More than a thousand people demonstrated against the racist English Defence League (EDL) in Blackburn on Saturday.
Asian, black and white people—the vast majority of them from the local area—came together in the anti-racist event called by Blackburn and Darwen United Against Racism. Unite Against Fascism (UAF), Blackburn Trades Council, Blackburn College Students Union and Youth On A Mission supported it.
The Lancashire Council of Mosques (LCM) decided to back the event in the past week, marking a significant shift in the battle against the EDL. It is the first time that a regional body of mosques has backed a counter-protest since the racists started organising in 2009.
Under pressure from police and local councils mosques have previously advised Muslims to stay at home.
So though counter protests have met the racists, they have rarely shown the biggest united resistance possible.
That began to change in Blackburn on Saturday. As one local, Zaheer, told Socialist Worker, “We are sick of living under our own imposed curfew while racists run riot.”
A thousand people gathered in the city centre in Suddell Cross while hundreds more stayed on street corners to defend their local community.
Gail and Raymond are a mixed race couple. She comes from Northern Ireland, while he is from Preston.
“There is not much racism, we are a diverse community.” said Gail. “We live well together here. The EDL are targeting Blackburn because they want to cause division. It won’t work, we won’t let it.”
The mood of the protest was angry and defiant.
Mulana Rafiq from the LCM led the crowd in a chant, “No to racism! No to fascism!” and said, “We have a common aspiration of making Blackburn welcome to all—we have to stand united.”
Martin Smith, national UAF officer, told the crowd, “If we don’t protest, the EDL will keep coming back for more. I’ve just come from Liverpool where the EDL tried to attack a joint UAF conference with the Unite union and the Anthony Walker Foundation.
“We chased them off. But it tells us what kind of hardcore racist scum they are if they are prepared to attack a meeting organised by Britain’s biggest trade union and a foundation founded after the murder of a black teenager. They are a danger to our whole society.”
Anti-racists came to show solidarity from across the region.
“If you come for my Muslim brothers and sisters you have to come through me first,” Michael Lavalette, independent socialist councillor from Preston, told the crowd to loud cheers.
Sal from the Muslim Defence League (MDL) told Socialist Worker, “We see what the EDL is doing across the country—terrorising our communities, attacking our places of worship, and we know we have to make a stand.”
Unfortunately, despite their determination to protest, the LCM had accepted a police demand to limit attendance to 3,000. It called on mosques to send only 50 people each.
The police created an atmosphere of intimidation—barricading off sections of the city centre and putting anti-racist protesters in an area cordoned off with high solid metal barricades. The entry and exit point was surrounded by police vans and police on horses.
At one point protesters were prevented from leaving while the police tried to move the EDL out of the city centre.
This made many people angry—a local Imam turned to police and asked them to let people move freely describing their actions as “humiliating”.
Saif, one of the protesters, told Socialist Worker, “They treating us like we are the criminals.”
The EDL had up to 2,000 people on their protest—the vast majority bussed in from outside the area. They can still mobilise significant numbers, but their frustration spilled over when they started fighting among themselves.
And worryingly, racists were out in Blackburn the previous night targeting mosques.
A senior LCM representative told Socialist Worker that five mosques were vandalised on Friday night—on Balaclava Street, Randal Street, Willow Street, Didsbury Street and Park Lea Road. The words BNP and EDL were spray painted.
At one mosque a group of men were seen clambering on the roof wearing balaclavas.
The council removed all the graffiti early on Saturday morning.
The continuing presence of the EDL and the racist activity that always accompanies their arrival show why it is vital that even larger numbers are mobilised for future protests, no matter what the police say, so that our towns and cities become no-go areas for racists.