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12 May 2015

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Countering the EDL, Walthamstow 9.5.15, photo by Paul Mattsson

Countering the EDL, Walthamstow 9.5.15, photo by Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

EDL protected by huge police presence in Walthamstow

Paula Mitchell, Walthamstow

Massively outnumbered by local people and a counter-protest, a tiny group of EDL thugs were enabled to march through the streets of Walthamstow on Saturday 9th May protected by an enormous £300,000 police operation.

The local community felt like we were being invaded. It was breathtaking - the numbers of police, fully kitted out in riot gear, vans, horses and dogs.

Walthamstow, 9.5.15, photo Sarah Wrack

Walthamstow, 9.5.15, photo Sarah Wrack   (Click to enlarge)

Three years ago when the EDL tried to march in our borough they were soundly defeated. Their first attempt was scuppered when local youth, assisted by Socialist Party members and Day-Mer Youth (a Turkish and Kurdish community organisation), broke out of a police kettle to occupy the spot outside the Town Hall where the EDL wanted to rally.
The EDL gave up, humiliated by the local community, anti-racist protesters and hundreds of local youth.

When they advertised another rally a couple of months later they didn't even show up.

The events in 2012 marked a turning point in the EDL's fortunes and they are now only able to muster a sorry handful on a national mobilisation. But last Saturday was their attempt to re-assert themselves, and shamefully the police set out to enable them to do so, spending hundreds of thousands of pounds geared towards preventing local people from defending our own streets.

Stopping the EDL

UAF had organised a counter rally which took place 100 yards from the EDL's rally, resisting the police's attempt to move it further away. But many of us wanted to stop the EDL again and stood firm in the EDL's chosen spot.

Two Socialist Party members standing their ground surrounded by police, photo Sarah Wrack

Two Socialist Party members standing their ground surrounded by police, photo Sarah Wrack   (Click to enlarge)

The police forced people to move, threatening big numbers of us with arrest, and actually arresting some, mostly young or Asian. It was inspiring for Socialist Party members to link arms with people peacefully trying to hold on to their right to assemble and defend their own homes - mainly women, some older, some tiny (dubbed by one steward as "the anti-fascist golden girls"!).

In equal measure it was appalling to see very young people dragged out of the crowd and arrested, in a clear attempt to intimidate a new generation from protesting, and in many cases a seemingly racist selection of targets. Echoing the protests against police brutality in America, we held up our arms and chanted "hands up, don't shoot!"

We tried to reason with some of the constables. They said they had to be there in order to prevent an incident. But we told them that if the police hadn't been there, there would have been no incident: the EDL would not have been bold enough to get off their coaches, they would have been so outnumbered.

Walthamstow 9.5.15, photo by Sarah Wrack

Walthamstow 9.5.15, photo by Sarah Wrack   (Click to enlarge)

We said to the police: "Why not turn around and instead of stopping us, stop the EDL?"

They told us: "There's as many police around the EDL as there are around you".

"Yes - but you're facilitating them marching, whereas you're driving us away".

"Why don't you go and have your rally?"

"I'm not interested in a rally and hearing my local MP tell me how nasty the EDL are. I know that already, that's why I want to defend my home. Why can't you turn them away?"

"Why don't you go away?"

"Because we live here! They're bussed in, you're bussed in, the only people with any reason to be here is us!"

Widespread protest

While this was going on at the site of the EDL rally, hundreds of local people had turned out along the route to oppose the EDL. Many, assisted by Socialist Party members, bravely gathered in front of the police horses all the way along Forest Road.

The police enabled the EDL to rally, Walthamstow, 9.5.15

The police enabled the EDL to rally, Walthamstow, 9.5.15   (Click to enlarge)

The EDL thugs, from the safety of three lines of police around them and horses front and back, gestured to local people to "come on if you're hard enough"! Much worse was their racist taunting of local families standing on their own front steps.

Though vastly outnumbered and bravely faced down by the local community, the racists got their way, thanks to the police.

Speakers at the anti-EDL rally pointed out that the policies of the main parties were opening the door to racists. Nancy Taaffe, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) election candidate in Walthamstow, made clear the danger of a growth in support for racist and far-right organisations in a time of austerity, if there is not a clear anti-austerity fightback. But she raised the sights of those protesters who were shocked by the Tories' general election victory, explaining that they can be fought and defeated, pointing to the example of the defeat of Margaret Thatcher by the mighty anti-poll tax movement.

Socialist Party members complained to the police for hours in defence of those arrested and a heroic band of protesters and Socialist Party members sat it out at the police station until nearly midnight, refusing to leave until every single person arrested had been released. Outrageously, having just spent vast sums keeping us apart, the police held at least one EDL-er in the same custody suite and allowed their supporters into the same waiting area.

We now want to discuss in the local trade union movement about the best way to prepare for any future attempts of the far-right or the police to invade our streets in this way. A large trade union stewarded demonstration could have held the position for much longer.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 12 May 2015 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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