Altab Ali was a Bangladeshi garment worker killed in a racist attack by three teenagers in 1978, as he walked home from work. In the east London park where he was murdered – now named Altab Ai Park – over 1000 people gathered on Friday evening to protest a new, less marginal form of English racism: the nativist violence unleashed by the campaign to leave the EU.
The protest, called Defend Migrants' Rights, was called a week ago by various radical-left groups and saw those involved march from Altab Ali Park in Whitechapel to Rupert Murdoch's News UK headquarters in London Bridge. One of the organisers, Anindya Bhattacharyya from RS21, told me: "We figured whatever happened in the referendum there was going to be a ratcheting up of anti-immigrant rhetoric – in part because of its legitimisation by successive Labour and Tory governments." But despite Leave's shock victory, which has already sharpened England's anti-migrant sentiment, the crowd who turned up were defiant and optimistic. It was as if the referendum hadn't happened; it was as if they were still in shock.
People gave speeches in the park before the march started: Razem, a left-wing grassroots political party from Poland, implored the crowd to "look beyond the nation state" and act out of internationalism; an Ecuadorian migrant worker, a member of the United Voices of The World union, spoke through a translator about an indefinite strike going on at his workplace – the first strike composed completely of Latin American workers in British history; a spokesperson from Movement For Justice By Any Means Necessary told the crowd that "racism is a tool used to divide communities to push through austerity measures".
It ended with a rousing Assata Shakur-inspired call-and-response round from some of the women of activist group Sisters Uncut, before the crowd set off through the City of London to News UK – Murdoch's postmodern lair in London Bridge. Since News UK is the publisher of The Sun, whose editor essentially claimed responsibility for the Leave victory, it was the perfect symbolic location for everyone to make their anger felt.
But that's all there was: symbolism. After some chants of "Migrants In! Murdoch Out!" someone started playing Beyoncé on a massive pair of speakers. People were smoking, drinking and having fun. There was no violence, only dancing – a curious end to a wretched day.