From HOPE not hate (September 2009):
BNP leader Nick Griffin went on air last month to distance the BNP from the hooligan protests. As usual what he did not admit was that many of the leading figures in the Luton protest are BNP supporters. Just like Oldham in 2001, Griffin denied responsibility while his own followers were inciting hatred and violence.
When the English Defence League announced its intention to hold a protest in Luton we were faced with two options. We could have called a counter-protest and mobilised the local community and anti-fascists to occupy the streets or we could call on the authorities to ban the march.
In normal circumstances we would have preferred the first option. Mobilising communities can be an empowering process but these are not ordinary times and the stakes are too high. There was a very serious risk of major disorder in Luton if the march had gone ahead – be it from the hooligans and fascists or the local community, which quite understandably wanted to defend its neighbourhoods.
We decided that any disorder would have been a disaster. It would have driven a firm wedge between communities in Luton and also had national ramifications. With the strength of the BNP and Islamophobia it is trouble we could least afford.
Anti-fascists must accept that we too have a responsibility to the people we claim to represent. Yes the fascists must be challenged wherever they raise their heads but it is also important that we are sensitive to the consequences of our actions. Stopping the fascists holding a meeting is pointless if we then have to endure three days of adverse publicity which leaves local people – the very people we want to keep away from the BNP – feeling sympathy for them. Likewise, burning the Union Jack in a city centre is hardly likely to win over ordinary shoppers.
It was precisely because of our concerns over the consequences of a march that we called for the protest to be banned. However, the manner in which we did it mobilised and empowered people. The Home Office banned the march because of the actions of thousands of people who got involved in our campaign.
Over the coming months the hooligans and BNP will again try to whip up hatred and division. They need to be opposed but in a responsible manner which gives thought to the consequences and empowers people along the way.