Stand Up Against Racism protest as it happened
Counter-protest affirmed inclusive city culture
The Stand Up Against Racism protest on Saturday (July 21) saw 400 people gather at Petersfield near Parker’s Piece for a march in the city.
The event was organised as a counter-point to another demonstration on Parker’s Piece by a far-right group in support of the jailed founder of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson. Robinson was sentenced to 13 months in jail for contempt after live-streaming a report of a trial in Leeds in May.
Stand Up Against Racism organiser – one of 15 on the organising committee – Dave Baigent, the Labour city councillor for Romsey, said of the Free Tommy Robinson movement: “They’re a fascist organisation. They’re hiding their argument behind freedom of speech.”
The Stand Up Against Racism organisers included Unite union, Unite Against Racism and the Fire Brigades Union. Subsequent speakers included Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner and Alex Mayer MEP for the East of England but the first to get the crowd cheering was Riccardo La Torre, the Fire Brigades Union’s Eastern regional secretary.
“We’re a proudly multi-national, multi-faith city,” La Torre told a cheering crowd, “and we will not tolerate anyone trying to bring hate and division into Cambridge.
“The firefighters are here and firefighters don’t scare easily – and certainly not by a bunch of bullies of the likes of Tommy Robinson.
“It’s now our generation’s turn to stand up and be counted and I see hope when I stand here in front of you – that is how we defeat them, we do it united and strong. Firefighters are sending a message right across the UK to say that, when it comes to racism: no pasaran!”
La Torre’s sense of urgency was fuelled by outrage at the far right’s attempt to highjack the Grenfell Tower tragedy for their own message, and in particular a video suggesting that the Tower housed illegal immigrants.
“This is a group which supports policies which would see people die,” said La Torre, contrasting that with the attitude of firefighters who put others’ lives first. “In their repulsive video about the fire at Grenfell they are trying to scapegoat the victims of the fire: that is where they are. How dare they? How dare they use Grenfell to push their message of hate? Free speech? What a load of crap. Firefighters have seen the aggression and violence these people are capable of.”
Daniel Zeichner followed: “We will never allow hate and racism to be peddled in this city,” he told the crowd before adding that the opening of the city’s new mosque in September will be a “jewel in the crown” of the city’s inclusive culture.
While a RMT (railway union) member was talking the crowd became aware that the Tommy Robinson supporters had lined up on the other side of Mill Road. Would they try to cross the street? There were around 20 far-right protestors. A line of police vans and police officers separated the two sides.
The chanting started: “Whose streets?.... Our streets.” Then it was “Get the Nazi scum off our streets,” which gave way to “We are black we are Muslim and we’re Jew, there are many more of us than of you…”.
As the stand-off continued Stand Up Against Racism’s organisers announced the delay of the start of the march because they didn’t want to abandon Mill Road, Cambridge’s most culturally diverse street, to a far-right group.
“We must defend Mill Road,” said one of the organisers from the stage. “My feeling is that what we must do is stay here until the police moves the marchers. We have told the police it is their responsibility to defend Mill Road and we will wait until the police move the marchers on. Are you with me?”
Huge cheers. The crowd waited until the far-right group – which may have been the EDL-approved FLA, the ‘Football Lads Alliance’, according to one organiser – were gone, which took 40 minutes. The march eventually began at 3.15pm, wending along City Road, down Norfolk Street and Gwydir Street and up Mill Road.
After the march ended at 4pm I asked a police officer standing in Mill Road how his day had been.
“It could’ve gone better,” he replied.
Why, because of the stand-off between the two groups?
“Yes, the opposing groups on opposite sides of the road.”
That wasn’t supposed to happen?
There was an incident at around 4pm in which police officers were sprayed with what was later said to be red dye following a disturbance near Parkside Swimming Pool. Cambridge Constabulary said officers received medical attention and there were “no serious injuries”. One man, said to be a ‘Free Tommy’ supporter, was arrested.