Villagers successfully prevented the BNP from assembling in Wickford Essex, but the fascists still held their 'fun day'. A report, commentary and some lessons from the day.
ANTI FASCIST PROTEST IN ESSEX. GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS AND SOME LESSONS. By Re-Sista! 24/04/04.
A report on the opposition to the fascist BNP’s ‘family fun day’ in Wickford, Essex on Saturday 24th April, 2004.
THE GOOD NEWS.
Local people from around Wickford, Essex successfully stopped the Fascist BNP from assembling in their village this Saturday morning. Around 100 locals had gathered for a peaceful but lively protest against the presence of the racist and fascist extremists outside Wickford railway station on 24th April. When a dozen or so fascists tried to get of a train, they were forced to cower inside the station for an hour, protected from the jeers and ridicule of the villagers by a thin line of reluctant police. This was brilliant and great fun to watch! A small convoy of four BNP members’ cars occasionally drove past, intending to pick up their fascist fellow travellers from the railway station, but were unable to achieve this. Although the Fascists had applied to the police for a public parade through the village, they were forced to scuttle off in shame instead. The morale of locals opposed to fascism and racism was raised by this small but significant victory, and networks of local anti-fascists emerged strengthened.
THE BAD NEWS.
However, the BNP were able to go ahead with their fascist ‘fun day’ and race hate festival at a private carp angler’s clubhouse about two miles away. About 100 hard core BNP members and their families from across southern England turned up, and unfortunately were able to go ahead with an event that would have raised the fascists’ morale and cash for their euro-election bid. Obviously, the majority of BNP members were not coming by train to the Wickford village re-direction / pickup point, but would be driving straight to the venue itself, having bought tickets in advance. Furthermore the location of the fascists’ venue at the carp fishery, and their plans had been known to anti-fascists for some weeks, and had even been posted on Indymedia a week in advance! However, the organisers of the local protest had decided not to do anything outside the ‘fun day’ venue, but instead chose to move in to Wickford village shopping centre, where they handed out thousands of anti-BNP newspapers to shoppers. The leaders of the local anti-bnp protest announced they had decided against going to protest outside the angler’s clubhouse to avoid intimidating the young children of BNP members.
Therefore, while local protesters successfully stopped a fascist re-direction point in their village, they were unable to stop the main event happening on private land.
COULD MASS NON-VIOLENT DIRECT ACTION HAVE STOPPED THE BNP EVENT?
Perhaps! Imagine! A hundred or more people could have blockaded the entrance to the carp angler’s clubhouse before the bulk of the fascists even arrived. The country lanes are narrow, and lead nowhere else. We could have got there by around 9.30am, and had a pleasant, sunny, counter-festival, maybe with a portable sound system or samba band! Perhaps a committed core of a dozen or so could have chained themselves across the gate. We could have delayed the event for hours. Lots of fascists would not have bothered trying to get in. They would be less determined and less well resourced than, for instance, the organisers of the DSEI arms fair, or warmongers at an airbase.
But could non-violence work against fascism? No, not always! Fascism is after all a creed that exalts in violence and leads to genocide. However, if in this case, at this political moment, the fascists had tried to use their thugs to get through us, they would have destroyed the fluffy, family friendly, respectable image they are trying so hard to project to the public for the elections.
There must be an alternative to the sterile binary opposites of either a bunch of hardened and hooded so called ‘militant’ anti-fascists beating up a few Nazis on the one hand, or hundreds ineffectually waving placards and shouting slogans a few miles away from the fascists on the other!
Therefore this is one of the few situations where mass non-violent direct action could have made a difference. But this would have needed more support from outside. This was not forthcoming from the major organisations.
A LOCAL PROTEST THAT NEEDED WIDER SUPPORT.
The good point about the protest was that nearly all the participants were either from the village or from the close by surrounding towns. There were Fire Brigades Union members from Wickford, local green activists, Unison members, church groups etc. These people must be congratulated for holding this protest, and keeping the fascist party out of the centre of their village.
However, these events happened on the edge of London, where thousands of anti-racist / anti-fascist activists live. But none of these were mobilised. Thus while the BNP held a national event, their only opposition was from these heroic local people! (The BNP was holding two ‘St George’s day’ festivals on the 24th April - one in Rochdale for its northern members, and one in Wickford, South Essex for its southern members).
The well resourced ‘Unite Against Fascism’ was contacted months before the protest. However, they refused / neglected to publicise it and mobilise their London supporters, or even advertise the protest on their website. They were thus fairly useless. The organisations that make up this new ‘united front’ were also contacted and failed to respond. Thus neither the old ANL nor the National Assembly Against Racism showed any interest. The editor of ‘Socialist Worker’ had pledged support when asked about it in front of local activists at meeting on fighting racism in East Anglia. However, the paper he edits then refused to mention the protest or mobilise its readers for this protest. The new labour president of Essex University Students Union sits on the steering committee of Unite Against Fascism. He did nothing either, not even coming on the protest himself; let alone mobilising the unions resources in support of its anti-fascist policy. Even worse were some so called ‘militant’ ‘antifa’ style anti-fascists, first alleging that this anti-fascist protest was a special branch plot to trap them, and then saying the situation was not right for their style of confrontation! Other more fluffy direct actionists in London were also informed but did not show.
Thus NOT A SINGLE LEAFLETT was produced by Britain’s anti-fascist, anti-racist or socialist movements to mobilise for this, and local people were left alone to face a South of England wide gathering of the BNP.
A handful of South London SWP activists and others were mobilised against a squalid NF march in Bermondsey on this same day, but there was not even a similar mobilisation from North London groups to go to Essex. Obviously a lot of effort went in to mobilising against Le Penn in Manchester and Birmingham for the following day, which was more important. But the Le Pen action was organised at much more short notice than the Essex one, which was known about months ago. We could have had a coordinated weekend of action, with different regional mobilisations against manifestations of the growth of fascism. But this chance was lost. But we must and will get this sorted and improve the movement!
SOME LESSONS FOR THE FUTURE.
If we had a well organised movement which encouraged democracy and participation from its activists, things could have been better. Some sort of regional activists council could have debated the alternatives mentioned above. Information could have been shared. A proper strategy could have emerged. A properly accountable ‘leadership’ of national organisations could have been pressured into giving us national or regional publicity amongst activists, thus mobilising hundreds more.
All this is possible in the future. And will be necessary as the fascists become a bigger threat. If another world is possible, first we must get to grips with understanding how ‘another left is possible’!
Never-the-less, the action that did happen outside Wickford rail station on Saturday was inspiring, and shows what could be possible on a bigger scale.
Keep on Keepin’ On! Till the fight Is Won!