Today the EDL visited Leicester to be met by the police and the UAF. This has been quite a tense arrival for this date, as the article and it’s links have shown, yet out of the other side initial arrests and injuries are surprisingly and thankfully low.
This has really intrigued me and it has certainly left me with a resolution to go on a march, although not an extremist one (left or right). Still if I choose to run for public office it should give the security services a wry smile. Anyway, from a layman’s external point of view these seems to be protests about extremist groups and their impacts on British society. In essence you have the EDL reacting against recent activities and protests by what you might call radical/extremist/fundamental Islamic groups and you have protests by the UAF, amongst others, against racism and fascism. Yet as far as the casual eye can tell, neither group is initially promoting anything that the other is protesting about.
Now all radical, action orientated groups will get infiltrated by extremist parties who will try to use the group as a cover for acts of violence, sabotage, vandalism and anti-establishment activities. I think it is the nature of these groups that no matter how carefully they vet their members and supporters, as they act towards the more fringe and minority areas of societal causes, any support is cautiously welcome. If we enforce these groups then to police themselves over this, should we not then insist on the same scrutiny and punishment for more mainstream political groups? Because after all these are political protests and political statements being made here.
Another thing to consider is both groups of course have the right to protest and demonstrate their views; this is a freedom we should all defend, the freedom to thought and expression no matter how that opposes and challenges our own. In addition the right to counter protest has to be enshrined – a protest after all is not a dialogue or a seeking of consensus, it is an energy filled, impacting demonstration of passion, belief and commitment. Whether protests these days have the same impact that they did from the Peasants Revolt to the 1980’s is debatable. Certainly its questionable about the G20 and Countryside Alliance marches – while they raised public awareness and demonstrated a depth of passion, in this country there tends to be more apathy and derogatory comments at such activities.
In this instance, if I was the UAF, would I not want to be placed in the good light? Would I not want to be seen as the very opposite of the EDL (not politically), the soul of public order, community support and spirit? Would you not avoid the EDL like the plague and, while simultaneously holding support activities in areas after EDL marches and racial tensions, raise funds to legally pursue the more extremist EDL supporters? You can’t be seen as the champions of racial harmony and community spirit if you are getting arrested for Breach of the Peace for lobbing a brick. Likewise the EDL, if extremists are threatening the community you live in, then there are far, far more effective ways of bringing this to everyone’s attention than deliberately misusing some genuinely frightened people to get your message across. Using extremist actions to raise awareness about extremists is self-defeating.
The question asked is if you counter protest, are you making yourself a part of the problem of the day (public order, safety, protection of property)? If so, isn’t the message getting lost as the lines are blurred between protestor and extremist?
This is where I question the value of the Protest March. It is a sight to be seen, no doubt, and can stir the emotions, uncomfortably so. Yet do they still have the impacts that are required from such demonstrations? Is the message getting across the right way or, especially in the UK, is it meeting a wall apathy? The UK is a wealthy, industrialised nation with a good level of education. History teaches us that such a demographic is likely to be more open the nationalist tendencies, dominated as it is by the middle class, and that those nationalist tendencies once invoked are easy to provoke and manipulate. Protests on streets aren’t likely to win over the middle class decision makers.
In the end it seems to me that there are so many better ways to drive a message into the public domain. We live in an age of instant media access, where soundbites and eyebites can be delivered precisely and have more impact than hour long documentaries. We have a legal system that is loopholed and easily outflanked. Also there is so little community co-operation, support and love that a simple act of kindness, offering to clear up the mess the previous protest march had left, could win more hearts, minds and votes than best supported protest ever could.
To finish off I have a feeling that at least one colleague from University was there today. I hope he is safe and has had a good day. Here’s to that cup of coffee mate.