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12 September 2012

How we stopped the racist EDL

A personal account

On 1 September the far-right, racist and hooligan English Defence League's (EDL) attempt to march though the streets of Waltham Forest, north east London, was blocked by a counter-demonstration of over 3,000 people.

I was one of the demonstrators. As a Waltham Forest resident and a member of the Socialist Party and Youth Fight for Jobs, I had spent months leafleting, petitioning and door-knocking, all with the aim of mobilising maximum numbers against the EDL.

It has always been clear that getting a big counter-protest would be vital. But the Socialist Party also raised the need to have a strategy on how we use the numbers to maximum effect.

Rather than simply 'celebrating our diversity' we argued the anti-racist demonstration would need to revitalise the labour movement tradition of saying 'no passaran' - preventing the EDL from marching in our community.

On the day, the counter-protest began with a rally in central Walthamstow, before marching down Hoe Street, to intersect with the EDL's planned route towards the Town Hall. A decision was made for the march to stay where it blocked the EDL 's route, but police 'kettled' the counter-protesters. This was a clear attempt to ensure we would not 'meet' the EDL at any point.

The blockade definitely had a big effect. The EDL were humiliatingly stopped, unable to have their planned march.

But after around 30 minutes blockading, Socialist Party and Youth Fight for Jobs members received word that the EDL were being re-routed through back streets to their rally at the Town Hall.

At this point I and other party members began discussions with the people around us on the need to move the march to the Town Hall in order to prevent their rally going ahead as planned.

The people surrounding us, mainly local Asian young people, were all clear in their determination to stop the EDL. They were keen for us to move people towards the Town Hall. We discussed with Daymer, a Turkish-Kurdish youth organisation, and began putting the call out to move the march.

At first we moved the crowd forward towards the exit which led most directly to the Town Hall. The police had blockaded this exit with vans, so we began chants of 'we demand - let us through'. The police refused to allow us to pass, determined that they would protect the EDL. It soon became clear that the only possible way to get to the Town Hall would be via side roads.

Gap in the line

A surge forward meant the thin police line that had been guarding this exit was dispersed and hundreds of protesters began following us up the street.

Marching through the back streets, the Socialist Party and Youth Fight for Jobs attempted to keep the march together to avoid individuals or small groups becoming vulnerable to attack by the police or EDL. We linked arms and led protesters downhill to the Town Hall.

On arrival we were greeted by a line of riot police protecting the EDL's leadership - around five thugs without any 'back up'. EDL leader Tommy Robinson was clearly shaken by the situation. The rest of their members were unable to join them and rally as planned. Their vulnerability, protected only by the police, was evident.

This humiliating defeat for the EDL has sent them into a crisis with splits and arguments developing in the wake of it.

In a crazed attempt to 'save face', Robinson has now put a call out to 'unite the right' and come back to Walthamstow in October.

It's essential that on this date the EDL are defeated even more decisively than they were on 1 September. That means learning the lessons of that day and renewing our determination to drive the racist EDL off our streets for good.

But the far right won't be beaten by mounting counter-demos against them alone. They can grow when people have no hope they can resist the impact of austerity.

With the TUC having voted to consider a general strike it's our job locally to build a mass united working class fightback against all the cuts and against racism.




http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/15214