Orginally published at Midlands Antifa’s website, here
It’s been a pretty tough week – we discovered just last Friday that the EDL were planning a march in Solihull, affording us just over a week to prepare for and coordinate an entire counter demo. We were admittedly dismayed that in amidst the frenzy of organizing for the 2nd and 9th, the fash were again plaguing us with their presence on the 18th of April. The far right are concentrating their efforts in the Midlands this spring, and for a long time there’s been a lack of effective counter mobilizations and community anti-fascist organizing in opposition. This has rendered the area particularly susceptible to the bigoted rage of the EDL, materializing in riots and rampages through city centres such as Dudley and Birmingham. Midlands Antifascists exists to combat this: to not only ensure our streets are fascist-free, but root working class anti-fascism and unity in the collective consciousness of the community, and to foster a shift in culture from competitive and antagonistic relations to networks of cooperation and resistance oriented towards mutual aid and liberation.
These antagonisms were all too apparent as we spent a week relentlessly flyering, postering and raising awareness in the local estates, city centre and community of Solihull. As has always occurred in proximity to EDL demos, a series of Islamophobic attacks has been inflicted upon a local community hub in the lead up to the Solihull rally. This hub hosted one sermon on one particular night, attended by the local Muslim community (who, indeed, are constrained to frequently travel to Birmingham to pray due to an absence of this essential service nearby) – and the EDL conjured numerous fabricated stories about how this hub was the subject of an illegal conversion into a mosque, how the Muslim people were abusing and threatening the local community, etc. Despite some mystification in the planning application and the intended use of the site, the EDL have latched on to this and exploited it as an opportunity to foment hatred and fear, perpetuating the poisonous notion that Muslim people have no place, no right of belonging, within our communities.
They were a recurring presence around the community hub, posing for pictures with EDL flags, and we received numerous reports of them prowling around the area and intimidating Muslim and Asian people. It is beyond doubt that this cohered activity established a context which enabled and legitimized the smashed windows and the abhorrent leaving of the pigs’ heads outside the hub – if it was not indeed directly perpetrated by the local EDL rabble themselves, led by Paul Locke.
More insidiously it has also established a dangerous precedent which has lured those who might not otherwise have supported the EDL to engage with them even sympathetically, as valiant defenders against some illusory Muslim incursion. It has coaxed to the surface microaggressions and toxic ideas proliferated in mass media, by politicians, by ruling elites, which are emblematic of a climate of otherising and marginalization of Muslim communities. Engaging with the local people was for the most part positive and people were receptive – however, especially as we ventured around the estates local to the community hub, we were threatened and met with anger and resistance on numerous occasions.
It is, then, evident, that the community hub has been manipulated as a pretext through which these antagonisms and tensions can be stoked, and can crystallise without awareness of their own prejudice. The EDL’s actions have been lent legitimacy by the conflicts around the community hub, and this has entrenched divisions which are all to pervasive, often as a distanced and muted hostility, throughout our society – the vague belief in equality tempered by the sensationalized disquiet towards Islamic extremism and ‘barbarism’ disseminated in the media as justification for the ‘war on terror’. It is essential we continue counter demoing and engaging in dialogue with the local community to combat this current, challenge our own internalized prejudices, and re-orient our gaze towards the rich and powerful who are our true enemies.
Now on to the day. Our consistent flyering, postering, stickering and street art in the local area disconcerted the EDL and encouraged them to assert numerous times that this wasn’t a march, but a local awareness raising event around the prospect of a Muslim cemetery, as much as it unnerved the local police to the extent that they heavily bolstered their presence on the day. Although our numbers were low (as were the EDL’s), we think this is testament to the power of creating a counter-culture and constructing a visible presence in the lead up to a demo, which we must now work to sustain and fortify against the EDL’s bigotry and to alleviate the animosity that seemed all too present around the estates, reforging those community connections and internal bonds.
We were aware of the EDL’s plans for the day: a short leafletting session followed by speeches in the local gardens, in the midst of profuse drinking, of course. Upon entering the town centre we were surprised by the police presence but immediately confronted the EDL, whose leaflets an antifascist tried to seize after he aggressively put one in their hand and started swinging for them. A huge contingent of police appeared and surged forward at this point, detaining the anti-fascist for a few minutes despite the EDL member being the one to raise his fists – which would be testament to the biased policing present throughout the day, and is a constant reminder on anti-fascist demos of who the police truly serve.
We marched around the city centre and the locals seemed pleased to see the opposition. We sought to navigate our way round to the EDL after the police completely blockaded the road where the confrontation occurred and the racists were prevented from leafletting. As we did this the police surged forwards on either side and encircled us in a tight kettle, harassing and intimidating us and then escorting us on a long trek to the jubilee gardens, where they imposed a section 14 and basically kettled us in again. After 10 minutes we decided to leave the area and pursue the EDL again as the police presence waned. We went towards the park/gardens where they were intending to have their speeches and they were not there. Returning to the city centre we found them still blockaded in the pub by police, fearful as they were of further confrontation occurring. Police followed us every step of the way, being verbally and physically aggressive towards us and even shadowing us as we made our way to the train station and called it a day.
Despite our low numbers, the amount of effort exerted in engagement, flyering and postering in the lead up to the demo and some temerity on the day from the few anti-fascists that showed ensured the EDL could not enter into the city centre and poison the community with their hatred. We contained them in, there was no arrests, and we etched the name of Midlands Anti-Fascists into the culture of the local area – and this in itself is a victory. We must continue to not only physically combat the EDL but counter the narratives they are seeking to embed in the local community and create robust networks of class-conscious anti-fascist resistance, led by the most oppressed and marginalized, nurturing solidarity and aspiring always towards the eradication of all forms of fascism and oppression.
We have two other demos coming up soon, against the West Midlands Infidels on the 2nd in Coventry (https://www.facebook.com/events/1565934243661277/) and against Britain first on the 9th in Dudley (https://www.facebook.com/events/1573542169530277/). Come down if possible, get in touch if you’d like to organize with us and donate to our indiegogo if you can so we can continue fighting fascism wherever it arises. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/support-midlands-antifascists