Saturday 10th November was an historic day as over 1500 anti-racists came out to tell members of the English Defence League (EDL) that they are not welcome in Norwich. We are Norwich – a group formed in response to the EDL’s planned visit to the city began with small, simple campaign stalls, manned by a couple of activists at Norwich Pride and at the Kick Racism out of Football event at Morrisons towards the start of summer and has grown steadily into a rainbow coalition of over 25 affiliated groups.
Our day began at Chapelfield Gardens where over 20 different people, representing a range of political parties, faith groups and community groups spoke from the bandstand – sending clear messages as to why, in the eyes of their supporters and members, the EDL is not welcome. Speakers included Clive Lewis from Norwich Labour Party, Samir Jeraj from the Green Party, Jack Brinded and Josh Bowker from UEA Union of Students, a large group from the Norwich Progressive Jewish Community and Michelle Savage and Mike Stonard from the Norwich Pride Collective. We were also joined on the day by Chloe Smith MP for Norwich North and a large group from the Norwich Quakers.
This was clearly a very broad coalition opposed to the EDL and their message of hate, despite claims from the EDL that we are only “lefty freaks and Muslims”. Jo Rust from Kings Lynn Trades Council said:
We sent a clear message that their hateful and divisive politics are not tolerated in Norfolk.Helen McGuinness from the National Union of Teachers said:
If we allow this language of hatred to seep into one classroom, that is one too many.There was a large number of families making the most of the free facepainting. As a very large crowd began to gather we were entertained by live music from Jonathan Williams, Acivilian and the Red Flags.
At around 12.30 we began our march to city hall where we waited for some time for the EDL to arrive. The calm, peaceful but determined crowd kept themselves amused and energised with a range of chants. The most popular included “Black and White, Unite and Fight: Smash the EDL”, “We are black, white asian and we’re Jew…and we’re gay”, “You could have come in a taxi”, “This is just embarassing” and “We are Norwich, Tommy’s eating porridge” alluding to the imprisonment of their leader Tommy Robinson, real name Stephen Lennon, currently in jail for using a fake passport to travel to America (following previous convictions for violent offences).
Meanwhile the EDL were causing ugly scenes in the city centre, such as this one in Castle Meadow, and over the day four members of the group were arrested.
The EDL did exactly what we said they would do on the day, we hope that We are Norwich can now help to get out the positive message that such a diverse group of people, young and old, black and white, gay or straight came together to oppose them.
Before We are Norwich left City Hall we turned our backs on the the fascists and held a minute’s silence in respect of those that fought in the war fighting fascism. As one person on the demonstration said to me:
Today we oppose them, tomorrow we remember why.It was especially poignant that one poppy seller left his position on the market and joined us on the counter-demonstration.
The EDL does not in any way represent those that gave their lives fighting against the evil that the EDL promotes. Emma Corlett, a nurse said:
I found it very distressing that one of the EDL members had a red poppy in one hand whilst doing a Nazi salute with his other hand.Whilst we held a victory march back to Chapelfield Gardens, the EDL was being chased out of the city by locals and an angry group of 150 young people chased the fascists down Prince of Wales Road and onto their trains. As Lesley Grahame, Green Party Cllr said:
We showed that we are everywhere, as overheard from one EDL member.We are Norwich said that we would prevent the EDL getting to the steps of City Hall and the War Memorial – we did. We said that we would build a massive and broad Coalition to oppose them – we did. We said that we would be peaceful, family friendly but loud and determined – we were. At a time when we often bemoan the fact that people don’t care about others any more and won’t get up and do something positive, our counter mobilisation has been a beacon of light and hope. We are Norwich will stay together for as long as we are needed. The EDL will never be welcome here.