Last Saturday (24th June) saw the latest in a series of far-right demonstrations that have taken place across Britain in the wake of the attacks in Manchester, Westminster and Finsbury Park. Ostensibly marching against Islamic extremism, the English Defence League (EDL) took to the streets of central London. Making their presence known in various local pubs before moving through Trafalgar Square to the riverbank, the meagre crowd of approximately 40 EDL demonstrators was met with heavy resistance from a larger crowd of anti-fascist counter-protestors.
The demonstration follows a similar event in Liverpool earlier this month, when another small EDL turnout was humiliated by a huge anti-fascist counter-demonstration.
While several minor confrontations occurred, the EDL demonstrators were kept separated by the extensive police presence in the area. Clearly concerned after the events in Liverpool, where 12 EDL members were arrested and several people were injured, huge numbers of police officers created human walls around the respective groups and guided the movement of EDL thugs along their course. Police dogs, roadblocks and fencing were also used to prevent clashes, as the two demonstrations remained several hundred metres apart. Despite the police arbitrarily arresting two of the anti-EDL protesters early on, those on the Left were not deterred from making their presence felt.
As both sides ended their marches, the anti-EDL demonstration was addressed by several speakers. These speakers highlighted the need for an organised struggle against - and absolute condemnation of - racism and Islamophobia in all forms, especially the bigotry espoused by far-right groups such as the EDL. The crowd then began various chants, including ‘Racist scum, off our streets’, while the EDL demonstrators seemed to listen to music and loiter in the area, before eventually leaving.
The mood in the anti-EDL demo was one of anger, but also hope. One couple in the crowd noted the importance of solidarity within the community when combatting racism and islamophobia. Helen and Pete (Labour voters from outside of London) emphasised that “we need to stick together, not have division”, as their voices were almost drowned out by anti-EDL chanting.
Indeed, it seems that the message of the counter-protest was clear: only through solidarity and organisation on the Left can we oppose the bigotry and hate of the far-right. This was often accompanied by support for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose policies are seen as a step towards a fairer, more inclusive society for all.
Overall, while it is apparent that the EDL made very little impact with this demonstration, it highlights the need for people to come together in opposition to racism and Islamophobia across the country in this time when the ruling class and their agents in the right-wing press are attempting to sow division and xenophobia. It also demonstrates the role of the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to bring a previously apolitical layer of society into struggle.
The crowd’s message of solidarity is key: only through mass grassroots mobilisation and class unity can we fight groups like the EDL and their racist, Islamophobic message.