Having heard that a mosque was being targeted, antifascists made contact with a large number of local muslims after Friday night prayers. Outside one mosque, two activists witnessed a spontaneous racial attack by a group of 7 or 8 drunk Cardiff University students against a muslim man, who was punched in the face. The activists gave chase before finding themselves outnumbered four to one, and had to back off again. Later, activists alerted the management of local pubs that the EDL were in the area the next day, and had recently trashed a pub in Bristol. Some of the pubs agreed to refuse them entry. 60+ muslim guys were approached in shisha bars along City Road – the overwhelming majority were supportive of the antifa demonstration and many assured us they would come.
The next morning, in beautiful sunshine, around 50 people gathered on Crwys Road. There were students, antifa, families, and the Red Choir. Unfortunately, despite really promising reactions from the muslims we had contacted the night before, very few turned up to the demonstration – we later heard that they had gathered at the mosque instead, which is fair enough. A small UAF contingent set itself up on the other side of Maindy Barracks, far away from the EDL as usual. Our spotters up the hill informed us that some EDL types had arrived, and as a group we walked up to confront them.
What we found, surrounded by a handful of cops, was a tiny group of people who did not exactly look like hardcore Nazis, many of them holding wreaths. There were around 10 people there, but only three recognised EDL members. Most of us had little argument with random members of the public who wanted to lay wreaths, but we could not walk away and let the EDL claim the gathering as a victory. Some of our lot went in and talked to individuals, explaining that their event was being hijacked by known EDL racists. They didn't seem that bothered, and claimed ignorance.
After initially trying to persuade elements of our demonstration to 'unite' and join the UAF demo up the road, UAF leadership conceded to bring their demo down to us. This put our numbers up to a bit over 100. However, the ranking UAF organiser on the scene immediately entered negotiations with the police and EDL. The result was an agreement that the EDL could march to their war memorial in silence, and that our demonstration would MERGE with theirs – our banners and signs would come down and we would essentially join their event. When he pitched this, in strident, commanding tones, to the mixed counter demonstration it sparked a loud and divisive argument. But what would you expect? No-one had come there to join the EDL for the day, and yet SWP members - even those who clearly diagreed with the idea - seemed to take great offence at any debate on the subject.
So the wreath-laying procession moved off, flanked by police. A uniformed soldier from the barracks joined them carrying a Help For Heroes collection bucket. A few of the counter-demonstrators walked behind them with their banners up – the rest of the group either dispersed or headed down to the mosque where people had gathered and tea was being served. As we followed the small procession down North Road to the war memorial by City Hall, police asked us to lower our banners in respect of the deal made by the UAF organiser. We answered that we weren't part of 'his' demonstration and that he spoke only for himself. The cops tried to press the point until we pointed out that it wasn't in their lawful power to make us lower our signs anyway. When we all reached the war memorial, antifascists sat quietly on the grass while the families laid their wreaths and observed their minute of silence.
As the event came to a close, the most recognisable fascist there slipped away towards town. By following him, we made it perfectly clear that we were only interested in the fascist element that had infiltrated the event. This guy has a lot of tattoos, including 'skin head' written around his neck in norse runes and 'fuelled by faith' in English on one arm. He had been trying to stare many of us down back at the barracks, and police had let slip that he was known to them as an EDL troublemaker.
As he realised he was being followed his pace quickened. He tried to lose us in crowds, started crossing roads multiple times and then finally broke into a run at the corner of Westgate Street. A handful of us chased him onto Park Place and then onto the green in front of the museum, where he found three cops to protect him. The police surrounded him and radioed a van, which came and rescued him. The sight of this 'ard man stepping sheepishly into a riot van for his own protection made the day worthwhile, and we drifted away to enjoy the sun.
Today was a real show of weakness by the EDL. Despite hijacking a family-friendly wreath-laying event for their own hateful agenda, we estimate only three of them turned up.
On the other hand, a counter-demo of 100+ people was great considering the extremely short notice. Roughly half of this counter-demo was autonomously organised – not bad considering many of the Cardiff anarchists were out of town at the time.
Despite our last-minute successes in engaging local muslims, very few of them came to the demo. It would be worth figuring out if something put them off. So many people seemed up for it last night, thanking us for letting them know, shaking hands, all really positive, then no-one showed. In the past, elders and Immams have discouraged their communities from going to antifascist events for fear that it would provoke more racist violence, but I don't know if that was happening today. However, a number of people apparently did meet at the mosque, which really makes sense, especially considering we initially thought the place was being targeted.
SWP will seek to hijack anything autonomous. Today was one of the rare occasions when, due to the spontaneity of the situation, the autonomous demonstration was neither dwarfed nor subsumed by the UAF demo. However, a UAF organiser immediately tried to take charge using strident voices and divisive attacks. To many of us there today it seemed they will seek to divide 'rival' groups no matter what the cost – even encouraging people to lower their banners and join a march publicised by a dangerous far-right group.
Love and rage, photos to follow.