More than 20,000 people crowded into the Britannia football stadium in Stoke-on-Trent last Saturday for the Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) Festival.
It was a crucial part of the fight to stop the fascist British National Party (BNP) winning seats in the European elections on Thursday of this week.
The event brought together black, white, Asian, young and old people from across Britain.
But the crowd was overwhelmingly young and very local.
The festival, which was jointly organised with Stoke council and Stoke City Football Club, was a celebration of diversity and a boost for the campaign against the BNP in a city where the Nazis have nine councillors.
Queues of young people were already waiting to enter the stadium when the festival opened at midday.
Inside they heard spirited performances from a diverse range of top acts including Pete Doherty, Beverley Knight, Reverend & the Makers, Kelly Rowland, Jerry Dammers and many more.
The highlight for many was an appearance by DJ Ironik and Chipmunk – when they started their set hundreds of young people ran towards the stage from all corners of the stadium.
There was a smaller stage outside the main stadium showcasing some talented local bands, as well as a DJ area for the dance crowds.
But the day wasn’t just about music. It was also about laying the basis for a growing movement against the BNP.
Tijanna was at the festival celebrating her 18th birthday with a group of friends from Wolverhampton.
She said that she had heard about the event on the radio.
“I’ve turned 18 today – just in time to vote against the BNP at the European elections,” she said. “This is a good cause, and a good way to get young people involved who might not listen otherwise.”
Her friend Jernayde added, “I didn’t know much about the BNP before I came along today. I think this is a good way to warn more people about what they stand for.”
The carnival kicked off with local young acts, including The Fears, who had won a battle of the bands competition in the run-up to the event.
Alex Coleman, The Fears lead guitarist, said, “It’s great to see so many people standing up against the BNP and letting them know that we don’t want them in Stoke.”
A group of boys from the Nex Level dance group in Stoke said they had been really excited about appearing on the main stage.
Asked what they knew about the BNP, they replied that they were “skinheads” and “racists”.
School students Alyce and Amber heard about the event from a youth worker at their school in Kidsgrove, near Stoke.
Proudly sporting new LMHR T‑shirts, they both said they were really keen to see Pete Doherty. They also wanted to discuss the threat of the BNP.
Alyce said, “The BNP does sound racist. I think they are a big problem around this area.
“We learn about racism in school but not about the dangers of what the BNP stands for.”
It was striking just how many people were wearing LMHR T-shirts in the festival – a sign that they wanted to be part of spreading the message.
Groups of people were chatting to activists from Unite Against Fascism (UAF) about getting involved in the campaigns. Others were planning how they could put on LMHR events in their areas.
It wasn’t all agreement – the festival brought in a very broad and local crowd and that was reflected in a few arguments taking place over immigration and over the slogan of “British jobs for British workers.”
There were even a handful of people who thought the BNP weren’t really so bad. Being at such a huge display of anti-Nazi unity made it easier to challenge these views.
The festival had an impact beyond Stoke. Nick came with others in a minibus from Hull. He told Socialist Worker that he’d got involved in UAF about a year ago through a young people’s charity.
He said, “We have raised money from local gigs to print UAF leaflets and to bring people here.”
Sandy, who had also come from Hull, added, “It’s good to see so many acts willing to get involved. The best thing is to see so many people against racism and fascism.
“It reminds you that there are a lot of good people fighting the cause.”
Mike, a council worker from Manchester, said that spirits were high on the coach back.
He said, “Lots of people signed up to help with stalls and leafleting in the last few days before the European elections. We had lots of people on our coach who were getting involved for the first time.
“I think the experience has helped to bring big numbers into the movement to drive back the BNP.”