Nearly 300 anti-fascists were arrested on Saturday 7 September as a bloc of around 650 activists attempted to oppose an English Defence League march and rally of around 400.
The police blocked, kettled, and then arrested activists after they left a static Unite Against Fascism protest in Altab Ali Park. A small number of the bloc, which was coordinated by the Anti-Fascist Network, managed to visibly confront the EDL, meaning that the racists’ march and rally did not pass off without encountering any visible opposition – as the police and, apparently, UAF, had intended and hoped.
The UAF rally was the usually litany of cookie-cutter speeches from union officials, religious leaders, and mainstream politicians, all of whom spouted cross-class rainbow liberalism and vacuous platitudes about “community cohesion”. Some speakers, including Cable Street veteran Max Levitas made more explicitly left-wing speeches, but the political discrepancy between Levitas’ radicalism and the conservatism of most of the religious and political establishment speakers seemed lost on UAF’s leaders.
As the AFN bloc was being kettled and its activists arrested, UAF was crowing about its “triumph”. A Socialist Worker report, published after the demo, fails to mention the arrests at all and claims the EDL “did not pass” — despite the EDL having their march and rally, facilitated by the police, without encountering mass opposition.
Arrestees faced detainment of up to 15 hours in total, and were taken to police stations on the edges of London including Colindale and Sutton. They were charged with alleged breaches of the Public Order Act (in other words, walking on a street the police don’t want you to walk on), and bailed with conditions not to attend any anti-fascist demonstrations inside the M25. The police operation, similar to one which took place after an anti-BNP demonstration in Westminster in May, is an explicit example of political policing and the direct criminalisation of protest.
AFN activists, along with Green & Black Cross, provided arrestee support throughout the night, and activists were present to greet those released – even at 9am on Sunday 8 September, when the last arrestees were released from Colindale station.
The day cannot be seen as a victory for the EDL, which mobilised small numbers and was restricted in its movements by the police. The main silver lining to a day which was also frustrating for anti-fascists, and in which the biggest “winner” was the state, was the number of people who followed the AFN’s lead and joined the bloc. Of around 1,500-2,000 participants in the UAF’s static rally, between 600 and 700 joined the AFN bloc when its banners and flags began marching out of Altab Ali Park. This included a large number of local Asian youth – people most the far left has had little direct contact with for a generation. The size of the response to the AFN bloc shows there is an appetite for a more militant anti-fascism, and that people are not content to stand around in a park listening to platitudinous speeches while organised racists march and rally nearby.