Two opposing demonstrations took place in the Norwich city centre in the midst of rising tensions regarding the topic of immigration.
The protests began with the right-wing group UK Unity (UKU), who took to the city after organising a series of protests across the country. Following the announcement, local group Norwich Against Fascists (NAF), organised a counter demonstration.
This was a standing demonstration outside of Norwich City Hall on St. Peters Street. NAF occupied the side of the road of the City Hall and UKU stood on the war memorial side of the road, separated by a line of police officers.
At its peak the UKU group had approximately 40 people attend, whereas NAF and their allies saw attendance in excess of 500.
Spirits were ultimately positive throughout argument, with NAF’s protest accompanied by music and most participants from both sides on their best behaviour.
NAF’s efforts were supported by local trade unions including the FBU, Unite, GMB and RMT. Despite their late arrival, the Norwich Labour Party were welcomed by cheers from the crowd as they took their place within the demonstration.
Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South said: ‘It’s been a brilliant day, we outnumbered, out sang and out shouted UK Unity. This has been an amazing day, I am a proud MP of a city that has chosen to come out and spend their own time on a Saturday to see this lot off’.
A group of UEA students participating in the NAF counter-demonstration spoke to Concrete at the protest, explaining that despite following the day’s events the group felt drained, with little hope in their room for ‘constructive conversation’. However, they did emphasise that this protest was like no other they had attended before.
The group highlighted that they did not understand why UK Unity were branded as fascists and racist when they appeared to be protesting about Brexit.
Norwich Against Fascists reassured us that whilst this was their focus of the protest on the day, it’s clear from previous activity by the group that they portray racist and fascist views as an organisation and individuals involved in their movement.
UEA Philosophy student, Samuel Woolford, expanded on the points made by his peers: ‘Protests are pointless for debate, both sides are polarised and shouting jingles, often the same jingles, such as ‘Whose streets? Our streets’ which was being shouted by both sides.’
He added that the quality of debate can be hindered by ‘erratic’ discourse, ‘with no ability to have a proper debate or discussion’.
‘That being said’, he added, ‘there is no alternative medium for these discussions and protests are the only way people can actively express their views in the public forum’.
Councillor Jess Barnard highlighted the rise in For Britain leaflets that have been appearing in various wards across the Norwich area, coupled with the national and global rises of fascist, racist and nationalist views, as the primary reason of groups coming together to form NAF. The group aspires to letting refugees and migrants know that they are welcome in Norwich.
‘Today the true spirit of Norwich shone through, much greater than the hate that UK Unity tried to spread’. Barnard went on to explain, ‘we remain united against racism, it won’t be tolerated on our streets. Norwich clearly demonstrated that it is a progressive, diverse and welcoming city’.
‘The day may have been dressed up as a Brexit rally, but this is simply to mask the racism spread by these groups. We’ve seen the leaflets they are distributing, they specifically target Muslim and migrant communities, to say today is about Brexit is disingenuous at best’.
Addressing the concerns raised by students around UK Unity being branded as fascist simply for supporting Brexit, Barnard clarified ‘we didn’t organise this rally on a whim, we did our research, as should anyone attending, it’s clear from that research that their content spreads hate and racist messages’.
‘I hope we can continue to ensure we’re not complacent; we need to stand up against the rise of these far-right movements across the world’.
Norfolk Police anticipated that 600 people attended the event. No arrests were made, but one protester was escorted from the event and issued with a direction to leave notice. A direction to leave notice (Section 35 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014) is a dispersal order with the purpose of removing or reducing the likelihood of harassment, alarm or distress or the occurrence of crime and disorder, in a specified area during a specified period for up to 48 hours.
Inspector Graham Dalton said he was pleased the ‘event resulted in minimal disorder’, after ‘anticipating large crowds’, with ‘officers on patrol in the city to monitor and respond accordingly’.
‘It was also good to see members of the public showing great spirit in having their say and talking with others with opposing views’, Inspector Dalton continued.
There is a national demonstration against fascism and racism taking place Saturday 17 November 2018 and Norwich SUTR have arranged reduced price coach tickets for students who wish to attend: