An anti-racist protester was taken by surprise as she got off one of the coaches in Tower Hamlets.
“This is brilliant,” said Sharon Foley from Bristol. “I have marched against the English Defence League (EDL) elsewhere, but shops have been closed and the streets deserted.
“Here everything is open and the market is busy—a normal Saturday.”
Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and United East End (UEE), who called the protest, were determined the EDL would not intimidate people.
The anti-racist demonstration gathered on Whitechapel Road, opposite the East London Mosque, in the heart of the East End.
People from across Britain joined local protesters. A delegation had even travelled overnight from Scotland.
The streets filled up and the area around the stage became crammed with banners and placards. PCS, RMT, GMB and Unison union flags flew over the crowd.
Speakers from major trade unions and local campaigns spoke. Rima Amin of the NUS Black Students Committee told the crowd, “The EDL are not just confused. They promote dangerous bigotry.
“[Norwegian killer] Anders Breivik targeted young people who were the next generation fighting Islamophobia.”
Tony Kearns, senior deputy general secretary of the CWU union, told the protest, “The trade union movement and all other groups must come together so when the EDL turn up we can chase them from the streets.”
Denis Fernando of the Lesbian And Gay Coalition Against Racism said, “If they get away with singling out Muslims today it will be LGBT people later.”
Outside the mosque hundreds more gathered. Volunteers in the neighbouring London Muslim Centre welcomed protesters in for food, water and to use the toilets.
M Ali told Socialist Worker, “I’m not here to protect the mosque. I’m here to protect the local community—whether that’s a mosque, church, synagogue or pub.
“We all live together here in Tower Hamlets. And today we are showing that we can unite to defend our community.”
Police in the City of London escorted 600 EDL supporters—much fewer than predicted—to a rallying point near Aldgate.
Many anti-racist protesters, in defiance of the march ban, moved down Whitechapel High Street to protect the boundary of Tower Hamlets. And over 1,000 occupied the normally busy junction at Aldgate East station. There was a carnival atmosphere.
Aziz, a young activist, had helped organise the protest. He said, “At the beginning of the week we thought it would just be Muslims, and we were a bit nervous.
“But from the moment we came out today there have been all kinds of people here.”
And the streets belonged to them. The diversity was a living example of everything the EDL detests.
Huge cheers broke out when someone announced on a megaphone that the EDL leader, known as Tommy Robinson, had been arrested. It was then confirmed that EDL supporters were scurrying away under police escort.
As numbers swelled into the thousands, a celebratory march surged back to meet those at the mosque. The chants rang out, “Tower Hamlets, Nazi free!” and ”Whose streets? Our streets!”
Young Asian people were arm in arm with white marchers. Councillors chanted alongside trade unionists, and Muslims and non-Muslims embraced.
It was a moment of jubilation and everyone wanted to savour it.
The police tried in vain to stop them. But people were so confident they simply held their banners over the heads of the cops and went on to the final rallying point.
The demonstration filled the junction for a few final words from UAF and UEE organisers.
The EDL had not stepped foot in Tower Hamlets—and the march had defied home secretary Theresa May’s ban.
We had won the day.
Voices of protest
Councillor Rania Khan
“Saturday was excellent. I haven’t felt like that since the big Stop the War demonstrations.
There was amazing solidarity from non-Muslims and people like the Reverend Alan Green.
If we didn’t have the counter-demo the EDL would have got into Tower Hamlets.
We combated something worse than a riot. We prevented bloodshed.
We know who was on our side and who protected us.
Everyone on the ground since the demonstration has been thanking us, the mayor and UAF.”
Matt Wrack, general secretary FBU
“We need a united response to the EDL from trade unionists and working class people to defeat them—and this is a good turnout today.
“But Theresa May’s ban on marches has had an impact.
I personally think it was a mistake to call for the ban. What it does is it gives the home secretary a weapon to ban labour movement marches.”
Weyman Bennett, UAF
“What is happening here gave Theresa May a real migraine.
She put out a plan. She wanted to keep us off the streets.
But these streets belong to anti-racists and anti-fascists.”
Michael Rosen, broadcaster and author
“I am standing a few feet from where my dad lived and went to school.
Some 75 years ago, my mum and dad came onto these same streets to stop the fascists coming to east London.
“We now have to make a stand against the EDL—it has the same ideas and the same politics.
We have no alternative, we have to make a stand. I am proud to be here.”
Dilowar Khan, East London Mosque
“The community has a sense of unity after Saturday, and that we managed to keep the racists from the borough.
But we’ll have to keep up the struggle until we defeat the Islamophobes.”
Sabby Dhalu, UAF
“We scored two victories on Saturday. First, it was a victory against the EDL.
Second, it was a victory against those that said we shouldn’t come out and oppose the EDL.
The EDL is not merely a public order problem that the police can deal with.
It is a fascist organisation that must be actively campaigned and mobilised against.”
Zita Holbourne, poet and activist
“This protest is a clear sign to the fascists that we are stronger than them.
We will boot them out of Tower Hamlets, London or any town.
EDL, sod off! You are not welcome.”
Musicians and artists supported the protest, with both Nitin Sawhney and DJ Nihal playing on the day
Police in crackdown
Tory home secretary Theresa May banned all marches for 30 days in Tower Hamlets, four adjoining boroughs and the City of London.
This was supposedly just to stop the EDL marching last Saturday.
The Metropolitan Police also threw a Section 60 public order across the whole of London on the day of the protest.
This gives police powers to stop and search anyone in a given area suspected of violence, carrying an offensive weapon or intent on committing violence.
Within Section 60 is Section 60AA. This gives police powers to remove all face coverings of people suspected of concealing their identity. It also allows them to confiscate items found in a search that police believe are intended for that purpose.
The police and the government are trying every trick in the book to clamp down on protests.
But the ban on marches was broken on Saturday—a day after it began—as anti‑racists paraded down Whitechapel High Street.
Officers shouted to protesters, “If you continue to march you are liable to arrest or prosecution. Withdraw.” But when they were ignored one shouted to his colleagues, “Fall back!”
The state’s actions are unprecedented. It will gnaw away at our right to protest unless people continue to resist.
Thanks to everyone who wrote reports and sent in photographs or video.