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Sun 22 September 2019
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Londoners united on a chilly Sunday night to attend the inaugural meeting of the London Anti-Fascist Assembly.

Last night, I attended the first meeting of the London Anti-Fascist Assembly at the Halkevi Community Centre in Dalston.

So did a lot of other people.

No stranger to these kind of events, I was truly surprised at the spectrum of people who had given up two-and-a-half hours on a chilly Sunday night in February.  

Sure, there were those you’d expect at such a meeting: earnest young activists from a broad range of groups, gnarly old trots, squatter punks and anarchist crusties. The regular crowd were out in force.

However, they were easily matched, perhaps even outnumbered, by many for whom this was obviously their first political meeting – let alone an anti-fascist gathering.

To be honest, it was perhaps the most diverse and representative crowd I’ve ever seen at such an event, for better or worse.

It was clear that something had brought together people from a wide variety of backgrounds, classes and ethnicities to discuss and strategise against the threat posed by a resurgent and unchecked Far Right – the Tommy Robinson crowd, the ‘Yellow Vests’, Generation Identity, etc.

The reasons given for attending were varied – from the high-falutin’, rooted in praxis, to the succinct: “We want to survive.”

The reasons given for attending were varied – from the high-falutin’, rooted in praxis, to the succinct: “We want to survive.”

The night revolved around a series of break-out sessions addressing some of the pressing questions that those attending had – who are the main players in the Far Right? Where do they organise? What threats do they pose to our specific communities?

The conversation was lively, dense, and at times frustrating. There were significant challenges posed by having so many in such a small space, talking all at once. There were also many who had never experienced the kind of processes driving these kind of meetings before, leading to some misunderstandings.

It could be quite ‘team building away-day’ at times.

Yet, here was the beauty in the thing: despite the wide disparity in beliefs, experience and attitudes, there was a very real sense of movement. There was the possibility of a coordinated response to the increasing number of angry, violent mobs taking to the streets under the banner of one whipped-up grievance or another.

Groups are being organised at the four points of the compass to cover London, in order to organise community events, including food banks, childcare, gigs and other activities that aim to reclaim the streets from groups such as Generation Identity and the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA). Ready response teams are being formed to meet fascists where they gather and move them out of the area. People are bringing their skills to the table, and planning is underway.

At a time where things feel so bleak for so many, this seemed like some small light in the gloom.

“Rather than dreams of revolution, or radical change, the vast majority of those in attendance were there simply because they wanted to keep their neighbours and themselves safe.”

One theme that kept on coming through again and again was the idea that this was all about self-defence of our own local communities – rather than dreams of revolution, or radical change, the vast majority of those in attendance were there simply because they wanted to keep their neighbours and themselves safe in the face of visible threats.

They want their communities to come out of the stormy months and years ahead stronger than ever. Don’t we all want that?

As we left, we were told to go in groups as there had been reports of Far Right figures spotted near the venue, smartphones in hand, ready to accost attendees. Rather than deter us, this seemed to rally those attending – they simply weren’t going to get the better of us.

You don’t need to be a rabid leftie to join in and involve yourself in anti-fascist activism. You don’t need to have ever been involved in activism or protest. All you need is the willingness to listen, contribute where you can, and stand up to be counted.

“You’ll see some of the truth in the words of the late Jo Cox, ‘We have more in common than which divides us’.

In return, you’ll meet a huge range of people, from all sort of backgrounds, with many of the same values as yourself. You’ll see some of the truth in the words of the late Jo Cox, ‘We have more in common than which divides us’.

Previous democracies that have fallen to tyranny have quite often done so because most in the middle – not your professional activist – were reluctant to side with one of the competing forces until it was far too late, and the authoritarians – fascists – were in power.

We have a unique opportunity for a grassroots, representative organisation of like-minded souls to come together and prevent a slide into fascism before it’s too late. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past.

The London Anti-Fascist Assembly will be meeting regularly over the coming months, as will the groups for each of the four regions. If you are a Londoner concerned about rising violence and the aggression of the Far Right, you can find more information about their next meeting here.

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