On Sat 8th Oct the EDL held their ‘angels’ demo (the vomit-inducing name given to their ‘women’s division’) outside Downing Street. I went to the UAF organised counter demo with Feminist Fightback and along with Global Women’s Strike people we made a good feminist presence – the message on our placards was ‘feminists against racism’.
By contrast, the EDL demo was mostly men – maybe 2 or 3 women there. The question of whether their women’s division really exists is an important one – are the EDL managing to mobilise women around reactionary family values, claiming to respond to their needs as mothers and carers which are ignored by mainstream society? (Paul Mason has reported that the EDL have their own ‘Mums’ Net’). It was also clear from the fascist publicity for the event that the EDL are keen to try to generate a crude and deeply racist vision of women’s oppression under Islam. One EDL woman came to the demo dressed in a full burkah (when our comrade called her a racist this ‘angel’ lunged to punch her in the face but was held back by police).
There was, however, no shortage of male fascists on the demo (hard to get a proper look but perhaps between 100-200). As usual, we were kept in one police pen and the EDL in another – we shouted at each other for a while across a police cordon and then were led in opposite directions, with the EDL continuing their march.
Although the atmosphere on our demo was energetic and supportive, this highly contained and police-controlled form of anti-fascist protest can leave you feeling quite disempowered. Crucial though it is to make sure that the EDL are always met with a counter-demo, it’s essentially a performative and discursive exercise rather than one in which we take control of our own public space. It might have been better if the EDL had been met directly at Westminster Tube, rather than UAF calling on supporters to meet at the other end of Whitehall (this also meant that latecomers to our demo got caught up in a surge of Nazi’s coming out of the tube, leading to encounters as the one I’ve just described). On the other hand, confronting the EDL head-on is no laughing matter and would almost certainly have involved violence. So the debate about how to build a grassroots anti-fascist movement continues and doesn’t get any simpler.
By a member of the feminist fightback collective.