The Guardian: Diverse and grassroots, the Trump marches were how protest should look

23 July 2018 - 12:00pm
War on Want in the news

Last week’s demonstrations showed that to tackle the far right, the traditional left has to give way to grassroots activism, writes Shaista Aziz and Asad Rehman for the Guardian.

When a quarter of a million people march together, the ground and the establishment shakes. That’s what happened in London, Scotland and across the UK as people from all walks of life took action in more than 50 towns and cities.

As much as it was a carnival of resistance surrounding Donald Trump’s visit to the UK, it was an eruption of dissent against the xenophobia of Britain as it heads for Brexit.

As one of the organisers of the protest in Trafalgar Square, the Stop Trump Coalition put front and centre the voices and lived realities of individuals and groups directly affected by the mainstreaming of bigotry here and across the Atlantic. Women of colour, migrants, refugees and trans people – alongside activists from UK Black Lives Matter and other grassroots groups – powerfully and unapologetically connected the dots between the politics of division in the US and UK and the rise of far-right extremism globally.

We have married the lessons of black community anti-racist organising of the 1980s with new models of organising that harness social media to reach beyond those already engaged. Not since the march against the Iraq war in 2003 has a protest looked and felt like this. For too long, those hardest hit have been invisible, even in the movements that claim to stand up for their rights. Last Friday there were huge numbers of first-time protesters, many of them women, particularly women of colour. When marginalised individuals and groups are finally given the space to represent themselves, they shape their own narrative, stories and resistance, and bring their own power and agency to the streets.

Stop Trump will always foreground these voices. In practice this means ensuring those on the frontline are front and centre of the organising, leading the protests – and, crucially, at the front of the platform.

For politics to mean something, it needs to be rooted in the reality of the most marginalised lives, and to demand that the humanity of those lives is recognised and protected. The far right projects itself as radicals storming the establishment’s barricades – while too many on the left are only comfortable speaking to themselves and those they have commonality with, often in a language only they understand. It is time for many on the traditional left to make way for a more grassroots and representative model of community organising and politics.

We are committed to working with community organisers and campaigners to build on Friday’s historical moment and turn it into a representative, intersectional, anti-racist movement for justice. It is only through the creation of such a movement that we can tackle the clear and present danger the far right represents – not simply by calling it out, but by challenging the root causes of inequality and injustice at home and globally.

We are living in dangerous times. In less than 10 years we’ve gone from outrage over the leader of the far-right British National party being given a seat on Question Time, to Steve Bannon – a former Trump strategist – spewing hatred on national radio without our political leaders flinching.

There is a growing body of evidence showing the increasingly close links between the far-right in the US, the UK and Europe. It has even been reported that a US ambassador has been lobbying the British government to release Tommy Robinson, the far-right founder of the English Defence League, from prison – based on an argument about “religious persecution” and “freedom of speech”.

Last Saturday supporters of Robinson and Donald Trump convened at Trafalgar Square for their own rally. A national trade union leader who spoke at the counter-demonstration was injured in what witnesses called “a targeted attack”. A Muslim woman bus driver in central London was met by a group of these far-right supporters who surrounded and blocked her bus, putting a pro-Trump message on her windscreen with an English flag. A female Muslim journalist was the target of misogynist abuse – because all the evidence shows extremism and misogyny are entwined.

On Wednesday two men were convicted of being members of neo-Nazi group National Action. Founded in 2013, it became the first extreme rightwing group to be banned in the UK since the second world war when it was proscribed in December 2016, after it had been assessed as being “concerned in terrorism” when it celebrated the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox by far-right extremist Thomas Mair.

Last week’s protests were historic. Now we must build on what we’ve started. The antidote to the poison of the far right is to tackle inequality and injustice, and to reclaim our communities. Stop Trump has never been about one bigot but about opposing a politics that threatens us all.

Asad Rehman is the executive director of War on Want. Shaista Aziz is an award-winning journalist who sits on our Council of Management. Both are members of the Stop Trump Coalition. 

Sign Up!

get updates on our work

Latest news

The Guardian: Diverse and grassroots, the Trump marches were how protest should look

23 July 2018 - 12:00pm

Last week’s demonstrations showed that to tackle the far right, the traditional left has to give way to grassroots activism, writes Shaista Aziz and Asad Rehman for the Guardian.

Read more

Join the conversation

'You've got mail', except when you live under occupation. Just another example of Israel's abuse of the basic right… https://t.co/xT0ArvDm34 6 hours 9 min ago
SATURDAY: Sounds of Freedom, , celebrate the wonderful culture of Palestine and the struggle of its p… https://t.co/JtFIethp7O 1 day 3 hours ago
Yet another indigenous assassinated in Brazil. Jorginho Guajajara, leader of the Guajajara, was murde… https://t.co/MPC2eLiYCk 1 day 5 hours ago