That was what democracy looks like!

August 16, 2009 at 8:36 pm (anti-fascism, fascism, voltairespriest)

In spite of reports of “rioting”, “thugs” and “unrest”, I can honestly say that it has been years since I felt so proud to be a part of a demonstration. Saturday 8th August’s Unite Against Fascism counter-demonstration to the “English Defence League” protest against Islam was militant anti-fascism in its nascent form.

A group of around 50 skinheads and associated hangers-on (all white as far as I could see), with a few placards saying “ban the burqa” and similar slogans, had gathered at Victoria Square in central Birmingham. At the other end of New Street around 300-400 anti-fascist demonstrators, mostly Asian but with participants from most ethnic groups in the city, gathered inside a police cordon listening to speeches and chanting slogans. This is unremarkable on a UAF demonstration, and I arrived fully expecting the usual damp squib whereby the fascists march somewhere else and the anti-fascists simply disperse after a few hours.

Not so this time.

I arrived at about 5:30 to the UAF demonstration, which had already been going for a few hours. The usual selection of speakers (Salma Yaqoob, Weyman Bennett et al) were working their way through on a platform that looked rather over-crowded to me. The crowd, mainly though not exclusively young Asian men, was clearly quite excitable, and one of the Socialist Party members selling papers on the protest tells me that they’d had to be reassured that the Birmingham Trades Council banner was being carried by people from our side when they came down New Street to join the protest. Nevertheless, for all that I couldn’t see anything much happening due to the heavy police presence and the apparent lack of any fascist march.

At about 6:30 pm, it became clear that the EDL were in fact at the other end of New Street. A few of them got through the police lines on their side, and shouted some taunts at the UAF crowd. For those not familiar with these affairs, this normally attracts a few chants back. Again, not this time.

I was nearly bowled over by the human floodtide of protestors who charged at the police lines, shouting epithets and hurling anything they could lay their hand on over the police lines, at the fascists. And then they charged again. And again. The look on the fascists’ faces was not one of cockiness as they realised they were heavily outnumbered and facing a crowd who were not going to tolerate far-right marches in their city – and who were willing to do anything necessary to prove the point.

Myself and a couple of others were able to slip out of the police lines, and we briefly passed by Victoria Square. The “crowd” of far-rightists were surrounded by police at the top of the square, saying nothing and looking nervously down the street at the seething mass of bodies straining to get to them. Nevertheless, sensing a stand-off and not wanting to get “kettled” in for hours on New Street, we took a moment’s refuge in a nearby pub.

Shortly after that, it went ballistic. We emerged to find that protestors from both sides had apparently gotten through the cordons, Street battles were being fought as police in riot gear raced around trying to bring the situation under control – and by all accounts those who were on the UAF protest were having the better of it. By 7:30 there were no fascists in evidence as groups of young men prowled around central Birmingham and then slowly filtered off home.

As an aside, top Brummie prize of the day goes to Standing Outside Bacchus Bar Guy, a chap who had clearly spotted the chance for another pint as he explained over the phone (presumably to his disbelieving wife) that there was a riot going on outside, he was alright but he was just going to pop downstairs for another beer. Bacchus bar guy, we salute you for your stoicism, your courage and your indefatigable dedication to whatever amber nectar was in your glass.

At this point, my friends and I headed off to New Street station, having gotten advice from a helpful riot policeman about how best to get there.

The old phrase was “no pasaran”. Well, they didn’t pass. Not in our city. Not that day, not ever.

17 Comments

  1. maxdunbar said,

    Nice one. Well done.

  2. Clive said,

    I’m still chortling at the irony of Salma Yaqoob speaking at an anti-fascist rally.

  3. Rosie said,

    Good stuff. This “anti-Islamic extremism” – do the EDL go round and interrogate anyone who looks Asian to find out what their views are on shariah law, Al Qaeda, Qutb, Caliphate etc? Because if they don’t, they might consider it’s all a bit random and they might just get a random response.

  4. Lobby Ludd said,

    “I’m still chortling at the irony of Salma Yaqoob speaking at an anti-fascist rally.”

    What? And a week or so later you’re still ‘chortling’? Clive, have you been continuously ‘chortling’ or has the memory of this ‘irony’ set you off in the odd fit of ‘chortling’?

    Only charmingly dated cartoon characters like Dennis the Menace ‘chortle’, most people ‘laugh’ or ‘giggle’, and they stop doing so after a relatively short period.

    Are you one of those people who puts ‘lol’ after a post or who claims that you have just spat a mouthful of coffee over your screen/keyboard when you read something mildly odd/amusing ?

    You don’t have to be a wanker, your choice.

  5. voltairespriest said,

    Also, on a basic level I don’t really see the irony. It would only be ironic if she was a fascist or had spoken regularly at fascist rallies. She isn’t a fascist, she hasn’t spoken at fascist gatherings, and… err… she is fairly obviously someone who would be vulnerable both physically and politically to a growth of fascism in Birmingham.

    So where’s the irony?

  6. . said,

    Salma Yaqoob the fascist, whatever next?

  7. Git said,

    Fascism doesn’t just come wrapped in a white skin. Yaqoob has been quite happy to rub along with representatives of, and apologists for, viciously anti-semitic organizations. As an “anti-fascist” campaigner, she’s dubious at best.

  8. Lobby Ludd said,

    Git by name….

  9. Quilliam versus the BNP « Max Dunbar said,

    […] democrats, liberals and socialists will stand with them physically as well as politically. As my Shiraz comrade echoed recently: no […]

  10. Git said,

    Denial is more than a river in Egypt, Lobby. Anyone who is prepared to wave a Hezbollah flag or march alongside those who do is not an anti-fascist in my opinion. They’re just against a certain kind of fascism while being soft on another kind.

  11. Andrew Coates said,

    Good to read a front-line report.

    It’s clear where one should stand on this: no pasaram.

    Btw: where did you pick up a flurry of ‘gottens’ from? This American archaism (the past particle in English is got, identical the preterite, got), makes, with its very cumbersome form, writing heavy to read. I had got to the point at one stage of wanting to stop.

  12. Voltaire's Priest said,

    There are only two “gottens” that I can see, Mr Coates! Perhaps two is two too many for you, but I suppose it’s all a matter of taste…

  13. maxdunbar said,

    I like the word ‘gotten’. I think contributors should say it all the time.

  14. Voltaire's Priest said,

    Gotten gotten gotten. Gotten.

  15. Private Eye said,

    That’s enough gottens. Ed.

  16. AlanR said,

    Is Git siding with the English ‘defence’ ‘league’?

  17. Andrew Coates said,

    Howdy Pardners.

    So the defense league tried to mosey down to Birmingham, England, city center and soon git fright.

    Hot dwag!

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