Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Day The EDL Came To Town.


I have written this blog entry mainly as a record of my experiences with the EDL, should it prove useful to persons faced with them in the future.

I was surprised, and then curious as to why the EDL had chosen to come to my city. And why would they do something like this on the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who? Are they insane? But then I found out the march would be in the afternoon, giving them enough time to get home for an evening in front of the TV. They'd obviously thought it through.

A community driven group called We Are Wakefield was formed with the intention of creating a counter demonstration elsewhere in the city on the same day. I believe the creator and driver of this group had previous experience on organising Love Music Hate Racism events (as does Rhubarb Bomb) but it wasn't a politically driven group. It was one interested in showing what an open minded, inclusive and fun place Wakefield is. Simple as that.

Questions

I was curious about the EDL. Although I despise the core politics of the BNP and EDL, and UKIP too, I will never say I hate them. That is the core reaction of many and yes, I think it is a sane one. But I can't, because that kind of black and white thinking (pun NOT intended) is the whole problem with these people.

And though the media impression of them is the most comfortable to swallow, the media often makes caricatures of us all. If I am going to be so disgusted by someone, I want to do it for real reasons, not because some newspaper told me to.

I was seriously interested in going down to speak to them on the day. I dug my dictaphone out and started thinking about what kind of questions I would like to ask them. Any political group has its share of oddballs, but it stood to reason that within them, there must be what, within their scales, equates to a 'moderate'.

I wanted to know why they had chosen to come to Wakefield. Did they have a swell of support here? Was it typical of the types of city they perform well in? Was there something about the racial makeup of the place that attracted them? Having lived here thirty years, I cannot recall them demonstrating or rallying before, so why now?

And I wanted to know what they wanted to achieve. Was marching and spreading their message for a day both the means and the end? To have their voices heard for an afternoon? Or did they want something more long term? Were they recruiting? Would there be leaflets and information I could take home? All I could really gather prior was that they wanted an end to Extreme Islam within England. Other than deporting 'them' all, was there a plan as to how this would be achieved, what were the long to short term goals?

It's funny looking back on this now. I genuinely had all those questions. I feel pretty naive now, because it all turned out to be rather different than what I had expected. I had given them far too much credit.


Facebook

In the week leading up to both the EDL march and the We Are Wakefield event, EDL members discovered the WAW Facebook page. Once more betraying either my sheltered digital upbringing, or the fact that I only hang around the internet with people who have the most basic of manners, I was shocked by the veracity and insistency of their trolling.

Everything was argued. And not argued as in 'aggressively discussed.' It was like having a conversation with Begbie from Trainspotting.

It turned out everything we ever thought, knew or had been told was incorrect. Red was actually Green and we were brainwashed puppets of the state, or unwashed hippies, to think otherwise. Each person who made a comment was attacked, their opinions pulled apart with no regard for logic or sense. It was deeply unpleasant.

At first, obeying the normal rules of civilisation, the WAW member tried to engage them in normal discussion, but it was impossible. They seemed to assume that we were all members of United Against Fascism, and as such we were called out as violent thugs and hypocrites. Their paranoia led them to pre-emptively attack us. They have a right to protest, and we have a right to do the same, so what is the problem? When they ran out of argument, or steam, they resorted to calling us all cunts.

But then it got worse.

Some alleged UAF members also came on board, and a horrid little political world was unveiled. These people, on both sides of the fence, know each other well. Presumably they see each other every week at the demonstrations. And what had started as a community group created to discuss positive action sunk to a very personal and pathetic level, on both sides. They both showed the absolute worst of both their arguments. It was exhausting and massively depressing to watch.

The personal life of one EDL member, Gary - the most aggressive and pathetic - was brought up, things about his kids not wanting to know him because of his politics. What was this achieving exactly? These ‘full-time activists’ seemed to thrive off confrontation, and built their egos around what they opposed, and it looked like they'd be using Wakefield as their battleground this week. Next week Wigan, or Luton or Hull.

It was incredibly depressing and nearly stopped me from attending, until I reminded myself that this kind of bullying and unrelenting pressure was the only weapon they had.  


The Day

The day came. The EDL were due to meet at a pub at the bottom of the city centre called The Wakey Tavern from around 10:30, with things officially beginning around midday, concluding in a march around 2pm. We Are Wakefield were position further into the city on the precinct and their event was to run from around 11:30 til 3pm.

Needless to say, my earlier ambitions to speak to the EDL directly had been kyboshed by the insane and threatening behaviour online. There would be no chance of me having anything approaching a conversation, if these were the types of people we were to be dealing with. Instead, it was more important that we simply voiced an alternative to their rhetoric.

The We Are Wakefield demonstration was attended by a wide range of people; ages, sexes, races. There was a good feeling up there. The Socialist Worker and the UAF were there to offer support, but it didn't feel overly politicised to me. It wasn’t owned by them, it was owned by us, Wakefield.

This was backed up by the number of organisations that had put their name to the protest. Over 100. That is a strong argument against the EDL. How many businesses and institutions would publicly support them?

As the Bishop of Pontefract was speaking, an alleged member (he definitely was) of the EDLpushed him aside and grabbed the microphone and tried to speak. He was pulled away by the police. Like the Facebook group, they seem unable to accept that there are people in the world who have different opinions to themselves. They were unable to stick to their own march, and had to invade ours, just as they had with our community page. Why is that? Incidentally, the EDL event page was pretty much left untouched by those who opposed it.

In retrospect, it was a shame he was pulled off the mic. What could he have possibly said? It would have been great to see him humiliate himself.


EDL Presence

The event going well, I decided to wander through town to observe the scene at The Wakey Tavern and surrounding areas.

Wakefield city centre was bustling due to the Christmas market. Many were perplexed by the huge police presence in the area of the EDL march. It's the largest police presence I have ever seen in Wakefield, and it also included private security, presumably brought in by the council. Most people in the city centre that I overheard didn't seem to know what was happening.

I worked my way down the hill and could see a small crowd outside the pub. I bumped into a friend of mine. For what it matters, he is a white Wakefieldian with a beard. He was a bit wound up as he had just walked past the pub (on the other side of the road) and had incurred the wrath of the EDLers. "Shave your beard, then you'll look more English" they had said.

I got closer, and the final piece of the EDL puzzle fell into place. Around thirty people were stood outside the pub (though there were certainly more inside). And they were, without exception, the living embodiment of the clich├ęd EDL member. Aside of a couple of females, they were male, shaven headed, drinking pints and wearing St George Crosses (bar one with an Israel flag). One had a bulldog.

These weren't political activists. They were numbskulls on a dayout. The appearance of Wakefield that day was what the city would look like if we had a large football team, and fans akin to those of Millwall lore. There were no leaflets, posters, no-one speaking. It was just a piss-up with a police cordon. Locals looked on, bemused, wondering where to catch their bus from since they had to be diverted to accommodate this 'demonstration.'

The liberal and lefty-leaning mind the EDLers would no doubt mock me for had indeed let me down. I was open-minded enough to accept the EDL could be something more than 2D caricatures in search of a brain and I was wrong.

My last remaining question was; how many of these people are from Wakefield? I really want to know. Because otherwise, what the fuck are they doing here? On my way into town I was behind a large coach that had a flag in the back stating 'English Defence League: Gateshead Division.' It encountered massive problems with Wakefield's one way system, ending up turning left at a right only junction, causing chaos (or maybe they were fearful of having to drive past the WAW event. Or maybe traffic laws were invented by Islam, who knows?).

Back up at WAW, we got a shout out around 14:30 that the EDL march had concluded (more words and lots of photos of that HERE) and we were to be watchful as they would now be dispersing and potentially heading our way. A few passed on the other side of the road. They threw wanker signs and filmed us on their camera phones. We waved them off. They were just pathetic, utterly utterly pathetic, an appalling demonstration of what they supposedly stand for and believe in.

Is it worth protesting?

When their visit had first been announced, I had felt it might be best to just leave them to it. Opposition would just increase the press they would get. But I am glad that we did. Because although the 'politics' of the EDL are so stupid and backwards it doesn't seem worth arguing against, doing nothing would leave the headlines to them.

If they come to your town, it is essential the headline the next day reads that they were outnumbered and embarrassed. My opposition to them was not specifically for their politics (which as I say, I despise, but in reality holds absolutely no substance) but more because of the effect it can have on Wakefield.

In essence, theirs is a politic based on the closing of doors and minds. Ours is the absolute opposite. It is nothing to do with right or left wing. Rhubarb Bomb and hundreds of other people and Orgs in Wakefield spend a lot of time trying to attract people to Wakefield, to drag the spotlight onto the people here who do amazing things. Idiots like the EDL have no idea about any of these things because they don't live here, and even if they did, wouldn't step outside their own doorsteps, unless to visit the local pub. By turning up, they have the potential to ruin a lot of good work.

So I am glad I stood shoulder to shoulder with so many right minded people. I still resolve to remain open-minded about everything, even those as revolting as the EDL, but I have learned of the utter vacuity at their core. There is nothing there but bullying. They are just a club, a group of people drawn together by a vague ideology. Over time their sense of self-worth and purpose has aligned with that of the group as a whole and in opposition to anyone who questions it, questions their very way of life.

Lacking basic human skills of interaction, they just shout and stamp their feet, like small children. For them, a day in Wakefield is a fun trip with friends, somewhere new. We'll never change their minds, but we can continue to show how flawed and pathetic their opinions are, with the hope that generation by generation we make them more and more irrelevant.

Thankfully, this was the headline the next day, and though Calender sent its cameras along, violence and hate live and direct from Wakefield was not a story they went with. 

If they come to your town, they WILL harass and bully any opposition. They are not coming for a discussion. They lack the general manners we all take for granted. They will attack you personally and make wild accusations. On the day, they will come and find you and threaten you. But this is exactly why you need to stand up to them. You will find there is nothing to fear, but you'll be glad you made the stand. 

Epilogue

Oh, and as a final postscript, in the days following, on the We Are Wakefield event page, certain EDL members who had been blocked created 'new' profiles and began commenting again, continuing their pathetic screaming into the void. A hundred people, surely one of their worst showings ever (except THIS) and still they claim it was a 'victory'...

They always presume the burden of proof is on you to PROVE that the population of your city aren’t supporting them. Imagine that, they presume everyone is as hateful as them. They think people are born to loathe. There’s no talking them round.

After the event, Gary, now calling himself Ellie sent me and others this message:

100 turned up....out of 76,000. What 'important' work was done? all that happened is that the people of Wakefield ignored your stupid support for the ethnic diversity that has been forced upon them.

So I replied

Hi Gary,
100 turned up....out of 76,000. What 'important' work was done? all that happened is that the people of Wakefield ignored your stupid support for the ethnic cleansing you would like to force upon them.
Now, go get a life, pal

In retrospect, it should have been 100 out of 63 million, since they are supposedly fighting for the whole country, but nevermind!









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