On Sunday 22 April, hundreds and hundreds of local people stood together against an attempted fascist march in Brighton. Some estimates of numbers were as high as two thousand and there were certainly large crowds lining the start of the route along Queens Road awaiting the arrival of the ‘March for England.’
The scale of the mobilisation against the arrival of fascists in Brighton showed that the political argument had been won. Those who stood waiting were convinced that March for England, an organisation that helped found the English Defence League and is supported by their Infidel and Casual United bedfellows, were fascists.
Whatever they claim about innocent allegiance to nation, their version of Englishness is little more than a hatred for anyone deemed an outsider. They stir up fear of religious difference. Whether they realise it or not, it is clear to anyone who reads their hateful web postings that the threats they make against Muslim people and, more recently against any anti-fascists, are in the language of ethnic cleansing.
In the weeks before March for England was due to take place, anti-racist activists, academics, elected representatives and local people in Brighton engaged public debates about nature of this new fascism. And, if anyone had any lingering doubts that the March for England was supported by the English Defence League, the EDL leadership confirmed they would be attending to none other than the BBC.
Thousands of leaflets were distributed and the city was plastered with stickers and posters announcing the counter protest. Empty hoardings were graffitied. It can be said, without exaggeration, that the people of Brighton were looking forward to having their say. One of the most prominent messages on printed and hand written placards spoke of people’s pride in their city’s diversity – the pithiest? “Suck on our diversity”!
Shortly after noon, the ‘March for England’, comprised of an estimated hundred and forty people who were, with very few exceptions, men – moved from their assembly point by Brighton station. They walked inside a police cordon of bigger than the march itself. They were instantly greeted by a wall of sound. People blew whistles and shouted; they held their posters and placards high. A few counter-protesters made early moves to block the march by standing in the road. They were pushed back by police but enough of them kept on trying that they were able to run a banner between the pavements. It read “No Fascism! Never Again! March for England not welcome here”.
It is likely that only a few people managed to read it before the police waded in but the banner helped form a line behind which other counter protestors joined those in the road. At least two baton charges, liberal use of pepper spray and circling horses squeezed anti-fascists towards the pavements but their action forced the police to redirect the march away from its original route along the seafront and down a side road, Church Street, instead.
Anti-fascists ran through Brighton’s Laines to stop the march again using roadwork barriers and wheelies bins as barricades. A Brighton Anti-Fascists banner was strung up. One counter protestor overheard a police officer saying “This is just like Cable Street”. Not quite. But we might get there yet.
Again, the police had to force a way through for the fascist march. Again, after anti-fascists were pushed onto the pavements, they ran on ahead and occupied Victoria Gardens where March for Englanders were due to hold a rally. This used to be called “jumping the pitch”. No-one heard any speeches or even any chanting from sullen-faced fascists who were surrounded on all sides by the counter-demo.
Victoria Gardens looked like Brighton’s Level on good day: dancing punks, families swapping news, people of many different ethnicities, who cared nothing about where anyone was from or where they had been raised. All were busy congratulating each other for being on Queens Road and Church Street.
We put out a message: “We won the day”. That we did. In style. It was critical to be out on the streets in good numbers and with a spirit that was not deterred by being pushed around by police officers. Most importantly, there was a great sense of unity. Anarchists and socialists, punks and students held Queens Road against combined efforts of police and fascists. Trade unionists mixed in with the black bloc, or the other way around, on the barricades of Church Street. Local people stood in the roads where they usually go shopping. There were men and women, young and old. Everywhere you looked there were different kinds of people taking action together.
The response of ‘March for England’, the EDL, Infidel groups and Casuals United to the collective action of Brighton people is as revealing about politics of fascism as the march itself. They make threats over the phone and on the internet. They try to intimidate community groups, vilify and isolate individuals. It could be called saving face but something of its political nature would be missed. Threats from fascists are attempt reassert their misguided sense of supremacy over those they regard weaker or worth less than they. In Brighton on 22 April, any idea of individual supremacy was defeated by collective action and great unity.
Yeah, we won the day.