Socialist Worker

Thousands in Oxford call for Rhodes statue to be torn down

by Peter Dwyer
Issue No. 2709

Part of the protest demanding Rhodes must fall

Part of the protest demanding Rhodes must fall (Pic: Peter Dwyer)


Around 4,000 people gathered on Tuesday to call for the removal of the statue of the racist and imperialist Cecil Rhodes that fronts Oriel College in central Oxford.

People from a broad range of local organisations and none gathered in front of the statue on Oxford High Street calling for it to be taken down. Campaigners from local trade unions, Stand up to Racism, Extinction Rebellion, School Strike for Climate and others cheered as speakers denounced Oxford University.

A poignant moment of unity and solidarity was held as the crowd sat and observed total silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds. This was the length of time the racist cop knelt on the neck of Floyd George.

One of the biggest cheers came when Jabu Nala-Hartley, local activist and daughter of a former anti-apartheid trade union leader, called out capitalism for being an imperialist system of exploitation built on the blood of Africans.

“Our struggles are intertwined we are part of global capitalism unleashed by neoliberalism,” she said.

“The whole world is reiterating the old message that we are being persecuted by the police, by the system. This is an old reality,” she added.

She movingly spoke of how her son has been harassed by the police because he is black.

Pressure

Buoyed by the bigger than expected turnout the protesters remained for two hours vowing to keep up the pressure on the university. Further protests are planned if there is no progress.

When one of the campaign speakers asked for those connected to the university to raise their hands, only a few did.

But in a sign of the growing movement, when she asked people who lived in Oxford to do the same, the vast majority of the crowd raised their hands. This is why the Labour dominated Oxford city council now fully backs the removal of the statue.

As the statue of another slave owner was removed in Tower Hamlets, east London, earlier in the day, 26 Oxford city councillors signed a letter calling for Rhodes to be taken down.

Anneliese Dodds, the Labour shadow chancellor and Oxford East MP said she now also supported the call.

After several anti-racist protests across Oxfordshire last week, a petition to Oriel College was launched to have the statue removed, receiving 9,000 signatures. Since the protest on Tuesday this has swelled to over 140,000.

Dripping blood from every pore—why Rhodes must fall
Dripping blood from every pore—why Rhodes must fall
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The original Rhodes Must Fall Campaign at Oxford University started in 2015 inspired by students who started a successful campaign to have his statute removed from the prestigious University of Cape Town in South Africa.

In January 2016 students at the Oxford Union, a student debating society, voted 245 to 212 in favour of having the statue removed.

Later that month Oriel College and the former Governor of Hong Kong, now Chancellor of Oxford University, Lord Patten, announced the statue would remain. This came after rich donors to the university threatened to pull £100 million of bequests if the statue was removed.

The student-led protests eventually petered out in 2016.

The campaign has come roaring back as part of the protests that continue to sweep the globe in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.


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