Projectraisetheroof's Blog

The anti-EDL protest

Before I launch into describing the WEIRD bonfire night events at Lewes, near Brighton, a few thoughts on the anti-EDL march in Leeds the other day.

I first heard about the English Defense league through the Love Music Hate Racism campaigners at the last raisetheroof. On investigation, it became clear that, despite the ‘but we’re not racists’ whine these people basically were a pack of nazi thugs, to put it it simply. But that was before Nick Griffins appearance on the BBC, when hardly anybody knew or were that bothered about them. Then, after nasty (or should we say, a bit dim) Nick’s airing of views I watched the whole thing go stratospheric. Okay, thats an exaggeration, but the council did decide to remove their christmas tree from the city centre for fear of damage, which seemed like a pretty big deal.

Of course I felt it was my duty to go. I had never been to a protest before (loud proclamations on politics at the dinner table is always so much easier than actually leaving the house) but I’m the daughter of an immigrant. A legal one, and a rather productive one at that, but an immigrant nevertheless. My father has British citizenship after living in England more years than Iran, the country of his birth; doubtless this little difference to a group like the EDL.

And so I arrived at the square, wearing a pretty solemn expression on my face with a ball of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. It wasn’t fear, exactly, just an unpleasantness accompanying the realization that the the argy-bargies about asylum, islam, immigration and race were truly alive, well and slap-bang in the middle of Leeds. In fact, it’s exactly the conflation of these issues that pisses me off. The EDL are, perhaps, right to protest against the minority of militant ‘muslims’ who set fire to British flags and call British soldiers baby-killers. But they do a lot more than this, they use these (highly infrequent) incidents as evidence against the whole religion of Islam. Then, whilst they are at it, its all immigrants and asylum seekers as well (because its not as if there’s any difference between the two – granted one lot might be escaping persecution, but fuck it, they’re all brown and have funny names and can’t speak English proper, they’re out to pollute our pure, white, precious little island).

It’s not that there aren’t serious problems with allowing mass immigration into an Island as wee as ours. Obviously if a Polish person undercuts your labour and puts you out of a job then it would be natural to feel put out. But this crap about ‘indigenous white people’ – please. Okay, so you’re part of an ancient tribe in the amazon rainforest, the trees are falling around you as modern civilisation and the cruel forces of progress close in on you, only then might you be able to use the word ‘indigenous’ as part of your ‘we were here first so could you kindly fuck off?’ rhetoric, without sounding like a silly twat. Essentially, groups like the EDL and the BNP shoot themselves in the foot by mixing together anti-immigration, white supremacy and a good dose of religious hatred and come off looking a bit backwards. Which is, of course, exactly what they are.

Anyway, back to the protest, and can it possibly have anything to do with project raisetheroof? Well, despite the gangs of scary looking youths itching to bash some EDL members, and the dubious looking skinheads that occasionally came to taunt them before being shoved back by the police, I was rather interested in the drumming that was taking place. Two members of Honeydrum were hammering out some infectious rhythms whilst a few crusties obliged them with some jigging about. This was interrupted occasionally by a woman with a megaphone, warning us to stay in the square and not wander down to the station, where the EDL had set themselves up, or else we’d be ‘picked off’ by them. After a while the Honeydrummers stopped for a rest and a chat. Whether or not this caused the dispersal of people, I don’t know, but a policewoman approached and urged them to keep drumming. In fact “why dont you bash us out a few more tunes” were her exact words, “we’ve got to try and get people to stay in the square. Give ’em something to focus on”. And so the beats resumed, and I watched a wave of relief register itself on the faces of the people who were standing about, many expressions of anxiety turned to smiles and chatter, and feet began to tap. Despite quite disparate groups within the EDL oppositon (the asian community clearly more riled up and subsequently eager to march, whilst the predominantly white hippies huddled clustered about the drums) the drum beat enabled two things; firstly, there was a greater feeling of collectivity, of unity, and secondly, it gave the whole thing some positive and light relief. No-one actually wants to spent their saturday afternoons in symbolic protest against a scary looking bunch of skinheads. The whole thing would have been quite depressing, if it hadn’t have been for the Honey-drummers who reminded me that what we were there for was essentially something positive – we weren’t there to just say no to the EDL, we were saying ‘yes’ – to equality and diversity.

A lot of fuss has been made of the intersections of politics and partying, with most scholarly criticism writing fun protests off as simply an elaborate excuse to party. But why should protests be miserable affairs? Why must legitimate politics in this country be pursued via a single stagnant avenue devoid of any expression and exuberance?

I can feel myself descending into a rant now so I will shortly stop, after I tell you about a conversation I had with my Dad after the protest. It turns out that he was living in London when the National Front had thousands of supporters there in the 1970s. One night he was walking alone through a tube station and was approached by three skinheads doctor martin boots – he remembers it vividly. They tried to block his path, and one of them pulled out a knife. Luckily my dad was gripping a bunch of metal keys, that spiked through his fingers. With a clenched fist he punched the keys in his face, and ran for his life.

Rock Against Racism claim that their campaign helped to stem the tide of white supremacy and nationalism in London at the time. To be continued…


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