A young and confident street protest set a defiant tone on Boris Johnson’s first day as Prime Minister. With photos by Steve Eason and Charlie Hore.
The first day of Boris Johnson’s tenure as Prime Minister was marked by a mass protest of several thousand people in London. Billed as a ‘street festival celebrating the power of our communities’ rather than a traditional political demonstration, the protest gathered at Russell Square around 6pm before setting off and marching to Downing Street.
The crowd numbered several thousand, overwhelmingly younger people. The Facebook event for the protest had been co-hosted by a broad range of groups, including Women’s Strike Assembly, Momentum, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, Black Lives Matter UK, anti-border campaign group Docs Not Cops, and Grime4Corbyn, and featured an open-top bus blasting music from assorted grime artists (the protest’s title was inspired by a line in Stormzy’s recent single Vossi Bop).
As there were no speakers at the final assembly point, the political tone of the march was largely set by attendees’ placards and banners. These mostly focused on rejecting Johnson’s racism, sexism and homophobia, and tying this to the toxicity of the Conservative Party overall.
The organisers had encouraged attendees to bring their own sound systems and loudspeakers; in principle, this allowed groups and individuals up and down the march to improvise their own chants and make impromptu speeches, though in practice this only took place quite sparsely. Most of the chants that were broadly taken up were fairly basic, with ‘Fuck Boris!’ being the most common. There was not much of a sense that the crowd progressed politically from this shared starting point to other political slogans and demands (for example, anti-deportation chants were few and far between), though chants of ‘Fuck the police!’ were taken up by many later on when cops on the scene began forming lines around the protest to constrict and redirect it. Though left-wing pro-Remain groups did make attempts to centre anti-Brexit slogans, these were unsuccessful.
The organisers deserve great credit for bringing out a crowd of several thousand people on a weekday night: the event was far more successful than other anti-Johnson protests that have taken place in recent weeks. The protest was organised intensively for several weeks before it took place; it was spearheaded by organisers in and around the Women’s Strike Assembly and spread through a well-organised social media campaign involving a large number of co-hosts and promoting organisations. The hard organisational work that went into the event was somewhat hidden on the day due to the horizontalist ethos of the space, though some signs remained, such as custom-printed ‘Fck Govt Fck Boris’ banners and the aforementioned open-top bus.
Although the crowd was not exclusively young, the organising effort made heavy use of cultural and musical resonances to bring out a base of younger left-wing people living in London; in that way, it was reminiscent of the set of cultural connections at play in the Corbynite surge in the 2017 General Election. The confident and enjoyable atmosphere also helped the march to get an unusually good reception from observers along the route in central London, including drivers and logistics workers as well as tourists.
It’s an open question whether the social coalition that turned out yesterday can be brought onto the streets again for more intensively political occasions. Several rs21 members at yesterday’s protest helped to leaflet attendees for the anti-fascist protest coming up on 3 August, when the London Anti-Fascist Assembly (a coalition of numerous left-wing anti-fascist groups in London, including rs21) will be mobilising against supporters of far-right agitator Tommy Robinson.
More information on the 3 August action can be found here.