People from many different backgrounds came together to build Monday’s 1,000 strong demonstration in Oxford against British National Party leader Nick Griffin and Holocaust denier David Irving.
Oxford University Students’ Union (OUSU), various faith groups, trade unions, political societies and many individuals were all part of the mobilisations.
Amy is from the Stop the War group on campus. They helped to publicise the anti-fascist activities. She said, “We have worked with many societies we haven’t worked with before, but also with a lot of students who haven’t been involved in campaigns before. This isn’t just an issue for the members of the Oxford Union (OU) that invited Griffin and Irving, but for the whole town. Local people have been shocked that they are trying to do this, they don’t understand why the OU would be so stupid.”
Steven, head of the Jewish Society, said, “We’ve got religious groups, student groups, the Jewish Society, the Islamic Society, interfaith groups, the Labour club and local trade unions, all campaigning together.”
“If people see Nick Griffin in the OU wearing a smart suit he will look respectable, it gives people like him credibility,” said Dominic, a member of Student Respect. “Some people argue that ‘we’re Oxford students, we’re too clever to be taken in by what he says’, but Griffin himself is from Cambridge university, and I’m sure they could find a Griffin mark two in Oxford. It could also encourage other universities to invite these speakers.”
A high point of the preparations was a 200 strong rally in Oxford town hall, hosted by the Lord Mayor.
“It was the most amazing thing,” said Philip, from the interfaith group MuJewz. “Groups that have often campaigned against each other on issues like Middle Eastern politics were standing together. We also had LGBT representatives, black people, white people, Jewish and Muslim societies, it was quite a wonderful thing really.
“It’s a shame we all had to be brought together by adversity, but perhaps now we can move forward.”
“Griffin and Irving represent dangers to us in the short and long term. Everywhere the BNP campaigns there is a rise in racist incidents. A number of people here have been put on Redwatch. You never know when you might be threatened by intimidation. Racist websites have been telling people to come along on Monday.”
Duncan, a student anti-fascist campaigner and blogger has been on the receiving end of the real face of the BNP. “I’ve been threatened by them. Griffin coming to Oxford has given more fire to their anger. I get messages saying ‘you red, we’re going to get you.’
“But these people are pathetic, they’ve targeted my friends and my family. These people quite obviously have no concept of the idea of freedom, so to invite them to a freedom of speech debate would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.
“At the beginning of the campaign the idea that we shouldn’t let these people speak was fairly unpopular really, but since then we’ve had a lot of success. The experience of the violence that follows these fascist groups makes it an easy argument to be had.
“As for Irving, he was in described in court in the 90s as a liar, a hypocrite and a holocaust denier. What else is there to add to that?”
Hannah, a journalist from the Oxford Student newspaper, found out that the debate was taking place, as it had originally been kept secret.
“After we found out about it we passed a motion at OUSU opposing the visit, which was useful because it meant the president could speak out about it. He helped us kick off a campaign with Unite Against Fascism (UAF).
“It has been great to get the ‘town and gowns’ together thanks to getting the Oxford Trades Council involved and a donation of £500 from a local health branch of the Unison union. We’ve had local people writing letters to the OU president and a petition signed by groups all around the county.
But even after the events of Monday, the campaign to keep the no platform for fascists in OCSU will continue. Next term a referendum has been called to overturn the policy. The unity forged in recent months can be a force to keep the Nazis off campus.