Stand Up to Racism : London 2016

In addition to the core messages around racism, and #BlackLivesMatter the event this year roundly embraced and supported the perspective of “Refugees are Welcome”.

People have been disturbed by the scenes in Calais of refugees living in squalid conditions, the terminology used by the Prime Minister in describing those affected in collective terms usually preserved for insects, notwithstanding the everyday bigotry directed at people who are fleeing war and persecution. The ignorance, and lack of humanitarian spirit is staggering.

A woman spoke at the rally who was a teacher. She and a group of 70 others went to Calais during half-term. Apart from the terrible conditions, she witnessed a great warmth amongst the people there. The teachers put on English lessons, and the demand was so great that they couldn’t satisfy it. It was a moving testament about how much people wanted to make a life here.

Vanessa Redgrave reminded us of the events of November 1938, as Sylvia Pankhurst appealed to the Government to grant visas to the Jews fleeing Nazi Germany – they were refused. Who knows what the human cost was of the inaction of those in power at that time.

The tragedy that is the war in Syria, is so clear to all of us by the millions of people who are seeking refuge in neighbouring Middle Eastern countries. Lebanon the size of Cornwall, has taken 2 million refugees, the UK has taken a few thousand. Many are in camps in Turkey; Turkey is not a safe place. The “deal” to return people, who have fled Syria, and Turkey, back to Turkey, to be in the hands of one of the most despotic countries in the region, may well go down in history as one of the most heinous pieces of criminal politics enacted simply to placate the Euro-bigots, and to secure votes and popularity.

The story was told of Sarah Reed who was one of the long list of black people who died in Police custody in very questionable circumstances. This needs to be taken seriously, and not brushed away as NOT mattering. What does it say about us, when we allow it to happen, and for it not to be worthy of constant media attention – because they are Black Lives?

Britain First made a very modest appearance at Piccadilly Circus. They were surrounded by more police than attendees, and their message of “Veterans before migrants” has sadly gained a huge amount of credence amongst those who do not look beyond a convenient, sensationalist headline.

One speaker somewhat depressingly, but I feel accurately, made the observation that the extent of racism is at the level of the 1970s. When you dial in the inexorable rise of Islamophbia, the antipathy towards Asylum seekers, refugees, and economic migrants, as well as the underlying concerns within the Black community, then he has a point. What is driving that? It feels like our little England mentality is trying to pull the draw-bridges up to protect ourselves from what? Fear from terrorism, but the most insidious one….AUSTERITY – this is driving this shift of behaviour! This is why it starts to become a 40 year echo of the dark days of the 70s.

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