Saturday saw the much anticipated EDL march in Portsmouth. Organiser Mickey Bayliss was so desperate for travelling support he ended up pissing off the EDL leadership by inviting every nut job far right group going. EDL got travelling support from Bournemouth, Weston-Super-Mare, London, Weymouth, Sussex & Suffolk. Other groups attending were EVF, NF, Paul Pitt & his SEA buddies from Essex, ‘Croyden Casuals’ (really?) and a couple of lone BNP members. With all this travelling support you wouldn’t blame them for expecting 400-500 to turn up. In the end police put EDL numbers at 50 – the actual numbers were around 150 (and that’s including all the little groups not on the demo who circled the counter demo looking to pick people off). The good news is that from looking at the photo’s and doing the maths, they only managed to get about 50-60 locals out. Piss poor we’re sure you’ll agree!
Saturday was not a victory for anti-fascism, but it was not a defeat either, most were calling it a 1-1 draw, but with some real positives to be taken as well as a few lessons learned, not forgetting that this was the first demo that Portsmouth Anti-Fascists have organised for as a group.
Portsmouth Antifascists supported the UAF call out for a meet up in the city centre. We recognize that in some places (e.g. Newcastle) this will sound insane – however specific threats had been made to the demo and whilst we may disagree about tactics, on a personal level we get on well with the UAF organisers and supporters. (We would love to have stopped the fascist march by blockading the fuckers in their pub – we just ain’t quite those type of numbers…yet).
The counter demo also got about 150 people, but was made up of about 90% local people and there was definitely more of an appetite to confront the scum than on previous occasions, with the crowd getting more vocal as we got close to the demo site. The UAF went into the pen as did some non aligned anti-fascists, with others from the Anti-Fascist Network hanging back to greet any fascists that tried to get to the counter demo.
In the end the EDL were allowed to march, which is pretty shameful – but they went all out to lose any local sympathy they had. They left their pub through the terraced streets of Fratton setting off either thunder flashes or bangers, or both. The local rag interviewed people on the route who locked their doors and are furious with the police for allowing this to happen on their doorstep (the area is largely back roads with terraced houses where doors lead straight on to the street) – an unfortunate lesson on how we can’t rely on the police to fight fascism, we have to look after each other. Once at the demo site the Fascists seemed to forget that they were protesting against a Muslim school (not one single banner, placard or racist chant even mentioned faith schools), they just continued to let off fireworks and scuffle with the cops a bit, which led to the dogs and riot gear coming out, which in turn helped the local residents to resent the EDL just that little bit more.
The cops only had a couple of officers around the counter demo which meant gangs of EDL now & again flirted with the idea of coming in through the back, each time they did they ran off pretty sharpish. One bonehead did manage to get in through the side and threw a firework towards an elderly lady before he was spotted. He was chased off, and the cops let him get away down a side street as they tried to contain a couple of anti-fascists -being a brave one he stopped to wave his arms in the air and say ‘come on then’ as he turned tail and ran off. It turns out the victim was from the local estate and had only come out to stand at the back and see what was going on, it was pretty heartbreaking to see her upset as she just said “I knew I shouldn’t have come out today”.
Other residents from the estate had come out to watch and after talking with anti-fascists some went in and made rounds of tea for some on the counter demo – others joined in, but most stood on the side and chatted to anti-fascists. Apart from ducking when the EDL’s bangers were going off they seemed calm enough, and just wanted to say thanks to the anti-fascists for turning up. It was a pretty good feeling knowing that the fascist poison has not infected the very people who have the new school on their doorstep.
The fascists were marched back to their friendly pub, The Connaught Arms, and the counter demo returned to town. This is where we fucked up a bit, and need to learn a few lessons. The EDL had sent spotters down to follow those leaving the demo – we later heard that a pensioner from the counter demo had been followed home, and we noticed one or two fascists knocking about hiding in shop doorways. We’d clearly wound down too early, but next time this is something we can plan for.
All in all it seemed like a positive day for anti-fascists in Portsmouth – confidence seems to have grown, and street level agitation before the day had reached pretty unprecedented levels for our city as locals, pissed off with the prospect of an organised fascist march, voiced their anger with stickers and spray cans. The local EDL are blaming everyone but themselves for a shit day, most of it aimed at the local paper who reported what they saw, and even gave Paul Pitt a few paragraphs worth, in which he talked crap and mentioned Lee Rigby’s name twice for no reason at all.