy and public services, not to mention the current lack or consideration for NHS nurses, so many people are finding it hard to believe that our streets are not the scene of constant protest.

“Whenever this subject arises, thoughts of Brian Haw are inevitably not far behind. For those who may not know the name, you will almost certainly know the figure.”

Brian Haw
Anti-war protester Brian Haw at Parliament Square, London, Westminster, UK, 10 April 2006. Image: Richard Keith Wolff

Who was Brian Haw?

In June 2001, Brian Haw began a peace protest at Parliament Square in Westminster. He remained there for almost 10 years, his camp a constant reminder to MPs and members of the public of the widespread opposition to war.

Haw protested against the war in Iraq then later Afghanistan. He was joined by the Stop the War coalition in 2003 when two million people took to the streets to march against the Iraq War. Despite many attempts to remove his camp, Haw stayed at Westminster until a few months before his death in 2011.

Why Mark Rylance is involved in the campaign

Writing exclusively for The Big Issue, Rylance remembered when he first encountered Brian Haw.

“In 2003, the mood of protest led to the Stop the War coalition’s march through London against the Iraq war, which brought two million people to the city’s streets. I had been involved in many peace initiatives before, Peace Direct, Peace One Day, The Peace Pledge Union, but this march by citizens from all over the UK changed everything for me and inspired campaigners for peace all over the world.

Rylance continued: “Brian became a figurehead of determination and sanity for his perseverance in proclaiming that we as a nation should “Stop Killing Kids!” Our subsidised arms trade and foreign policy of violent resolution of conflict is certainly murdering children amongst the 90 per cent of civilian casualties on international battle fields.

“While I rode my bicycle by this fact, I would see him standing in its awful truth 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for a decade.”

Fundraising for the statue

Twenty years after the Stop the War march, Rylance and fellow campaigners including Michael Culver have launched a fundraising campaign.

Model of the Brian Haw statue
Brian Haw model by Amanda Ward. Image: supplied

Rylance explained: “If (when!) our appeal is successful, a small figure of Brian, sculpted by artist Amanda Ward, will stand directly opposite the Imperial War Museum, creating a permanent symbol of peaceful protest.

“Brian’s figure will stand just outside the exclusion zone created in 2005 in an attempt by authorities to move him away from the seat of government.”

The campaign is asking for those who took part in the Stop the War march – as well as anybody who didn’t – to donate just £1.

Rylance said: “Brian was a committed voice at Westminster for far longer than most Prime Ministers manage, so the permanence of a statue in his honour is entirely fitting.

“I put to you that we are, at our best, a nation of citizens unafraid to speak truth to power. If need be, we will fight. How much better to resolve conflict peacefully before our children must go and kill other children or die themselves in violent conflict.

“Brian will stand for all of us awake to the horror of war. He will stand to remind all who visit our Imperial War Museum that we remember war, and the brave sacrifices made in the past, in the hope we can avoid it in the future and present.”

To find out more about the campaign click here

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