Thursday 17 August 2017

After Charlottesville; Remembering the Battle of Lewisham

Marchers in Lewisham

Pic – Guy Smallman

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing and outdoor Plaque unveiling

 

Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, crowd and outdoor

Anti fascists met and marched in south east London last weekend to remember the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Lewisham.  Several events marking the defeat of the Nazi, National Front (NF) came as fascists assaulted anti fascists in Charlottesville, Viginia, killing Heather Heyer.

News of what was happening in Charlottesville came through during the day and concentrated minds on the need to maintain opposition to fascism. Trump’s Islamophobia, as many remarked, led to a renewed confidence, in the far right, internationally.

The ‘Battle’ was the day in 1977 when thousands demonstrated and confronted the Nazi National Front (NF) as they attempted to march in the borough.

 Around 130 people came to a march and rally organised by Unite Against Fascism (UAF) at Clifton Rise—the site of the confrontation—last Saturday.

 

Paul Holborow, former Anti Nazi League National Organiser, helped plan the efforts to stop the NF. He told of the great unity in action which had been crucial that day. “The Afro-Caribbean community along with socialists taught the Nazis a lesson from which they found it very hard to recover,” he said.

John Lockwood, the only person to be jailed following the battle, said it “showed it was possible to go beyond protesting and opposing the fascists, and deny them the streets.”

Anti fascists marched down New Cross Road, where the NF were humiliated in 1977 and heard from speakers at sites such as the Albany Theatre and the Moonshot Club ( which had been gutted in a fire, in 1977, possibly by the NF).

Labour MP Dawn Butler said the lesson from Lewisham was that “It’s important that we never take our eyes off justice and equality.”

Imam Shakeel Begg from Lewisham Islamic Centre vowed that if Nazis tried to march through Lewisham again, “We are a strong, united community who will take them on.”

Lewisham councillor Brenda Dacres said we should remember 1977 “to tell our children so that they know and that they stand up”.

Other speakers included Jeff Slee from the RMT union, who had been at Lewisham on the day, NUS president Shakira Martin and Cathy Pound from Searchlight magazine.

Plaque unveiling

A plaque from Lewisham council was unveiled at Clifton Rise on Sunday, remembering how “thousands united here against racism and fascism”.

The day continued with two Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) concerts over the weekend.

There followed celebration and debate in Deptford, close to the battle, which was organised by Goldsmiths College, Lewisham Council and LMHR. Dr John Price was the central organising force behind Goldsmiths’ excellent displays and events.

One panel discussion saw people who were at the Battle recall the experience.

Harold Wilson, a schoolboy in the area at the time, remembered, “There was fear at the time. But with the Nazis defeated at Clifton Rise it just got that bit easier”. Jo Lang captured the time when anti-fascists re grouped in the town centre after humbling the NF. “It felt like those streets were my streets… loads of people smiling at each other because the NF weren’t there.”

Others recalled the poisonous climate that had led to the NF . Dennis, speaking from the floor, pointed out that, “In 1977 it wasn’t safe for a black man to walk the street. You couldn’t walk through parts of Lewisham.”

                                                   Rock Against Racism

Another forum on Rock Against Racism (RAR) focused on the key role that music played in the fight against racism. The panel included RAR organiser Roger Huddle, Rhoda Dakar from ska band the Bodysnatchers and Special AKA and writer/activist, Hassan ­Mahamdallie.

Platform  speakers said remembering Lewisham was to recall what worked in the fight against racism and fascism and try and adapt it today. Roger, Zak from LMHR and Rhoda spoke about how in some ways, we have come forward since 1977.  Key individuals like Joe Strummer from The Clash and Sham 69’s Jimmy Pursey, were praised for their role in helping to turn away many from the NF, in those nihilistic, punky reggae times.

Music such as Grime, for all its contradictions was seen by several as the sound of rebellion, as punk and Dub had been in the late 1970s.

Weyman Bennett, Joint secretary of UAF said of the weekend, “The NF didn’t go because they wanted to go—we smashed them. “We can defeat racists and fascists if we understand what Lewisham meant”.

Charlottesville and Trump’s appalling treatment of anti fascists in the wake of the horror means we must be on guard. UAF organised 13 vigils/protests to express solidarity with Heather Heyer’s family and U S anti fascists. More anti fascists and donations are essential, please join here, http://uaf.org.uk/join-donate/


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