21 March 2016 marks the fiftieth International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Saturday before (19 March) was the date for a national demonstration entitled ‘Refugees Welcome; Stand up to racism, Islamophobia, antisemitism and fascism’, called by Stand Up To Racism. – Ashmeet T reports
The demonstration assembled at Portland Place where the first set of speeches were delivered by representatives from a variety of organisations and campaigns, some more well-known than others. The march commenced at 1:15pm, arriving at Trafalgar square an hour later, where protestors listened to further speeches. Overwhelmingly, the central concerns for those in attendance were migrants’ rights, racism faced by the black community, particularly in relation to the legal system, and fascism and the task of opposing it.
Kurdish and Turkish activists from North London denounced the opportunistic EU-Turkey deal, with refugees utilised as bargaining chips between the two, while their well-being is disregarded, becoming a secondary issue, at best. The London2Calais bloc was an impressive presence, organising in solidarity with Iranian refugees in ‘the Jungle’ in Calais, who are currently on hunger strike, with their mouths sewn shut, in protest at the subhuman conditions and treatment endured by people there and across Europe, at the hands of the European states and fascists. The plight of the hunger-strikers was the subject of the speech given by London2Calais activist Izzy Ellis, at Trafalgar Square and the journalist Gary Younge noted that, unlike refugees, there are “no borders for money”.
(Photo credit: Steve Eason)
Among the speakers, there were familiar faces from The People’s Assembly and the Stop the War Coalition. One of the more unfamiliar faces included Gerry Gable, founder and editor of Searchlight; after fifty-two years of monitoring fascism in Britain and abroad, he concluded that the far-right in Britain and Europe is at heights not seen since 1945. In relation to the issue of fascism, the primary task for rs21 comrades was leafleting for the demonstration against neo-Nazis in Dover. This took place until reports of a far-right presence in the vicinity came from anti-fascists and some rs21 and AFN members left Portland Place to investigate.
A contingent of around 30 Britain First members, with Union and St. George’s flags, chanted, among other things “left-wing traitors, off our streets”. They assembled at the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, by Piccadilly Circus, behind police officers, whose numbers steadily increased as the main body of the march arrived at Piccadilly Circus. The Britain First activists were soon completely surrounded by anti-fascists. Anti-fascists’ attempts to reach the Britain First members were frustrated by reinforced police lines.
In addition to Britain First, there were also reports of the far-right Pie and Mash Squad in the area. Members of the Pie and Mash Squad shared images of themselves, performing Nazi salutes outside the Theodore Bullfrog pub and restaurant, in Charing Cross, which enabled anti-fascists to locate them. Although their behaviour was violent, including an attack on at least one trade unionist on the fringes of the march, they were soon dispersed by anti-fascists and Metropolitan Police officers, fleeing the scene whilst one of their members was arrested for his violent behaviour. They nevertheless secured at least two trade union banners; one from the NUT and another from York university UCU. This is the latest in an increasing number of attacks by the ultra-violent, nazi fringe of the far-right on the labour and socialist movements.
Outstanding contributions came from black activists connected to the Black Lives Matter bloc (sponsored by Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC), BlakSox and the NUS Black Students Campaign). The well-organised and visible presence of black activists, particularly young black women who led the Black Lives Matter bloc was heartening and of great importance. Lee Jasper, in his speech at Trafalgar Square, referring to the fact that black men dying at the hands of the state receive greater attention than black women and non-binary victims, noted that “black women are invisible in our struggle” and “it’s our duty to raise them up, as the foremost victims of racism”. The disproportionate effect of austerity on black communities was the subject of a speech delivered at Portland Place by Zita Holbourne co-chair of BARAC. Marilyn Reed, contributed a moving testimony about the death of her daughter, Sarah Reed, in a cell in HMP Holloway in January 2016, as a result of staff disregard for her mental health problems and after she was failed by multiple agencies.
According to Stand Up To Racism, 20,000 people marched through central London, although this number is likely an overestimation. The march itself followed a relatively short route through central London, and was, much like the weather, average, both in scale and in results. It lacked the size and energy of the refugee solidarity demo in September 2015, which coincided with Jeremy Corbyn’s victory, the attendees were mostly experienced activists and/or members of organisations (e.g. parties, trade unions, campaign groups) with some students marching.
‘Racism’ encompasses everything from the abstract and everyday (systemic injustices) to the concrete and extreme (fascism). As such, it takes different organisations, and organisations of different forms, to tackle racism. The challenge for Stand Up To Racismlies in figuring out what its mission or purpose is, in relation to all the other anti-racist and anti-fascist organisations – from the anti-fascist groups to the self-organised Jewish, Muslim and black organisations that work for the defence of their communities, an end to campaigns of demonisation, racial justice and system change. Stand Up To Racism attempts to, within itself, synthesise the functions of all these different kinds of organisation, with the end-result being that it lacks the particular effectiveness of any of them. The question of whether Stand Up To Racism is actually a from-below project and whether it can focus on working towards achieving some concrete objectives, is essential to its success.