On Saturday 6th May, migrants’ rights and anti-fascist protesters gathered in Croydon in anticipation of a planned march by the white nationalist and Islamophobic South East Alliance. The group planned to carry out an anti-immigration protest outside Lunar House in Croydon, which houses the headquarters of UK Visas and Immigration, a division of the Home Office.
The group describes themselves as a pro-British, pro-English street movement, with their website clarifying that “we are right wing but we are not Nazis or follow Nazism” (in the CAPS-lock style of far-right social media posts). This is despite videos of their members and affiliates online spouting a “war with Islam” and calling for a movement that “stands up for the white man and his family” – sounding incredibly like the politics they are at pains to say they don’t represent.
Resistance to the march was led by Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary (MFJ), who have organized protests against immigration detention and deportation as well as providing asylum seekers legal and campaigning support.
Campaigners emphasized the choice of location was about much more than taking aim at the Home Office. The march came just a month after the violent attack by a 20 to 30 strong racist mob in Croydon, in which 17-year old Kurdish asylum seeker Reker Ahmed was savagely beaten and two of his friends injured. He suffered a fractured spine, a blood clot on his brain and a fractured eye socket and couldn’t remember who he was. A crowdfunder had raised £59,006 in support.
During the gathering outside East Croydon station, speakers from MFJ highlighted that groups like South East Alliance want to mobilize in these communities, using these marches as a recruitment drive, signalling to would-be street level white nationalists that there is a movement for them.
They said it was vital for communities feeling the impact of the Home Office and racist attacks to see a movement of community self-defense that is willing to stand up and protect them. Solidarity was expressed with migrant workers, asylum seekers, detainees, Muslims, the black community, LGBT community (including LGBT asylum seekers in detention centers) and international students.
Chants rang out of “Unemployment and inflation are not caused by immigration – bullshit, come off it, the enemy is profit”, “Asylum seekers, here to stay, here to fight” and “when our communities are under attack, we say stand up, fight back”.
Protesters planned to stop the South East Alliance from marching and rallying at Lunar House and while the police made numerous attempts to blockade the roads and separate them, eventually they met the small group on the road leading to Lunar House. Members of South East Alliance as well as representatives from the National Front and those with past links to the British National Party were present, surrounded by a wall of police, escorting them down the road.
A sound system blasted Skepta’s “Shut Down” as a wall of police escorted the small group of around 20 racists, pushing protesters back, with some falling to the ground, scrambling to get up and out of the way. At Lunar House, surrounded by police, the group was outnumbered by protesters around ten times their number. A speaker system blared Skepta, Kendrick Lamar, Stormzy, Nadia Rose and Rihanna, with chants ringing out such as “Master race? You’re havin’ a laugh!” and “There are many, many more of us than you” drowning out anything the racists had to say.
The gathering of protesters was broad and diverse, stretching from Movement for Justice campaigners, whose members include former immigration center detainees, to young people of color from Croydon, Trades Union Council Bromley and members of the Public and Commercial Services union, to numerous unaffiliated protesters and groups of Antifa.
A microphone was later hooked up to speakers, with campaigners and members of the local community shouting defiant messages over the South East Alliance’s speeches.
One speaker, a young woman of color ridiculed the group: “I bet you’re soo angry that an immigrant is on the mic. And I’m smarter than the lot of you”. Stood on the wall dancing and shouting, unfazed by the group of racists were young people from Croydon, some of whom spoke on the mic.
One of them gave those gathered a brief history lesson on the origins of Britain’s wealth: “You talk about immigrants? We built this shit! We built this shit! Trying to come down here spreading your racism, not in my area. If we’re going, we’re taking everything with us!”
Another man later took to the mic to say to the group: “You may as well leave now, why are you still here? Nobody wants you here. You’re very narrow minded. You can’t try and bring those views here! We’re more intelligent than that!! You’d have to be a fool to believe these things, a fool! You can take your racist views home with you.”
Shouting things like “the white man is rising” behind a wall of police three lines deep, outnumbered tenfold by protesters and drowned out by Rihanna made their protest more pathetic and embarrassing than intimidating.
This image is becoming a frequent one – communities coming out, standing firm, refusing to be intimidated, outnumbering racists who want to divide them and spread hate in their home, staying out until the police walk them back to their trains.
Despite one of their group holding a sign about the destruction of the NHS and social housing (blaming immigrants) they couldn’t see the irony of the public cost of their little day out – with huge groups of police, vans and a helicopter circling overhead as well as massive transport disruptions for the community they claim they support. One of the speakers said that the real Croydon was on the other side of the police line, supportive of each other, diverse and welcoming.
Today’s small showing joins a series of low turnouts for the far-right. A January protest by South East Alliance objecting to Maidstone Mosque plans was branded “pathetic” after about 15 people showed up two hours after the stated start time, outnumbered by protesters.
Last month in Birmingham the EDL’s message was drowned out when Saffiyah Khan’s intervention and solidarity with Saira Zafar, who was surrounded by “a group of 25 quite big-looking lads” went viral. Hands in her pockets, calmly smiling in front of EDL leader Ian Crossland, unfazed by his shouts and pointing in her face, was a powerful image of defiance. A Birmingham mosque also sought to counter the rally with a ‘best of British’ tea party, bringing together an estimated 300 guests.
In Croydon lead organizer with Movement for Justice, Antonia, emphasized: “We have to send a message that whatever your skin color, wherever you’re from that you are welcome and there is a movement that will support you“. Their movement ties resistance at the street-level and against the state’s actions, with both being a threat to marginalized communities.
Immigration raids, deportations and a ‘hostile environment’ directed at migrants, asylum seekers and anyone the state deems ‘undesirable’, ‘dangerous’ or ‘criminal’ are a frequent feature in the lives of marginalized communities.
Instead of being a vanguard against governments and terrorists, far-right groups are nothing more than the loud thugs that shore up both their aims. They are the bark that meets the dog-whistles of mainstream immigration politics. Rather than fighting terrorism, they are leeching off it.
What is clear from today is the significance of a vibrant movement that puts marginalized voices first, that resists fascists in the streets, the actions of the Home Office, supports those who have fought to escape death or persecution to seek asylum and a movement that fights to challenge the hardening of borders. In the age of Trump and Brexit, look to actions like Saturday’s for those who are fighting for a more positive future.
Image: Author’s own