When a British far-right group announced its plans to march in London on Saturday, women on the left knew they had to push back. Enter: Feminist Anti-Fascism Assembly (FAF), a new feminist antifascist bloc made up of a coalition of feminist organizations, trade unions, migrant rights groups, and anti-racist organizers.
On an unseasonably warm autumnal afternoon, FAF and other antifascist groups held back the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) as they attempted to march through the streets of central London. The DFLA are a splinter group from the Football Lads Alliance, a British street movement of soccer fans.
Both groups claim to be against extremism in all forms, but have been associated with far-right ideology and activism of extremist groups like the English Defence League. On the Facebook page for Saturday’s march, DFLA organizers said they were protesting “returning jihadists,” “thousands of AWOL migrants,” and “rape gangs and groomers.”
“Sexism is at the heart of fascism,” said an FAF flyer distributed by organizers on the day. “The far-right say they want to stop sexual violence by closing national borders, attacking minorities and returning to ‘traditional’ gender roles. But the reality is that 80-90 percent of child sex offenders are white men and 87 percent of sexual violence is committed by someone known to the victim. Sexual abuse happens in every culture, country and community—and our own homes. The far-right don’t have the answers.”
FAF organizer Alice Caradonna told Broadly on the day: “We organized today to stand to the far right’s appropriation of our experiences of sexual violence. Our experiences of sexual violence cannot be used to propagate their racist crap. We’re here to say that we’re against rape and that we’re against racism.”
The DFLA march descended into violence early on, with dozens of DFLA supporters reportedly fighting cops and one threatening an officer and screaming “I’m going to kill you.” In a slow and tense build-up, the feminist antifascist bloc edged its way along the city’s streets from Portland Place to Oxford Circus. It finally faced up to the DFLA at Trafalgar Square, separated only by ten meters and scores of riot vans and overwhelmed police.
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Antifascist organizers kept up a relentless chant of “no pasaran” (“they shall not pass” in Spanish), their ranks powerfully headed up by an assembly of women and nonbinary supporters. The DFLA hurled racist slurs, beer cans, and chants of “God Save the Queen” and “Rule Britannia” in response.
Finally, the antifascist bloc edged out the far right faction and continued its march along Waterloo Bridge. FAF organizers described the day as a success, but called on more people to join the movement of resistance against far-right ideology.
“There have been so many militant women at the front of this demonstration all day taking to the streets, standing up to and confronting the far right,” Caradonna said. “I think we’re seeing a turn in antifascist and antiracist organizing in the UK. It’s becoming incredibly more normal and normalized, and it’s really becoming an everyday activity that everyone needs to be involved in.”
Broadly spoke to FAF demonstrators about why they came down to join the show of resistance against far-right ideology.
Janey, construction employee, 55
“I’m here because we need to defend the most vulnerable in our society. We’re under attack from white supremacists and we need to stand up and fill the gaps where our governments are failing. I felt today has gone well, as soon as we break free and confront the fascists it will be a good day—but until then we’re making our presence felt.”
“We’ve got this Catch-22 with [populism]... They believe that it’s all about freedom of speech yet the fact is hate speech is not freedom of speech, it’s a hate crime and that excuse of using it as freedom of speech is what a lot of people don’t understand. If they want to talk about it in their front rooms with their wives or their husbands that’s up to them, but as soon as they bring it out on to the streets and intimidate people, then that’s our responsibility to stop it.”
Ash, barista, 20
“I’m here today because I want to take up space. I want to take back some of the space that has been taken away from our communities. It’s been taken up by far right, white supremacists, neo-Nazis.. and I’m here today to say this space is not for them, this space is for us, this space is for us queers, us gays, us trans, us disabled. Yes, this is our space and we’re taking it back.”
“I’m here to stand with Black women and women of color who have been silenced, who have been raped but have been told what they have endured is not important. I myself was raped, I myself was a subject of racism, and too many times I’ve been told ‘be quiet’ and that I’m an ‘angry Black woman…’ We are for women and within the feminist movement for letting our voices be heard—it’s time that our voices are no longer silenced.”
Dani, student and theatre maker, 28
“I’m here because of a few different reasons, loads of reasons. Firstly, I haven't been to an antifascist demo for some time as I haven’t felt strong enough in myself to do that and I do now. I just think it’s important to come and represent the opposition to that, even though I know we’ve been outnumbered in previous demos, especially with the DFLA, which worries me a lot as well. So I’m just here for numbers.
“I’m also here because I’m Jewish and my heritage has a proud tradition of rejecting fascism and actively standing in the path of fascism. I’m just honouring my East End routes in that way. I’m here also because I’m queer and I’m trans and fascism goes against everything I am and everything I believe in.
“I just want people who look at this counter demo to see that it is diverse and that it’s not just one section of society—it’s everyone coming together to oppose something which is a threat to all of us.”
Gita, Kurdish-Iranian asylum seeker, 32
“I’m a member of a women’s Iranian and Afghan aid organisation. I think this is our responsibility to not be quiet and break this silence and come out and shout at racism and sexism. We need to show our solidarity to people who are against racism and fascism.”
Savannah, law student, 19
“I’m here with the Communist Society of Reading to show our resistance against the growing fascist movement, globally and especially in the UK, and to show and know within myself that I’m doing something against this because I feel so strongly about it. I’m here to assure that generations after us don’t have to deal with the growing rise of fascism and racism, transphobia.
“I think the fascists know themselves that they’re quite a minority and I think that turning up here today will show that, even in London, that there is a huge resistance against their ideologies and their beliefs… Hopefully it will show them that there’s a resistance and what they’re doing is wrong. Hopefully maybe one person will think that maybe what they’re doing is wrong and re-evaluate their life.”
Amelia, public sector worker, 28
“I’m here because obviously I’m against what the DFLA stand for basically, and they don’t necessarily talk on behalf of women. I think they're cherry picking their information and purposely just spread propaganda to put people against Muslims and Asian folks. The statistics that they use to compare the amount of individual rape cases are completely out of whack.”