Solidarity With Refugees March, 12 Sept, London

After months of despairing over the plight of the 300,000 plus refugees stranded at hostile borders across Europe, after struggling with the embarrassment of the UK government’s refusal to act, today the people of the UK finally got to have their say – and it was delivered to the government in approximately 100,000 decibels of loving solidarity.

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The Solidarity with Refugees march was organised in advance of emergency talks which have been called to discuss the crisis on Monday. The talks will be attended by the home secretary, Theresa May, and her EU counterpart and as such, it was felt that she should know exactly how the people she represents feel about it.

Organisers said on Facebook, “We have to ensure that refugees can reach Europe safely. There needs to be either official safe transport provided, or if people could apply for asylum from outside the EU they would be able to enter by official routes. We need to prioritise the fast processing of asylum claims from people from particularly dangerous regions, such as Syria. We can’t allow any EU countries to close their borders or build fences. There needs to be Europe-wide consensus on providing help where it is so desperately needed, relieving pressure on the Mediterranean countries.”
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The day started with a ripple of cheers and whoops through the crowds as the news passed through that Jeremy Corbyn, the unlikely left-wing activist and chair of Stop the War Coalition had won the Labour leadership elections in a glorious landslide of a victory with a staggering 121,751 labour votes.

Up to an estimated one hundred thousand Brits – refugees, economic migrants – even tourists, marched through the streets holding a multitude of banners which expressed their views in simple terms, “Refugees Welcome”, “Don’t Bomb Syria” and “No human is illegal”. And perhaps the most pertinent banner of the day said, “Be Kind.  And kindness emanated from everyone all day with people helping each other over fences, into spaces, sharing laughter and the belief that all humans deserve help and support regardless of where they are from. Eye contact with strangers in London is usually avoided, today, however, people couldn’t get enough of each other’s faces. Brits happily became one unified community. The perfect example was when we noticed an older lady lying on the ground. She had felt dizzy and needed some time out and a complete stranger offered to stand by her while she slept, watching over the lady and her things.

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Starting in Hyde Park and Park Lane, the marchers stopped to listen to speakers such as left-wing activist and folk singer, Billy Bragg, Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats and other representatives from organisations such as Refugee Council and the Syria Solidarity Movement talk about the injustice of war, the negative spin given to refugees by the parliament through the national press, and the indignity and unnecessary harshness, even illegalities of places such as Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre. The crowds were buoyant, motivated and solidified in their socialism. It was evident from the abundance of home made posters and banners that – and contrary to the prime minister’s ‘tough love’ line  – a heartwarming number of Brits believe that refugees are human beings who should be helped and are more than welcome in the UK.

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The march proceeded through Piccadilly to Downing Street, and then on to Parliament Square where thousands were delighted to finally hear a speech from new Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Cheers of “Jez we can, Jez we can” rang loud and proud outside the Houses of Parliament as despite the din of an overhead circling police helicopter, Jeremy took to the stage demanding the government acts with their hearts and minds.

“Recognise your obligations to help people which you’re required to do by law,” Jeremy told thousands, “but above all, open your hearts and open your minds and open your attitude towards supporting people who are desperate, who need somewhere safe to live, want to contribute to our society, and are human beings just like all of us. Together in peace, together in justice, together in humanity, that surely must be our way forward.”

Jez was thronged by the masses as he left the stage, heavily guarded but nonetheless walked through the crowds of supporters chanting his name. Billy Bragg followed with a passionate rendition of “The Red Flag” which the crowds joyfully sang along to.

The afternoon ended with a “Raving for Refugees” dance party outside the Treasury building where young and old people of every creed and colour danced to drum and bass together in true camaraderie. The party was started by Harry, a charity worker who spent over £3,000 and many years building a sound system on his bike so he was able to connect people with music in the streets.

Unfortunately, the Treasury felt differently and called the police to shut down the party. Trying to impose bylaws on a group of activists at a left-wing march is always going to prove challenging and this crowd didn’t like the unnecessary bullying one little bit. So Harry began to move his sound system down through Whitehall… and the crowds followed… all the way to No 10 Downing street where chants of “we are the People” and “Tories out” fell on deaf ears (Cameron is currently at his Hertfordshire estate hiding from Vivienne Westwood’s fracking protests). At this point, a mob of armed riot police in protective clothing and stern-faced gurns turned up. And this is where things took a sour twist. “Why are you here?” the police were asked.”To make sure you don’t break any laws,” came the oppressive answer. “Funny that” a marcher responded, “we were under the impression you are paid by us to protect us.”

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‘Guarded’ by the police, the sound system moved on to Trafalgar Square and still the people danced and sang behind Harry and his marvellous music machine. As the group moved through the square, the order must have been given to shut him down, so the police rushed him, with seven officers going in to grab hold of him, and seize his bike and sound system.

The police made no obvious attempt to warn him this would happen, having allowed the music and the crowds to continue all the way through Whitehall untouched. The marchers turned into protestors at this point and”Fuck the Police” amongst other taunts were chanted as the police carried his sound system to the van and Harry was left head in hands, quite clearly devastated. “I have a charity event tomorrow, and there’s no way I’ll get it back before then.” When questioned by a number of freelance journalists and law-savvy individuals, the police cited the,  5385 Greater London Authority Act 1999, 5236B Local Govt Act 1972 and the Trafalgar Sq bylaw 2012. The one question which everyone seemed to agree on was that Harry hadn’t been properly notified prior to the seizure of its imminence as apparently the police are required to do by law. Laws do not seem to always swing both ways.

 

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Harry, the sound system owner

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“I do it because music brings the people together, makes the people happy,” Harry told me almost in tears after the police had left him with a stripped bare bike, a traumatised wife and child. Solidarity is such a beautiful, all-too-rare phenomenon in this country. But even still it is powerful enough to be feared.

 

 

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