Anindya Bhattacharyya reflects on today’s anti-racist demo in London.
The London demonstration for the 22 March UN anti-racism day was blessed with fine weather and a larger than expected turnout – around 5,000 to 6,000 by my estimates. Demonstrators marched from Parliament Square up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square where they heard speeches, watched videos and listened to music. The emphasis was on a light, feel-good atmosphere.
Sabby Dhalu from Unite Against Fascism spoke from the stage to pay tribute to Tony Benn and Bob Crow, and to remember Nelson Mandela. The UN anti-racism day commemorates the Sharpeville massacre , she reminded us. Lutfur Rahman, mayor of Tower Hamlets, attacked politicians who whip up race hate.
The crowd was noticeably dominated by groups representing refugees, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) groups and new migrant communities. Organisations such as No One Is Illegal have been getting better organised and ideologically sharper in recent years. The NGOs connected to the United Nations clearly mobilised and were joined by more established campaigns from cities around the country, such as Sheffield, Derby (see musical highlight Jamie Joseph), Newcastle, Brighton. These groups are serious and mobilised and we should welcome that. Ten thousand demonstrated in Athens against Golden Dawn. There were a thousand in Glasgow and Cardiff drew level with New York City at 500. #m22 even reached Bratislava.
Many are coming from places without a strong radical left tradition in recent years. I was struck by the presence of the Woodcraft Folk, whom I remembered from big demos back in the heyday of Stop the War.
The abiding image for me was the Gypsy Roma Traveller flag. I spoke to a woman holding one aloft. She explained how it had been adopted by the UN a few years ago (something I imagine meant more to GRT communities than most). The chakra is Indian and a reference to reputed Roma origins. But more established ethnic minorities in Britain were noticeable by their absence. And this wide, new and dispersed social movement will need working class organisation to cohere.
There were few visible trade union delegations from workplaces. Ian A, a Unite trade unionist from Manchester, commented: “This demo should have been an opportunity to involve and inspire people to oppose UKIP and the BNP at the Euro elections. By failing to mobilise, the union leaders have squandered this opportunity, making the task ahead that much harder.”
The anti-racist movement has a lot of work to do if it is to get fit for purpose. We all have to play a part in that. Top-down, feel-good mobilisations like today have their place. We should take the positives from this: the new communities that are arriving here at the sharpest receiving end of state racism are also the communities that have suddenly become significantly more organised. That’s my “take home message” of the day at any rate.