I was one of over a 1,000 protesters from all walks of life that gathered outside the Oxford Union debating club on Monday of this week to try and stop it from hosting a “forum” featuring two leading Nazis.
The decision to roll out the red carpet for Nick Griffin, leader of the fascist British National Party (BNP), and convicted Holocaust denier David Irving, had caused outrage among students, trade unionists and community groups.
The atmosphere at the protest was electric as people thronged around the Union building, arguing with those trying to attend the meeting.
The air was full of real political debate – in sharp contrast to the superficial rituals that the Union prides itself on.
Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism, spoke to the protesters. “Granting Griffin and Irving a platform is a threat to all of us,” he said. “Wherever fascists are active, racist attacks and other hate crimes increase.”
People kept up a noisy presence by chanting and singing, when suddenly a gate swung open. Around 60 of us pushed our way into the Union compound past a pair of security guards that tried to rugby tackle us.
Eventually around 35 of us made it into the debating chamber – fending off attempts to physically block us by the Oxford Union’s champions of “free speech”.
We argued with the people inside, telling them that what went on in their chambers had real effects in the outside world.
By giving a platform to the BNP they were giving credibility to an organisation that actively promotes the worst kind of violence against black people, Asians, Jews and other minorities.
At this point they decided to walk out of the debating chamber and hold their meetings with Nazis in two separate rooms elsewhere.
The atmosphere was getting ugly, so we negotiated to be let out. We marched out of the building, rejoining the protest outside to cheers.
This protest was vitally important in building the breadth and confidence of the anti-fascist movement.
We united a whole range of people and organisations – students’ unions, trade unions, the Jewish and Muslim societies to name but a few – in a show of strength against the BNP’s race hatred.
Griffin is desperate to overturn the no platform policies that have prevented fascist thugs from organising effectively among students for years.
He wants to go on a speaking tour of universities with Irving, using “free speech” as an excuse to spread his poison.
We need to build more mass protests like this to defend the no platform policy and to send a simple message to the Nazis – never again.