Ladies and gents, apologies for the nonexistent post which I promised you last weekend, I am working on it and will (very very likely) update this by Wednesday.
Being very quick:
On Tuesday, I joined a hundred-strong protest against a white-supremacist party meeting in Nottingham.
We shut down the meeting.
UPDATED THURDSAY 25th OCTOBER:
I joined the Socialist Student's Society on week one of the course and thought nothing of it. I even missed the first meeting (not a very good start).
Then I got a text (we call them SMS) from one of the members - they were having a protest in Nottingham against a BNP meeting, and wanted me to come along.
When I came here, I had told myself that I wouldn't get involved in British politics, simply because I thought I had enough to deal with in Malaysia already. But I wanted also to learn about anything that could help Malaysia - and after the Burmese Monks' protest, as well as the Lawyers' March and the Batu Burok incident back home, I thought the biggest thing we needed was a damn good show of people power.
With that in mind, I packed up my stuff, and hopped on the bus to the Uni. Let me be honest: I did not know a thing about what was going on, except that there would be a protest in Nottingham, it was against the "British National Party" (I knew nothing about it) and that the bus leaves from the Students' Union at 5pm on Tuesday. I wondered if we would be back in time for a game of pool.
I plodded in the evening rain to the Union, where I met a few other like-minded students - Owain, a fellow 1st-year Medic; Andrew Zignani (Ziggy), a 2nd-year Historian; and Vicky, a 3rd-year English student and one of the brains behind the Socialist Students' Society. The man behind the entire thing was Steve, in his 40's.
We piled in the van and drove around for a bit to pick up some others - I was surprised that 8 others turned up, all in their 40s-50s. Due to bad traffic, we did not make it out of Leicester until around 6pm. We had some idle conversation, I learned that the BNP were basically an extreme right-wing party who wanted Indians, Muslims, Jews and non-whites in general kicked out of the country. They were meeting to plan their election move in Nottingham. Somehow in the middle of it, I managed to fall asleep. By the time we reached Nottingham it was 8pm, black as night, very cold, and rainy. There was some confusion as to where the meeting place was, and we drove aimlessly for a bit. I was wondering if this was such a good idea after all when we pulled into a car park.
Before stepping out, Steve told everyone to write down their names and telephone numbers - in case we were arrested. Then it hit me: this was serious.
We walked to the meeting place in the rain. I was already shivering because of the cold. I don't know what I was expecting as we walked into a little street. A gaggle of police were ready to greet us as we walked in. I nearly had a heart attack when one of them asked me to take off my hood.
The BNP meeting was being held in an otherwise unremarkable little building along a small street, but the first thing I saw as the dozen of us got closer was the crowd of protestors. They seemed to grow, so that when there were only around twenty from a distance, a hundred had materialised out of the night by the time we were face to face. Most of these weren't kids, they were in their 30s and 40s. Some were even balding.
We crossed the street to join the main group of protestors, right in front of the hall. A few BNP members skulked within, trying to stay hidden. The majority of them had not yet arrived for their meeting. The police were there too - four big fellows were standing in the garden, looking down at us. Another dozen or so moved along the street, checking for violence and trying to pinpoint potential troublemakers.
It's hard to describe, but when you realise that these people had family, had to go to work tomorrow, had to go home to cook dinner, had to take care of not catching cold, you feel strangely reassured, despite the rain and wind, the cold, the chanting, the frowns of BNP members, the police with their truncheons... These people all could have been doing other things - sipping a cup of tea, watching the latest football rerun, doing their ironing, filling out their mortgage forms... - but they were here instead.
I felt as if I was standing among giants.
Besides us and the police, the hooligans were out too, looking for a fight. They weren’t BNP, or protestors – they were locals with nothing to do, and nothing to stand for. They were content to shout obscenities at us from a distance, but to their credit the police cleared them away. I felt remarkably safe, considering that I was in the middle of a protest with police around me.
An elderly couple appeared down the street, and everything changed. The protestors started to jeer. Cries of “Nazi scum!” and “Racists!” filled the night. Some protestors tried forcibly to block the entrance, while the police formed a column and allowed the couple into the hall. A violent scuffle ensued. Threats were made and returned. As the couple disappeared into the building, one particularly violent protestor was hit in the head with a truncheon and arrested.
After calm was restored, we stood around in the rain again, feeling rather stupid, and made some attempts at conversation as we shivered underneath our rain jackets. I take my hat off to Vicky – she is a capable leader and is willing to stand for what she believes is right. I must say I am impressed by her commitment, and that of Owain, Ziggy, Steve, and the rest of the protestors who were with me that night. By then, it was 9pm. We were getting very cold, and hungry as well.
A few other BNP members showed up, trying to get into the hall, and we gave them the same treatment as we did the first few. The police finally decided not to force their way in, for the safety of both parties. A few suits tried to show up as well – and they weren’t too pleased that we were blocking their way. But they had no choice save to stay on their side of the street.
We had to stay put to make sure the meeting wasn’t going to work – and so we did. By the time we left it was 11pm. My bed appeared before me at midnight, and I collapsed after a long day.
That night, I won a personal victory for myself. But that’s not the end of it. The BNP are just a small right-wing party among a whole lot of larger right-wing parties out there, sowing hatred and dividing countries against each other. I may have played my part in evicting the BNP from Nottingham, but there are larger fish to fry as well.
But one thing I did learn is that the downfall of these parties lies not in the hands of the politicians, but in the hands of the men and women on the street, the ones who came out in force that night. To be completely honest, none of them would be out that night if someone else would do it for them. One of them told me “nobody else is doing it, that’s why I’m here.”
And that’s the other thing I learned: being concerned doesn’t mean you protest when everyone else protests, or speak about Earth’s problems but do nothing about them. It means you’re out there when you’re most needed, even if you don’t want to be. Which fool would want to stand in the rain for three hours if they had a choice? The answer: not a fool, but a hero would.