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Anti-racism demonstration London UK
Stephanie Wilson

Thousands take to London's streets in UN anti-racism protest

Dazed joins the protesters trying to stamp out British hate in the face of rising prejudice

You'd have to be pretty much blind not to see that discrimination is on the rise in the UK. With anti-Muslim hate crime rising 65 per cent in London alone and a tenfold increase in attacks on Polish people in the UK, it's clear that xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia is alive and well in today's Britain. This Saturday, thousands of protesters took a stand against hate in London to mark UN Anti-Racism Day. 

The demonstration, organised by several groups including London Black Revs, Stand Up To Racism and Unite Against Fascism, saw a huge turnout of people from all backgrounds, religions and races. Protesters arrived in unison, having marched from Portland Place, chanting, “Shut it down! No human is illegal!” as they waved banners reading “stand up to racism and fascism”, “#BlackLivesMatter”, “austerity breeds fascism” and more.

“We are all one race, just different nations and tribes," said Mohammed Bostan, a Muslim activist who was born in Kashmir and raised in England. Bostan told Dazed that he believed in unity despite experiencing discrimination at work. “Racism is a disease that can be cured by educating fascists and telling them how it is. They say discussion is an exchange of knowledge, and an argument an exchange of ignorance.”

“I’m here for the positivity and the feeling in your heart that you’re not alone,” said Sarah Lamptey, a TV presenter and writer. “We can all feel alone and when you’re here you just aren’t and hopefully that image will be portrayed all over the world in a similar way.”

Sadly, about 20 members of BNP splinter group Britain First met the march by Piccadilly Circus, shouting racist abuse and waving Union Jack and St George’s flags. There were a few brief clashes with activists, but police managed to keep the two groups separated as anti-racism protesters shouted: “Nazi scum, off our streets!”

But the march against fascism continued unscathed, with the crowd arriving at Trafalgar Square to take in speeches by Green leader Natalie Bennett, journalist Owen Jones and Labour MP Diane Abbott. Naturally, immigration was on everyone’s mind – many called for immigrants to be treated fairly and highlighted the misrepresentation of migrant workers.

Abbott slammed UKIP as “leading ugly immigrant-bashing racism”, shutting down the idea “immigrants are some kind of drain or problem on public services” with the words “without immigrants and their children, we would not have public services”.

In her speech, Bennett said: “We want to create a world in which no one has to flee their home because of persecution or hunger, but we’re a long way from that. In the meantime, what we have to do is fight for a welcoming Britain.”

But one of the most poignant speeches came from Carole Duggan, aunt of Mark, the 29-year-old Tottenham local whose fatal shooting by police in 2011 sparked riots which spread over England. She drew the parallels between Mark’s murder and police brutality all over the world, including Ferguson.

“What do we have to do in order for the police to take off their uniform and be tried for murder just like any of us would if we committed a murder?” she asked.

While the anti-racism march took place under the auspices of the UN, more radical groups also took the chance to call for more direct action. The London Black Revs, which organised the #WeCantBreathe protests that shut down Westfield three months ago, called for people to join their fight against the “racialised gentrification process” taking place in black and Asian neighbourhoods. “We want to signify the galvanising of a wider and bigger movement around the housing crisis,” they told Dazed. “Housing affects everybody’s lives.”

You can always count on George Galloway to bring a little colour to your average political protest (pretending to be a cat on Celebrity Big Brother aside), so he came onstage pumping his fist to “Free Nelson Mandela” on the sound system with the song’s composer, Jerry Dammers.

But he had a serious message about the situation in British politics right now, namely: “The other parties are involved in a Dutch auction to see who can be meanest to immigrants and to see who can incorporate more racist agendas.” Which you can't really argue with when you've got Theresa May telling British Muslims today that they can practise their religion, as long as they agree to promote British values and help fight extremism. 

Talha Ahmad from the Muslim Council of Britain spoke of challenging all kinds of hatred in his speech, from Islamophobia to homophobia. “When we stand up to hatred, we must stand up to all hatred,” he argued. “Those who struggle to condemn and stand up to Islamophobia, they do not just harm Muslims, they harm our civility and our sense of values.”

It seemed unity was the theme of the intense day, and, despite the backlash from Britain First, the protests did a pretty good job of raising the bar against racism and fascism. Now all that’s needed is the rest of government to fist-pump to the anti-racism anthem, and discrimination might actually have a chance of becoming extinct.