Today was the ‘Big one’. Thankfully, all protests have now finished and the EDL have gone EDL back into the gutter where they belong. Despite the EDL hyping the Bradford demo up, well below than a thousand members actually bothered turning up.
The mood of the city in general today has been one of calm and local people have co-operated and supported the police by behaving sensibly or staying away. The community event at infirmary fields has been supported by local people and was well received.
The people of Bradford today deserve a pat on the back. The EDL’s demonstration was a complete failure. During the speeches of their demonstration, members were too occupied in attacking Police and their own stewards rather than listening to their leaders. It begs the question, what exactly did the EDL achieve by coming to Bradford other than wasting our money to Police them.
At one point, around 80 of them jumped over the wall into the Westfield site, picked up heavy duty bricks and threw them at Police. The Police were constantly being attacked and punched.
As the job of clearing the beer cans and smoke canisters from the location of the EDL playpen at Bradford’s ArtsHole begins in earnest, and the last coachload of unwelcome visitors leaves the city, here is a dogs eye view of the days events.
The days and weeks leading up to today have been a crescendo of tension, but have also in many ways brought out the best of the city of Bradford. Groups who had previously had little or no contact were united in opposition to the long planned visit of the EDL to the city, a move intended to stoke tension in a similar manner to that of the 2001 Bradford riots. Through this united opposition came communication and a desire to not capitulate to the anticipated trouble and violence that still have an intense freshness in many local residents minds. None more so than the asian community in Bradford who still remember the disproportionate prison sentences given to many of the local youths who were caught up in the riots, sparked by provocation from a far right group.
If the provocation of 2001 was anything, it was nothing in comparison to the media frenzy, hype and fear that has whistled around the internet and media outlets for the last few months. The city’s response to this was expected to be violent and devastating to the work that has been done to integrate the various communities living here with a shared identity. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Events began on friday, where a Womens Peace Vigil was held and green ribbons were handed out as symbols of a common solidarity and a desire for the city to hold it’s ground against those who come here to seek trouble. The city centre was awash with green ribbons this morning, tied to lamposts, trees, buildings and anything they could be wrapped around. Most importantly, a significant number of Bradford residents wore them on themselves, to show that the city wanted peace and not violence. Giant banners were hung from buildings and several events were held at places such as Infirmary Fields as a celebration of the people of the city.
The EDL arriving against this backdrop cast a surreal shadow. Their much delivered hype surrounding their arrival was almost one of a liberatory force, coming to save Bradford from the aggressive nature of it’s residents and to bring back good old Englishness, whilst completely ignoring the obvious irony of this. This being the England of course that had occupied much of the known world for hundreds of years and committed a multitude of crimes against humanity.
Still, so it was that they arrived aboard several coaches at around midday and immediately took on their comedy personas of teenagers at a football match: shouting, chanting, tops off and nothing of particular note to say other than the usual crap that gets delivered from the mouths of their type. Chants of “Allah is a Paedo” and “Paki scum, off our streets” was all pretty predictable, and designed to spark a confrontation. The large group of Muslim youths to whom this was directed just smiled, shrugged and laughed at the comedy spectacle before them.
“It’s the middle of Ramadan” one local youth said, “as if we are bothered about this lot”
The less that the locals reacted, the more angry the EDL became. For large spans of time, the area around the EDL pen, attended in large numbers by local (and not so local) anti-racist, anti-fascist, muslim and just downright curious folk was largely silent. This, strange as it may seem was one of the most effective tactics of the day. The more the EDL shouted and the angrier they became, the more unphased the opposition became. The EDL were shown for what they really are, and it wasn’t long before Nazi-style salutes and offensive fascist banners were on display. If the EDL were hoping that the massed media would be seeing local muslim youths rioting whilst they peacefully demonstrated with cooperation of the police, this plan backfired badly within half an hour of them arriving.
Elsewhere in the city, the police were clearly expecting an organised response from the UAF of some sort, and threw huge resources at their pen behind the Victoria Hotel near Bradford Interchange station. What they would have seen there is a mass of Socialist Worker papers being sold and read, and a mass of SW banners being waved safely out of sight of anyone who is actually from the city. To the time of writing I have not heard of anything happening there, nor do I expect to. Contrasted to the people who faced the EDL directly without banners, a stage and a newsagent, it is clear that the tactics employed were and are going nowhere.
At the 1in12 club, police blockaded the end of Albion Street and reports of people being searched on their way in were received, much to the frustration of the many members who had gone there for their lunch, to meet up and swap stories. A comical incident occurred during the afternoon when one of the plants on the windowsill in the cafe was accidentally knocked out of the window and the police, 100 yards away up at the top of Albion Street tenuously claimed that it was aimed at them and tried to use it as an excuse for yet another “spot license check”.
“Who’s in charge here, We want to speak to the licensee” – sigh
A blanket ban on the sale of alcohol from licensed premises was apparantly placed around the city and many pubs near to the EDL were boarded up, including the Queens Head near the Interchange which was the target of the minor EDL incursion into Bradford several months ago. A sign in the alcohol aisle in the nearby Tesco proclaimed that they had temporarily had their license revoked until Sunday morning.
At the ArtsHole, tensions were mounting between the EDL and the police as a line was formed which pushed the EDl back halfway across the grass in preparation for them being funneled out in small groups back to their coaches and to whence they came. This was the real flashpoint of the day as a hail of bottles, stones and a smoke grenade were thrown at the police lines. This prompted the arrival of a large number of police in riot gear who bolstered the lines to keep the EDL away from the peaceful demonstrators nearby. It was a surreal experience to be on this side of the riot police, ducking missiles and trying to hold a camera steady.
Shortly after it looked like the line was going to break, the police began to stop the assembled press from filming and cleared everyone away to a position out of sight, much to the vain protests of the NUJ journalists present. As the press were moved out, the dogs were moved in and the scuffles continued. One of the EDL protestors, wearing the branded shirt had been dragged from the fray and was now being pushed towards the assembled muslim youths on the other side of the barricades.
“They’re marching me to me death, right into that lot wearing this” he complained, much to the amusement of those who were nearby. “I thought you’d come here for a ruck?” one of them said.
As it became clear that there was going to be no way back to a line of sight to the EDL, several of us went around the back of Forster Square station to try to come from the other direction. As we did, a group of EDL had climbed over the hoardings to the hole and were now running up the ramp towards us. A cat and mouse game was played between them and the police, with a large group running up towards the cathedral in Little Germany where a group of priests had gathered up nearby bystanders and locked them in for their own safety, where they seemed to spend most of the day. As we followed a group of EDL back towards Forster Square, a large group of Asian youths and supporters were coming the other way to block off the street. The police arrested the EDL there, and what looked like might have escalated into a confrontation between the police and the asian youths was quickly defused, with the locals voluntarily dispersing back up the main road towards Rawson Market in high spirits, before assembling again in the town centre.
Whilst passing the club, I took the opportunity to grab some refreshments and another camera since all three batteries I had with me had now died, and by the time I returned the activity had mostly died down as the EDL were coralled onto their coaches and sent home. I walked up past the cathedral and a sizeable group of local lads had assembled overlooking the spot where the coaches were parked to watch them go. A few imams were keeping the calm, and I managed to get down a narrow staircases to where the coaches were parked.
As I stood there, a car bearing a palestinian flag pulled up nearby with a few asian lads inside who got out and waved the flag. The coach opposite then displayed a large israeli flag in its front window, and the EDL supporters inside began hammering on the windows. The main police presence was either winding down or channeling the remaining fascists onto their coaches, and a group of about 6 EDL sprang from the coach and ran at the position we were standing in. With one EDL supporter about 2 metres from myself, fists raised, he was taken out by a baton charge from the right and arrested. Another was arrested and the remainders were taken back to their coach.
As the last coaches left, a big cheer went up from the lads on the hill and a city breathed out again. The police vans left shortly afterwards and the locals who had feared unrest went back home to swap stories. To the time of writing, no further activities have been reported since the coaches left, and none is expected.
So was the day a success in terms of opposing the EDL? To my eye it was, and to a large extent due to the failure to rise to the extreme provocation and baiting being aimed at the local residents. Instead of the old tactic of shouting ‘Nazi’ at the EDL (something which surely even the most hard nosed EDL supporter can now not deny given the chanting that was going on) and ineffective speeches-cum-paper-selling tactics of the UAF, action was planned and executed by the local population and a unified, defiant but peaceful show of strength was made. The EDL was shown in their true colours, they didn’t spark the race riot they so badly wanted and came off extremely badly in the eyes of the mainstream press whos attention they have been courting for some time now. Their claims to support the police will now ring pretty hollow and it will be hard for them to regroup and continue to recruit new members after this PR disaster.
And the city of Bradford? Still standing, still united and its residents still proud to be a part of one of the most multicultural communities in Britain.