Ten years ago today, the English Defence League (EDL) planned to march through Walthamstow, but the local community were determined to stop them. Report and pictures by rs21 members.
Ten years ago, the EDL were on a roll, organising large rallies of racists and hard-core fascists that fed off official Islamophobia and Theresa May’s recently declared ‘hostile environment’ policy. So when they announced their intention to march through Walthamstow – the first racist march in a multi-cultural area of London since Lewisham in 1977 – the stakes were very high.
We Are Waltham Forest was formed as an umbrella group to organise opposition to the EDL, bringing together national campaigns such as Unite Against Fascism with local residents, trades unionists, anti-racists, mosques and other religious groups.
There were big differences about how best to oppose the racists, with Labour councillors arguing that it was best to just ignore them. On the day, around 4,000 local residents and anti-racists from across London ignored their advice and joined a rally and march which began in Walthamstow market, with speakers including the local MP, Stella Creasy.
The EDL had assembled at Blackhorse Road tube station and planned to march up Forest Road to a rally at Waltham Forest Town Hall. The official plan was for the anti-racist march to make its way up Hoe Street to the Town Hall, where there would be a counter-demonstration.
Many activists had other ideas, however. Groups of people broke off from the march on Hoe Street to make their way through the back streets to the Town Hall, where they occupied the EDL’s rally point and forced them to move their PA to a back street. More locals harried the 200 hard-core fascists that the EDL had scraped together from their starting point at the tube station.
And as the main march reached the junction of Hoe Street and Forest Road, we sat down in the road, completely blocking the wide junction and barring the racists’ route. The huge police presence managed to force the EDL march through back streets to a brief rally, where they began fighting among themselves.
Half of the EDL had reportedly stayed behind at their original meeting point in central London pubs, and those who had made it were thoroughly demoralised. ‘Whose streets? Our streets!’ had rarely seemed more apposite, as we taunted both the EDL and the coppers. The huge police presence meant that protesters couldn’t get through to the EDL, and they threw a kettle around us which blocked the last part of the march, but also locked the junction tight.
After the rally the police hustled the EDL through the back streets to Blackhorse Road, further humiliated en route by locals jeering them. We held an exuberant victory march back to the original rally point, with further speakers hammering home the point that multi-cultural unity and determined action had kept the racist threat at bay.
1 September 2012 didn’t break the EDL, or even keep them out of Walthamstow. They tried to come back seven weeks later, but the police simply banned all marches, though anti-racist assembled anyway and held a short victory march to celebrate the EDL’s no-show. And in 2015 an even larger police presence forced a smaller EDL march through smaller but equally determinedly hostile crowds.
But it broke their momentum, and forced them onto the defensive. Anti-fascists outnumbered them at almost every subsequent event, which hadn’t always been the case before. And it gave everyone who turned out an immense sense of the power of the streets, and an object lesson in whose side the police are on. It was a great day, and a great victory.
We are Waltham Forest are organising a series of events to mark the tenth anniversary, including the first showing of a film of the day, which should be available shortly on Youtube.