Thursday, 21 July 2011

Anti-EDL Rally in Guildhall SQuare.

EDL member giving Nazi salute in Portsmouth.

We'd all been waiting anxiously for the last few weeks for the EDL to descend upon us. In November Anti Fascists had to leg it down to the local Mosque to defend it from an EDL flashmob and saw them off.
The EDLs original plan had been to march into Guildhall Square ,to the War Memorial and lay a wreath.This was greeted with outrage .The EDL rallying to what is to many people a monument to those who gave their lives in the struggle against Fascism was scandalous .UAF lobbied the council and had them banned from both.They then got permission from the authorities for a march through nearby Portsea and back to the Park, immediately behind the war memorial.
UAF was denied the right to march due to giving insufficient notice.It then became clear that the EDL were threatening to force their way into Guildhall Square and hold a rally at the War Memorial.

We responded by announcing that we would be rallying in Guildhall square and defending the memorial, permission or not.Enormous pressure was brought to bear for us to call it off by the local MP Mike Hancock and the Lib Dem council.

Over the last few weeks thousands of leaflets have been distributed, Portsmouth has been covered with stickers and flyposted to build for the protest. Portsmouth Trades Council backed our campaign ,and unions and community groups swung into action Love Music Hate Racism put on a gig to raise awareness and money.

The day before the protest we went down to leaflet the Mosque and were overwhelmed with the way everyone who came out was grabbing our leaflets.We were then informed that at the close of prayers the Imam had told everyone to join the UAF protest in Guildhall Square.

On the day, it poured down steadily and the four or five hundred that some had hoped for did not materialise.We numbered some 250 for most of the day about 320 at some points.However our demonstration was very diverse.The very young, the very old, a large presence from the Muslim community,Trade Unionists ,Anarchists,students and Quakers.Contingents from Southampton and Brighton swelled our numbers.

Weyman Bennett UAF national Secretary received loud cheers from the crowd as he positioned the struggle in Portsmouth as part of a national struggle ,and the importance of building for the National demonstration in Tower Hamlets on sept 3rd.

An open mike policy was in operation and Local Councillors Trade Unionists and others came up to voice their opposition to the EDL.Also a serving squaddie spoke to condemn the EDL.Over a 100 new people signed up to get involved in the local UAF group.
At the same time we had spotters down at the Mosque, we knew that the local Muslim community had made contingency plans to defend it,but in case we were needed we had a standby plan to get down there as before.

The police put their numbers earlier at 150.Well short of the 1500 Edl had confidently predicted.Perhaps it was more, but the footage on their facebook suggests that 250 would be flattery.It was noted by some locals that the racist abuse that they were shouting was not with pompey accents.Whilst our demonstration was made up of locals and those supporters from nearby towns they mini-bussed their people in from Weymouth, Poole, and even as far as Bolton and Leeds.their demo also coincided with a Chelsea friendly match ,so they had a smattering of their London contingent.In reality they could only mobilise about 50-70 from Portsmouth.

At their rally there were two subjects,how much they hated Muslims and how much they hated UAF. They attempted to grab some pieces of scaffolding whilst marching.As they dispersed a contingent of them ran up the main shopping precinct,some say ,not knowing the square was in the opposite direction, turned back and attempted to storm the square.

They were repelled.

For weeks they had been saying they would storm the square and take the War Memorial,when it came to it they just didn’t have the numbers.
Our primary objective was to defend The Mosque and to stop them invading the Square.

We achieved these objectives.

I think most people think the policing of the square was satisfactory.The same cannot be said of the policing of the EDL.They were allowed to lunge forward at the start of the march.When it was due to disperse they were allowed to charge up Commercial Road and to attempt to storm Guildhall Square as they had repeatedly threatened to do.

They were permitted for a short period to be in control of the streets.
Had we not ignored the appeals of the council, the police and our local MPs to demonstrate elsewhere ,what would have happened?
If we had not been in the square there would have been a smaller police presence there,and the EDL would have taken the War Memorial.

I think we have been totally vindicated in our course of action.

Portsmouth War Memorial may not sound tremendously important ,but is of some significance to an anti fascist city like Portsmouth.
Anyway at the risk of sounding pompous:

They did not pass.

1 comment:

  1. funny thing is, we laid a wreath, just not where you lot thought we were going to :)