report by Nick Evans, pictures by John Walker
Anti-fascist demonstrators significantly outnumbered the fascist English Defence League in Oxford on Saturday, and prevented them from marching through the centre of the city. The EDL mobilised nationally around the issue of gang abuse of children in Oxford, claiming that “political correctness” had prevented prosecutions of those responsible.
The National Front exploited the same issue to hold a demonstration in Oxford last year. But unlike the NF, the EDL has been able to mobilise in serious numbers in recent years. They held a 150-strong rally outside a police station near the centre of Oxford.
Unite Against Fascism called a counter demonstration for 12 noon, assembling on Bonn Square in central Oxford. The police had tried to prevent antifascists protesting here. On the day, however, some 350 demonstrators assembled in the square – and police made no attempts to move people on.
Just before noon a group of EDL supporters approached the UAF stall on Bonn Square, shouting abuse. A group of antifascists confronted them, and police intervened. One EDL supporter and one antifascist were arrested. Details of how to support the arrested antifascist will follow.
A second small group of EDL supporters tried to approach the antifascists, first from one side of the square, then from another. They were kept back by police. Eventually the main EDL group approached Bonn Square, but it was forced to march around back streets to their rally point instead. Once the EDL had passed the square, antifascists moved quickly through the city, outpacing the police twice, to get within shouting distance of the fascist rally by the police station.
Throughout the EDL rally, the antifascists’ chants of “There are many many of us than you” and “We’re black, white, Muslims and we’re Jews – and we’re queer!” could be heard. Antifascists waited until the EDL had been put back on their buses before returning to Bonn Square for a final rally. People were advised to take care going home, as EDL had been spotted dotted around the city, giving people hassle.
Four points to note from Saturday’s demonstration:
- This was a much better turnout from antifascists than for the anti-NF demonstration in Oxford last year. The local UAF group worked hard to maximise numbers, and the various groups who came on the day, such as Berkshire Antifascists, all worked well together.
- The EDL hoped to use this demo to establish a local group in Oxford. They held their rally, so those who attended may not be entirely demoralised. But their numbers were low, they were unable to march through the city centre, and they encountered strong community opposition.
- Yet again, an antifascist has been arrested in Oxford. It is important that, as last time, there is strong solidarity for him.
- That the EDL felt confident to mobilise at all around the gang abuse case is partly a sign of a weak response from the left around this issue. This, however, is changing. Last week there was a vigil supporting Andrew Smith MP’s call for a proper inquiry into why the police force, the councils and the others services did nothing for so many years – while silencing the whistleblowers. The Oxford Abuse Inquiry Campaign will hold a public meeting to launch a petition about this, underlining that it “welcomes people of all faiths and communities to our activities”.