Largest Post-War Anti-Fascist Mobilisation in Brighton as Hundreds Turn Out
For the past 3 years, an outfit called March for England has marched from Brighton Station down to the Old Steine. The first year they lodged at the King & Queen Pub opposite Grand Parade and last year they drank before setting off at the Railway Bell opposite the train station. This year no pub would serve them and many pubs closed rather than face a fascist invasion. Billed as a ‘family fun day’ the March 4 England has turned from a ‘patriotic family day out’ to the usual EDL march for bigotry.
For the past couple of years, the opposition has been weak and relatively half hearted, possibly because some people were taken in by the ‘family’ bit and because the march organisers dissociated themselves from the EDL.
This year it was quite clear that it was an EDL march in all but name and we went to town. To paraphrase Trotsky, the UAF and the anarcho-independent left Anti-Fascist Committee may have organised separately but they struck together!
And credit should go in particular to the Anti-Fascist Committee based at the Cowley Club, the anarchist social centre. Regular meetings laid down our strategy and laid the basis for today’s success.
The EDL were due to arrive at 12.00. Eleven o’clock was the time we were meant to be gathering. When I arrived I did a quick reconnoitre of Brighton Station to find about 60-70 EDL members there, including a tiny contingent from Brighton itself. At first there were very few strung out along the route on Queens Road.
Because of the danger of being kettled like last year, we decided that people would line the march with posters making it clear that Brighton rejected racism and fascism. At 11.00 I thought that maybe we had failed to mobilise, but within half an hour hundreds of people started gathering along the route – young and old, men, women and children, gay and straight. We were a marked contrast to the balding, beer bellied oafs with their union jacks and mock dragon at the station Virtually the whole of the EDL march was male.
But the Police had gone into overdrive to try and drive a march of racists and fascists through Brighton. So much for their ‘diversity agenda’ and their opposition to racism. When the chance presents itself they lose no opportunity to try and impose a bunch of racist hooligans on Brighton. I would estimate that there were at least 500 police on duty today, as police minibus after police minibus swept by. But it was all in vain. Despite a liberal use of pepper spray (which I found out to my cost causes your skin to come up in a nasty looking rash!) and an overtly aggressive stance, the Police found it difficult.
The EDL/MFA eventually got underway about 15 minutes late. By which time our numbers had swelled to well over a thousand. Queens Road is about a 1/3 mile long and goes straight to the Clocktower, the centre of Brighton. From there you can turn left down North Street to the Old Steine or continue along West Street to the sea. The agreed route with the Police was for the fascists to march down West Street to the sea, along the seafront and back up the Old Steine to Victoria Gardens. However the best laid plans of men and mice get laid to waste!
The presence of over one and a half thousand people put paid to that. After repeated incursions into their path, the lobbying of the odd egg and a march moving at snails pace, coupled with the possibility of serious disorder and mayhem if the march proceeded into town with shoppers etc., the police halted the march at the top of one of the backstreets, Church Street and directed the march down there. The EDL, now surrounded by phalanxes of police and then hundreds of us, were in no position but to obey their masters. Despite acts of bravado the fact is that the fash were sheltering behind police lines and but for the police would have been torn in pieces.
It was with the greatest difficulty that an increasingly aggressive and jittery police mob finally managed to get the EDL to its rallying point in Victoria Gardens. The march had been cut by 2/3, a major victory of anti-fascism in Brighon. ‘No Pasaran’ was the order of the day. And what a rally it was. Surrounded by over a thousand anti-fascists on the lawns outside the Art College and the King & Queen Pub (closed for the day) they had to kick their heels for an hour and a half until the Police moved them off at 3.00 pm back to Brighton Station.
A few of the fash, who had separated off from their mates ended up in a gay pub at the Old Steine and ended up having a conversation with the pavement.
Having been on virtually every anti-fascist mobilisation for the past 30 years, I have no doubt that today’s was the largest anti-fascist mobilisation since the large demonstrations against Mosley in the 1930’s. Because of the necessity of lining the route along Queens Road it was essential that we pulled in as many people as possible. And we did. There was also a punk festival, Punx Picnic, taking place at the same time in Brighton and because of the EDL threat featured a number of anti-fascist bands.
The danger in the past has always been that when fascists are not opposed or only opposed half-heartedly, local working class kids start to see them as some kind of force. Today it was virtually impossible to see the EDL/MFE behind the massed ranks of police and the lines of anti-fascists. They were seen to be an impotent and weak force, depending on the power of the state and police to shepherd them through.
And this filtered through even to the Police. As far as I know, there wasn’t one anti-fascist arrest today (a number of the fascists seem to have been lifted). And on a personal level, when I discovered that my hand was covered in pepper spray (also got whacked in the mouth by a police glove!) a fellow marcher and first aider went up to the police to get some water and was given 4 bottles of the stuff! In fact the police started handing out bottles of waters to the demonstrators as the EDL kicked their heels inside a tight cordon. Which goes to show that it’s not the police as individuals who are the problem but the institution itself which warps the individual.
I got an inkling of what might happen today at Sussex University last Thursday when 4 of us spoke to an anti-fascist meeting organised by Sussex Anarchist Society. Usually these meetings consist of about 12-15 people at best, but the lecture hall was packed to overflowing. It was clear that the message had got out and we were going to have a good attendance today. No doubt we could have done some things better but Brighton has once again made it clear that fascists are not welcome in this town. It was also good to see our local MP Caroline Lucas and a number of Green Party councillors, including previous leader Bill Randall. Although there were a few people present from the left of the Labour Party there was not one Labour councillor that I could see. What a change from the past!