By A Leeds Anti-Fascist Activist
It is unclear how the news that the departure of the EDL leader Tommy Robinson and much of the senior leadership is going to affect the proposed EDL ‘demonstration’ in Bradford this Saturday, the 12th of October. Either the event will prove to be a damp squib with a rudderless organisation unable to mobilise enough ‘troops’ on the day or it will bring out the unsavoury fascist elements within the ‘movement’ as a way of proving that the EDL is still a viable organisation.
The EDL had called a national demonstration in Tower Hamlets on Saturday the 7th September and on the day they tried and march into Tower Hamlets in East London. The EDL have previously targeted the borough, home to Brick Lane, Cable Street and traditionally an area of waves of immigrants including Jews, Irish and Bangladeshis, because it is one of the most ethnically diverse parts of London and in particular has a large Muslim population. In opposition to the EDL, various groups including the newly formed London Anti-Fascist Network mobilised the community to show them they weren’t welcome and to try to prevent them marching.
In the run up to the day, the Anti-Fascist Network extensively leafleted Tower Hamlets with fliers in a range of languages reflective of the demographics of the area, and held talks, gigs, and socials to raise funds and awareness of the demonstration. On the day itself roughly 2000 anti-fascists assembled in Altab Ali Park in Whitechapel to oppose the EDL, enjoying huge local support in their counter-protest. The work done by LAFN shows a change in anti-fascist tactics of recent years by mobilising the local community to be prepared to physically confront the far-right and prevent them marching, rather than merely having a counter-demonstration that allows both sides a voice. Instead of courting “community leaders”, LAFN made sure to target all people on estates in Tower Hamlets at a grassroots level. That local people knew what was happening, cheered on or joined anti-fascists who attempted to block the EDL and that residents of many different races saw the struggle as their own is testament to the hard work done by anti-fascists in the run up to the day. This sort of grass-roots preparation for militancy is what can win against the EDL.
Predicting hostility between the two sides, the Metropolitan Police refused to allow the EDL to enter Tower Hamlets and imposed a tight cordon around their demonstration, but still let them march through a busy part of London, over Tower Bridge and to the edge of the borough. In response to this, around 700 anti-fascists broke away from Altab Ali Park and tried to force their way through the area to block the path of the EDL and disrupt their protest. What followed was an example of massive over-policing from the Met as a total of 286 anti-fascists were kettled for hours and eventually arrested, making this one of the largest mass arrests at a political demonstration in recent years.
The charge against the arrestees wasn’t for violent behaviour, trespass or something else you might expect from such a large police response but rather deviating from a designated protest zone (Section 12 Public Order Act) – effectively for being on the “wrong” road. Those arrested were detained for hours in kettles with no toilet facilities, then taken to remote police stations in far-flung parts of London and released early the next morning with bail conditions prohibiting them from demonstrating against the far-right within London.
It’s hard not to see this massive over-policing as an attempt to smash an embryonic new group attempting militant anti-fascism and put people off taking to the streets in resistance. The fact that Section 12 was used is an attempt to limit protest to something controlled by the police and the State, and the arrests are a stern reminder what will happen if that’s challenged. But anti-fascism, indeed all protest, shouldn’t be confined to something that’s convenient.
The EDL came to Tower Hamlets to intimidate a community and sow division amongst people based on race. Previous anti-fascist struggles have shown that where the far-right is allowed a foothold racist attacks and even murders increase and the EDL itself is no stranger to racist rampages breaking out on their demonstrations. Of course a community should be allowed to defend itself against the violence that comes with an EDL march. The tactics of the police have been to send out a message to act within their guidelines, but this has meant the unnecessary arrest of 286 people who have faced kettling, a night in the cells and now bail hanging over them. It’s not good enough that their rights should be seen as collateral damage in getting this message across.
However Bradfordians choose to demonstrate their resistance to the EDL on the 12th of October it’s important to make sure the far-right aren’t given an easy ride. The fact that they have now come into the city three times since their presence in 2010 – a demonstration that they called the ‘Big One – highlights that Bradford is seen as a soft target and an easy picking. So make sure you send the clearest signal that you oppose them returning to Bradford in the future.