Like many thousands of others I attended the National Unity demonstration in London on Saturday 17th of November.
Viewing the devastating victory of the far-right last summer on my smartphone against anti-fascist demonstrators made me realise that we all have an obligation to join the fight against far-right extremism.
What happens in London can feel miles apart from what happens in the Yorkshire town of Bingley, but the threat of the far-right was brought to home for me after I did a public service by removing a #FreeTommy placard attached to the railing of a traffic island, just outside the ward I represent as a Labour Town Council. Quite clearly I was watched as they immediately reappeared, took it out of the bin and reattached it (for less than 5 minutes after I finished the job).
Later I was contacted on facebook by a ‘fake account’ with poor grammar claiming they were wanting to set up a local demo against the far-right (but amazingly only wanted to invite me and refused to allow me to tell anyone else). All fingers pointed towards this fake account belonging to far-right supporters with further examination. This was proven further when I called the number provided by the person on the other end, it turned out to be a man (they were masquerading as a young woman of course). I had only just taken up the small (but public) position and I was terrified, but I know we cannot allow ourselves to live in fear because of them.
I’ve attended minor demos before, but nothing on this scale for the cause of fighting fascism. Me and my fellow comrades from my CLP took the 5 hour trip from Bradford to London, we were late arriving and it was rumoured that we missed the warm up speeches. Both Kirklees and Bradford Stand Up To Racism brought their own banners from our coach and were behind each other throughout the whole march. Kirklees is fortunate enough to have a professional looking printed banner, but us lot in Bradford know how to make do and have a DIY banner which is made out of clothe and took 10-15 minutes to set up when we got there. Luckily we weren’t going anywhere for another half an hour so they had time to set every time up as we were waiting on Portland Pl.
It took awhile for things to get started, we were all standing in the cold with our big coats hoping to get moving. The people lucky enough to have megaphones with them tried start some chanting which unfortunately wasn’t taking off as planned. My guess would be that the weather was a factor in this.
Eventually the crowd started moving, only to slow down again for a few minutes due to the amount of people trying to get through at once. Then things cleared up a little and we proceeded on to Regent St.
There was only a small amount of chanting but spirits were still high as we walked through the street with our Stop The War Coalition, SUTR and placards by other organisations. The megaphones were not easy to hear from where we were due to either the distance or the megaphones not being up to scratch. We chanted along but throughout the whole march the chanting didn’t take off much at all. Things were at their best just before we got to Piccadilly Square when you could hear the chants spreading across. One of those being “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” which I sang to the top of my voice which didn’t impress everyone there, but nevertheless we must to remind people that our leader not anti-Semitic as people who appear confused as a result of the MSM may believe.
I found myself behind the police after going to the toilet in one of the pubs on Parliament St. As I quickly walked up the speeches had already started with Len McCluskey sending an open message to Stephen Yaxley-Lennon saying: “You do not represent the working people of this country. You do not stand for my working class, which has always rejected and fought this sort of racist filth that you spout.” and then said that he can “f^%* off” uncensored which was highly popular with the crowd.
The following speaker was the National Education Union joint general secretary Kevin Courtney who asked us to support the demonstration against spending cuts which was taking place on the following Tuesday, highlighting that teachers were at the forefront of the battle against racism. Then Claudia Webb who is always a strong speaker took to the stage, only speaking for 30 seconds before a very small number of far-right activists “marched” past us, we all immediately started chanting “fascist scum off our streets”. After they had passed Claudia got us all chanting “there are many more of us than you”.
Next up was Labour MEP Wajid Khan, followed by a Green MEP and then Labour PPC Holly Kal-Weiss who did a powerful speech about this month being the anniversary of Kristallnacht, reminding us all that we cannot allow such acts to happen again in our lifetime with the words “Racism never starts with marching in the streets, it begins in our homes, schools, shops and community centres. Racism begins with uttering, it begins with prejudice, it begins with labelling and singling out” and then went on to celebrate the diversity of London and asked us to work together against far-right extremism.
The demonstration ended with a few music acts, overall it was a fantastic spectacle with an estimated 40k people attending on our side compared to almost nobody attending Tommy’s demo. What I will say is that anti-fascist movements do need our support, financially and in person. When the summer comes and far more demonstrations start taking place, we must be ready to tackle the far-right. Any repeat of last summer cannot be allowed to happen again, what we do now could define future generations.
Labour Town Councillor for Crow Nest ward, Bingley
Labour Town Councillor for Crow Nest ward, Bingley