I had an interesting day yesterday, speaking at the antifascist protest in Birmingham, photographing the EDL, and then following the conversations about it on Facebook. The big frustration of the day was when my camera batteries ran out, but at least it gave me an excuse to get out of a situation where the EDL were running riot all round me. It was getting more frightening by the minute, but then I found the UAF protest had been kettled and I couldn't get back in. In the end I went home.
I turned out early, about 11am, as one of the bars in Broad Street, about half a mile from where I live, had been pressurised by the police into hosting them. I complained to the management - these thugs were being let loose on my patch, after all - and got this reply:
Dear Mr Brenchley
We completely understand why this has upset some people and we share their
concerns - we do not, have not and will never support the EDL in any way,
shape or form.
The request to host them came from the police. We initially said no,
however, we were asked several times and we felt we were left with no
The police said their priority is to contain them as a group in one bar to
help ensure the streets of Birmingham are kept safe, and for this reason
they wanted a bar the size of ours.
As I’m sure you can understand, we had little option other than to help
the police manage a difficult situation.
We are not interested in profiting from hosting this group and profits
made during the time they are in the venue will be donated to charity.
I don't see why they claim they 'had little option'; I've also contacted the Police and Crime Commissioner, but so far the only response has been to promise a reply within 20 days. It'll be interesting to see what his excuse is. The result was to ensure that many of the EDL were already drunk when their rally started. From what I could see from outside, the place was packed. Several coaches unloaded into it during the morning. The police took what appeared to be a beercan off one of them as he disembarked, so some of them may already have been tanked up when they arrived.
I went with another local resident to where they were setting up, and we asked for leaflets. They looked blank and gave us a flag. What sort of organisation doesn't have leaflets to help put its message across? The illiteracy of some of their placards may explain it!
After a while, I went to the UAF protest in Chamberlain Square; the police were moving everyone there as soon as they saw a group of people gathering, but I stayed on my own, and they ignored me.
Everything there was, as you see, perfectly peaceable. I was collared to give an impromptu speech, then immediately afterwards, I went back towards the EDL. The police weren't letting anyone through the direct way, but i went round the back, and reached the police line easily.
There was a lot of aggro going on, with a large group of men making a determined attempt to break through police lines. I managed to slip round the end of the police line without being molested, and joined a group of photographers for a bit, before I moved further on.
I got this pic while balancing on top of a fence. There were about a thousand of them in there, drunk and running wild. They'd already tried to break out through the new library, which is still a building site. The police had left this unguarded. The police were trying to push them back into their designated area on the far side of the road, with riot shields and sticks out. It got quite violent, and I spotted a man having a terrific altercation with police. I thought it would come to blows, and then I suddenly saw a little boy of about four or so appear, clinging to the man. The police appeared to be trying to get him out of it. I only saw a back view, but other video shows him crying and evidently terrified.
This is someone else's video; the kid is at about the halfway mark:
Eventually I moved further in, until I was right in among them. I felt quite threatened going through the police lines, but the EDL seemed to accept me. I suppose that's something to do with having a deficiency of skin pigment. A Muslim photographer was threatened, abused and pelted with bits of bacon, and apparently it was quite nasty.
I got some brilliant pics, but unfortunately my camera batteries chose that moment to die on me. I was furious, since the same batteries managed well over an hour of filming a few weeks ago, and I wasn't planning on doing anything like that. I slipped out through the police lines, and tried to go back to the UAF protest, but found it had been kettled and I couldn't get back in. Eventually I went home. From what I saw, the police were far better equipped to kettle our perfectly peaceful protest than they were to contain the EDL thugs.Whe I see things like that, I really wonder what they're up to.
There's been a lot of comment since, not all of it complimentary towards the UAF. I felt they weren't well organised. the EDL had it right; they bussed people in from across the country. Antifascists were left to their own devices, so while a few travelled in, it was largely the local people who turned out. Speeches were impromptu, and made by the usual crowd. We need to learn the lesson and get organised on a country-wide basis. Next time, let's have buses from all over - surely a union could be persuaded to put up funds for this - and some nationally known speakers. If we're going to beat people like the EDL, we have to build a mass movement. It's been done before, and it can be done again.