On 19 July 2014, a small ragbag of far right nationalists and Islamophobes (under the banner of the South East Alliance) returned to Cricklewood, ostensibly to protest at an office of the Muslim Brotherhood at 133 Broadway (which police have said the occupants have nothing to do with). They were met by the People in their Hundreds. The counter demonstration was spearheaded by North West London United (@NWLondonUnited), a broad alliance of individuals and organisations including religious and community leaders, trade unions, cross-party political activists, elected representatives and residents formed to peacefully resist racism and facism on our streets (recent statement of collective resistance on Wembley Matters).
Below is a selection of stills, twitter exchanges and four videos I’ve uploaded (“Whose Streets? Our Streets!”, “Learn Your History”, “We are black, white and Asian, we are Jews!” and “Brave woman confronting SEA”). My overwhelming feeling from the demo was one of pride. Proud to be British for sure. Proud that the People came out in force to oppose racist bigotry and Islamophobia on their doorstep. I also felt that the policing was generally well-handled – a big improvement on an UAF rally in Westminster, Mar 2010. There were at least two cordons of officers separating the groups at any one time. However, there was a limbo area in between the demonstrations which was not so heavily policed – anything but for fence-sitters. For me, this was the most interesting space, physically and democratically. It enabled closer proximity with the facists. Shock horror, but yes. There was some taunting from both sides to be sure, but also attempts at discussion and dialogue. In the video entitled “Learn Your History”, an interlocutor is heard, “Learn your history. You don’t know nothing. You are protesting against the wrong people. Learn some facts. For God’s sake open up a book.” His points appear to be nuanced – that even the west has courted Islamist extremists when it suited them, maybe even encouraged them. Yes, I believe we should entertain conversations with those whose views we find most abhorrent – on all sides. That is the power of truth, at the very least to enliven our own resolve, by mentally preparing us for warped ideology and fanaticism. We need both vocal demonstration and attempts at dialogue. One organiser reported on twitter that a Lib Dem councillor had been seen shaking the hand of a facist and this gave rise to predictable scorn. Yet this was not the time for party politics – especially when the claim remained unverified. Perhaps there was a residual disagreement anyway about the very idea of dialogue. The great thing about the UK is that we have these spaces for dialogue, where we can get to know our enemy from the horses mouth. When speech is constrained by the state that is when oppression most takes root. The most edifying chant for me was the unequivocal, “We are Black, White and Asian, we are Jews!” The shoulder number of one officer probably provided the one light relief of the day (pictured also).