3rd Sept 2011
Firstly, this title is slightly misleading, I’ve been on a fair few demos against the EDL over the past two years, but as you’ll read, this is the first time I’ve actually come face to face with them.
Also, this is written as a personal narrative because this is just a witness account, I can’t verify much here apart from what I saw.
The counterdemo organised by UAF was superb. Starting at 11am by Whitechapel tube, it had a carnival atmosphere – the sun was blazing, a music truck was blaring out some fantastic tunes, and the demographics of the anti-fascists was overwhelmingly young and multicultural. There were some great speeches,including a message read out from the local synagogue, a local vicar, speakers from the Muslim community, and someone from OutEast – the main LGBT group inEast London. It really did show how the community were united against the fascists, many whom the EDL was claiming to ‘defend’.
As is standard in a lot of these rallies, the speeches went on for ages, and the area was absolutely rammed, I’d say a minimum of a thousand people were there by midday.
Some fantastic news was coming through twitter – an EDL coach at a service station near Oxford had its tires slashed. The RMT tube workers’ union was refusing to allow the EDL to assemble at Liverpool Street station, and at Kings Cross they were surrounded by police. Later in the day someone set the fire alarm off so the whole station had to be shut down. One coach dumped the EDL in Hammersmith apparently! (For those who don’t know, that’s west London).
However there were rumours that the police were going to escort the EDL to Aldgate, just 10 minutes from where we were and on the border of Tower Hamlets. In groups we began to work our way up Whitechapel Road to assemble near their meeting point. They were being corralled at a pub in Liverpool Street (almost every other pub they tried refused to let them congregate, one pub in Kings Cross reportedly had a sign: “No Dogs, No EDL”). So it was clear the police were going to wind them through the City.
There was by now about 50 antifascists stationed at a big junction near Aldgate station. The police began to catch on and politely asked us to move on “as it won’t be safe here soon”. As we walked back down the road towards Aldgate East station, the police almost immediately closed the road off and had 3 lines of police keeping us from returning to Aldgate.
After a while we had hundreds of anti-fascists come from the rally to this police blockade.
Myself and my mate Rob decided to go round the backstreets to see if we could work out whether the EDL really were being allowed to march. The police were prepared for this, but our white skin and inconspicuous clothing must have made the police believe we were EDL, and so we walked through one police cordon, and sure enough, there were the EDL being allowed to march, escorted by the police.
I have to admit at this stage I was terrified – more about being arrested than being beaten up. The context to this is that it has barely been a month since the riots, where the law book was thrown out the window and people were being charged 4 months in jail for taking a bottle of water. A mother was jailed for receiving a pair of shorts which someone else had robbed. People weren’t getting bail, judges were passing sentences without even reading the case. As I type this, this practise is still going on.
We were on the edge of the pavement watching these thugs march by singing racist chants, and we were maybe 500 yards from their rallying point where speeches began being blasted with the usual rubbish about Islam. They were letting off sound bombs which sounded like a bomb blast. At one stage they crowded round an Indian shop with the stewards begging them not to trash it.
We then saw three guys near us, two of them Asian, the other guy I knew from Goldsmiths, they were clearly on our side. So 5 of us there, really not knowing what we should do. Shout abuse? Throw something then leg it?
Then without warning the three of them walked to the back of the rally point and began chanting “Shame on you!”. Right next to them were a bunch of skin heads sitting on guard. This was bravery on another level. Here’s a brief clip of when they started chanting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6443ndIOps&feature=youtu.be
At least a hundred turned round and began roaring. Me and Rob immediately walked towards them, who then promptly turned and belted it. At this point I didn’t run and I have no idea why, probably coz we were surrounded. Immediately one of these EDL thugs marched up to me, literally with eyes like a lion that’s spotted a gazelle. He paced up to me, and stood on my foot to stop me from moving then grabbed my throat and pulled me right up to him. I looked down and assumed I was about to get stabbed – this hysteria has a context too. Last year I was at the protest outside the BBC when Nick Griffin, BNP leader, was invited on Question Time. A few hundred of us stayed to the end, going to a side road in the hope of blockading his car as he tried to leave. As we were there, with only a couple of police, two BNP guys came up to us doing the Hitler salute. A couple of us began shouting in their face, until we were pulled away by some comrades, warning us that one of them had a knife.
Anyway, eventually this EDL guy let me go, with no knife luckily, I could smell the beer on his breath, at which point two EDL stewards squared up to me. Finally a police officer, all of whom had stood by and watched this, came up to me and I said that one of their lot had grabbed me by the throat. His response: “If you’re claiming you’ve been assaulted, report it to your local police station.”
I then found Rob, and we found a side street to escape.
Then as we were walking down this side road, we witnessed an incredible thing. A group of about 7 women, all dressed in black and riding bikes, began picking out EDL members. They would ride up to them screaming in their face, and would drive their bikes full-pelt into them. It was one of the most inspiring sights I’ve seen firsthand. 40 year old skin heads getting battered by this gang, too scared to fight back, and being completely humiliated. We followed this anti-fascist vigilante group as they picked more out, even going to a pub near Liverpool Street where a group had congregated. Absolutely superb.
Exhausted and sunburnt we called it a day. I got back to Croydon and, walking through the town centre, saw that the local mosque had a stall in the town centre. It was incredible, 20 minutes earlier watching the EDL nutters desperate to start a race war in London, then being in Croydon with everyone living together normally.
However looking at twitter later it appeared that, as per usual, the EDL had splintered off and a group were attacking some Asian youths further East. Talking to friends from the area later, it appears this wasn’t true, and what actually happened was locals battered an EDL coach as it left East London. A superb video of this can be found here:
There was then a stand off with the police who attacked the locals, whilst EDL were trying to get out the coach to fight them. In the end they were taken to a double decker bus, watch the Master Race running for their lives to get on the bus: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9y29PfgKWU&feature=youtu.be
And finally, take a look at the escort the fascists needed to get out of London: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PnrmDGaqgM&feature=youtu.be
To top it all off, UAF ended the day by marching back down to Whitechapel, defying the Government’s ban.
So I’d say all in all this was a successful day for anti-fascists. Anti-fascist victories are always bittersweet as they shouldn’t be needed in the first place. However:
- The EDL didn’t get to march in Tower Hamlets.
- They marched through the empty office blocks of the City of London
- Being a first-hand witness, I’d say they had a maximum of 500 people at their rally
- They had over 70 arrests compared to zero arrests from UAF’s side
- A huge broad coalition worked together to hamper their day – from pubowners to underground workers.
- We had a huge anti-fascist turnout, which was young and diverse. They had the usual suspects – white middle aged men.
- The EDL were splintered around London and faced huge delays everywhere they went
- We had a group of bikers mopping up fascists in the area around Aldgate and a group of locals gave their coach a good pounding on the way out
In short, massive love to Unite Against Fascism.
Check out another account, with great pictures, here: http://russwood.posterous.com/covering-the-english-defence-league