Saturday's We Are Luton march against Tommy Robinson's English Defense League (EDL) shows how communities can unite against racism and Islamophobia.
Activists and local residents marched through the streets of Luton on Saturday to send a clear message to thug Tommy Robinson's EDL: his Islamophobic and racist organisation is not welcome on the streets of Luton or any other British town or city.
The 'We Are Luton' campaign aims to bring together all sections of the town's multicultural community who oppose racism and Islamophobia. It is a coalition of trade unions -Unite and Unison were centrally involved- anti-racist activists and concerned residents, supported by Unite Against Fascism. Key to creating unity was making links with the Luton Council of Mosques, the first time that the left has entered into partnership with the organisation.
Members of the Muslim community delivered speeches and marched alongside trade unionists, politicians and the left. Both of Luton's Labour MPs, Bedfordshire's MEP and local councillors attended and spoke. People travelled from across the country, including Bristol, Bradford (where George Galloway and Respect won 5 seats on Thursday) and Nottingham. As the up-to-1500 strong demonstration marched it was joined by more local people, predominantly working class residents and black and asian youth.
'I don't normally go on these things but felt it was time I made a stand' said Prisca Gbogboade - Unison steward at the University of Bedfordshire.
The police were out in full force, with attack dogs, mounted officers and riot vans. Officers seemed to eye young black people with suspicion, an indicator of the establishment's role in reinforcing racial tensions in the town. The police may have come prepared for combat, but the march remained peaceful yet loud and militant. Chants of 'EDL go to hell- take your fascist mates as well!' and 'Who's streets? Our streets!' rang out to the frenetic drum beat of a Middle Eastern rhythm band.
The negotiated route of the march prevented any direct confrontation with the EDL who, one activist who infiltrated their ranks reported, were 'pissed as farts' and planning to 'run amok' through the streets of Luton.
Tommy Robinson's thugs failed to mobilise more than a few hundred fellow EDL members and they were outnumbered three-to-one by the We Are Luton campaigners.
Speakers at a rally at the end of the demonstration drew parallels between the persecution of Muslims and that of Jewish people in the thirties and Irish people and black people in the sixties and seventies as well as other oppressed minorities and marginalised groups.
Speakers highlighted the success of the British left and its allies of tackling Islamophobia, compared to the French left's failure to tackle the issue. All stressed the need to challenge racists like the EDL and fascists like the BNP when they take to the streets in an attempt to divide communities and scapegoat minorities.
Speakers argued that the far right have become marginalised in Britain due to the sustained campaigning of anti racists and all who counter Islamophobic attitudes.
Kadeer Baksh from Luton Islamic Centre said that the EDL had been spreading lies about Muslims and Islam to divide the community.
Labour MEP Richard Howitt warned of the threat of the far right in France where Marine Le Pen argued to “go to war against Islam”. “We have all seen how Sarkozy, a Conservative, has co-opted Far Right ideas, calling immigrants "feral" and "scum," engaging in the mass deportation of Roma and threatening to withdraw from EU border cooperation,” he said. But he added that the imminent success of Francois Hollande's socialists “will be a victory for the ideas celebrated at this rally too.”
"We Are Luton achieved its aim of representing the anti-racist majority that shan't be cowed by the EDL's use of fear and violence,” said Mark Dee Smith, one of the organisers of the march and local UNISON activist. He added that “we will challenge racism at every turn in Luton.”
The march took place at the end of a week which had seen the fascist BNP obliterated in council elections and significant gains for Labour electorally despite the failure of Ken Livingstone's close-run Mayoral bid.
It is clear that the mood in Britain is turning against austerity, just as it is turning against the EDL whose numbers have collapsed since their 2009 mobilisations. This weekend's successful demonstration showed that key to this is bringing together the most principled campaigners against racism to stand alongside the wider community in a clear rejection of the EDL's reactionary aims.
Dan is a writer, broadcaster and campaigner. His most recent documentary was The New Scramble For Africa and his documentaries have appeared regularly on the Islam Channel. He is an organiser for Counterfire and a regular contributor to Counterfire site.
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