The BNP may have been grabbing the headlines, but there was a far larger mobilisation of opposition to the fascists' presence in The Potteries, earlier today. While the BNP were able to get some 300 people to its "memorial" event they reportedly only managed to turn 80 activists out for the morning's leafleting. The 20 rendezvous points they pre-planned across the city were reduced to ten. So much for their empty boasts about 400-plus leafleters. Compare this with the numbers anti-fascists mustered after a half-arsed mobilisation. Originally Unite Against Fascism had planned to leave the organising up to its local affiliate, North Staffs Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (NorSCARF) and not go for a national mobilisation. Then mid-week last there was a volte face and all of a sudden a decent anti-fascist turn out was a national priority.
Considering the lack of time compared with months of BNP planning, 200-250 at the billed anti-fascist vigil (which, thankfully, became a rally with some half decent speakers) was a very good turn out. Most people I spoke to on the Stoke Socialist Party stall were local, most not the usual suspects, and for many it was the first time they'd attended an event of this kind. Not only that, the majority at the rally were young, and by young I mean under 25. Contrast this with Youtube vids the BNP have plastered all over their website - you'd be hard pressed to find many under 40 in the footage. Proof positive that, ultimately, the future is on our side.
Following the speeches we lined up for an impromptu march to Hanley Forest Park where the Stoke Unity festival was taking place. For reasons known only to the police they were determined to prevent the march from going through the centre of Hanley (which is strange considering the BNP rally (appropriately) took place on a scrap of wasteland near Fenton) and blocked off the road. There was a bit of argy-bargy as some SWP activists tried to push through the line, but that was about it. The police successfully diverted us away from any concentration of "normal" people (funny they never had any problem with the 500 strong march for the Burslem 12 earlier in the year, nor the 2,500 on April 2006's demo against hospital cuts) and we got to the park without incident. In sum there must have been about a thousand at the carnival already.
I do have some gripes about the SWP/LMHR full timer who liked to think she was "in charge" of the event. She tried to prevent Stoke SP from erecting our banner on the grounds "it was agreed" no parties could not have their banners and signs out. Unsurprisingly she wasn't so vociferous in challenging her comrades who came with their SWP placards. But that brief whiff of hypocrisy aside, today showed the reservoir of anti-fascism is far wider than what the BNP can draw from. But between now and next June, when the mayoral (if they happen) and the European elections take place, it is the job of anti-fascists to turn that reservoir into a weapon that ensures the BNP sees no more electoral advances in Stoke-on-Trent.