A major conference debated how to fight racism as the prospect of a general election campaign against Boris Johnson looms. Hundreds of people joined the Stand Up To Racism conference in central London on Saturday.
An opening plenary on Fighting Trump, Racist Populism and the Far Right set the scene.
Speakers talked about the factors that had fuelled the rise of Donald Trump and the growth of the racist right across the world.
Journalist Gary Younge said Trump “didn’t invent American racism,” and that his rise is the result of decades of racism in US society and politics, and policies that impoverish ordinary people.
“Trump is an emblem of decades if not centuries of dysfunction,” he said. But he added that where previous politicians had looked to “dog whistles” to push racism “Trump just comes out and says it.”
Younge also said that Trump “has his counterparts in Johnson, in Brazil, in Italy,” but that anti-racists “can make a difference.” He said the job is “Not just to fight racism but understand racism as part of a broader economic problem and get to the heart of where that comes from.”
Labour MEP Julie Ward spoke about the growth of the far right in Europe. Ward said the far right in the European parliament are “using democracy to undermine democracy.”
David Rosenberg from the Jewish Socialists Group described how fascists use antisemitic conspiracy theories to tie together their hatreds of different people.
And speakers from Germany, the US, Greece and Ukraine spoke about how they’re fighting the far right in their countries.
There was also some debate the flowed throughout the conference. One was on the European Union (EU).
Labour MEP Claude Moraes noted the deaths of refugees in the Mediterranean as a result of EU border policies. But he said racism by the EU was “part of a continuum”.
“We shouldn’t get caught up in the semantics of is it in the EU or out the EU,” he said. “It’s an international struggle.”
Petros Constantinou from Greek anti-fascist organisation Keerfa said the EU was responsible for sending 10,000 border guards to keep refugees out of Europe. “They gave so much money to the borders that killed people,” he said.
He added that the campaign against the EU’s border policies became part of the successful fight against the Nazi Golden Dawn, who targeted refugees and migrants.
In a final plenary session NEU union general secretary Kevin Courtney said it was important to unite Leave and Remain supporters against racism. He said it wasn’t true that all Leave voters were racist—or that all racists voted Leave.
Other people at the conference celebrated the People's Vote demonstration taking place in Westminster, while RMT union assistant general secretary Steve Hedley said that remaining in the EU would mean that a Labour government would be stopped from implementing its pledges.
Another debate touched on issues that came out of a campaign against teaching about LGBT+ rights in Birmingham primary schools. The campaign involved Muslim parents.
In a session on fighting Islamophobia, one person asked for speakers to “define the narrative” around the debate. “I’m quite a liberal Muslim,” she said. “But I want to know where we stand as Muslims.”
Talha Ahmad from the Muslim Council of Britain said the fight against Islamophobia meant “Challenging racism, Islamophobia, homophobia and antisemitism is up to us all.” Although in a later session he said, “When the media focusses on a small Muslim community in Birmingham they’re not there to stand up for LGBT people. They’re there to divide us.”
Mohammed Kozbar from Finsbury Park Mosque said, “We often have differences. Muslims might disagree on different issues.
“But hate crime against LGBT people is unacceptable wherever it comes from. As Muslims we don’t accept bullying or hate crime against us—we want the same for LGBT people.”
Nahella Ashraf from Stand Up To Racism said, “There are people out there who would like to say the people who are a threat to LGBT+ people are Muslims. It’s not coming from any Muslim I know.
“The same people attacking the Muslim community are attacking the LGBT+ community. Let’s talk about what unites us.”
Other speakers from the floor talked about how to unite people against Islamophobia. John Carr from Liverpool described an unofficial strike by postal workers in Bootle against an Islamophobic comment by a manager.
And one Muslim teacher from east London described how the government’s Prevent strategy targets Muslims. When one Prevent trainer came to her school, “It seemed everything she said was singling out one group of people,” she said.
Another discussion talked about the media and its role in pushing or tolerating racism.
Balwinder from west London talked about a serious racist attack and a terrific protest against it.
“All the London media reported the attack but no one reported our demo, even though we had the local MP and the mayor with us, and lots from the community.”
Balwinder said the media’s lack of coverage of anti-racism made people feel helpless.
Sophia Rana, a city councillor from Oslo, in Norway, also joined the discussion. “The far right recently organised a protest in the most multicultural area of my city,” she said.
“The mainstream parties, including Labour, said we shouldn’t have a counter-protest because everybody has ‘freedom of speech’. The media then repeated their line. But we protested anyway.
“We don’t accept the argument that if you ignore the far right they will go away.”
Speakers at the two plenaries of the day talked about how to prepare an anti-racist campaign for the coming general election.
Labour shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said, “It’s going to be an extremely unpleasant election.” But she added that a Jeremy Corbyn government would “genuinely stand up to racism and not use immigrants as some kind of scapegoat.”
Other speakers talked about building a mass, non-party political anti-racist campaign to get out the anti-racist vote.
Stand Up To Racism co-convenor Weyman Bennett said, “I predict it’s going to be the dirtiest general election campaign we’ve seen. We’re going to need a movement that makes sure we defend anti-racist values. We’re re-arming ourselves.”