On Wednesday evening around seven thousand people gathered at Russell Square, London for a street festival against the Tory election of Boris Johnson as Leader and PM, a constitutional coup carried out by the Tory hard right. The gathering and subsequent autonomous march was called by an ad-hoc collective of women (mainly women of colour) from various groups and swarmed through Central London with mobile sound systems, including an open topped double decker bus packed with grime mcs and djs, and headed towards Whitehall.
The bloc was led by a big FCK GOVT // FCK BORIS banner, joined by thousands of people with a heavy dose of joyful militancy thrown in, sick Grime artists performing from the bus and a street festival vibe. The crowd was way beyond the usual stereo-typical A-to-B demo with mass produced placards and tedious speeches. No police permission was asked or given, and due to the size of the demo and the political sensitivities of the day (as well as the tactic of having John McDonnell support the demo), the MET pretty much were ordered to stay back, giving us the streets. Whilst we were outside Downing Street a succession of Tory MPs receiving their cabinet posts had to leave by the back door due to the mass presence of people. As artist Awate said to the crowd outside Downing Street, “we have disrupted moving in day”.
The Facebook event was launched just a few weeks before with around 12 organisations co-hosting and dozens more supporting. As Instagram is far more popular with those under 25, a well designed campaign was developed to get the message out further, utilising movement connections with those coming from and active in the Grime scene. Following from the experiences of 2017 when upcoming Grime artists became vocal in support of Corbyn and what he represented, and led to the Grime4Corbyn party and online campaign. As the prospect of Boris for PM was coming as an ever closer reality, activists were already thinking what to do when Stormzy’s performance at this years Glastonbury Festival echo’d a wider feeling with his song Vossi Bop with the line “Fuck government and fuck boris” being chanted by tens of thousands of fans.
As the FB event for FCK BORIS went viral on social media, the real catalyst was at the actual point of Boris Johnson being elected as Tory leader on Tuesday. Johnson is the second unelected prime minister in a row and was brought to power as a result of an internal Tory Party existential crisis, elected by a nearly all white, 71% male membership that make up less than 0.2% of the population. As the news hit, the attendees shot up from the very respectable 12,000 to over 23,000 (going or interested) in the space of 24 hours.
One issue, many demands
Those that hit the streets were all united under a fck boris / fck govt attitude but it was also an open space where people reflected their own demands and reasons for being there. From the start point of the rally only three speakers took to the bus – Peaky from Grenfell, a Youth Striker and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. This reflected the realities of the movement as they stand. Dominated by an electoral strategy to get rid of the Tories and to end austerity along with the lived reality of what that has meant for the past 10 years and the new emergence of militant youth movements that are intersectional, diverse and anti-capitalist. The emphasis was on the people there who didn’t need 2 hours of speeches to point out the bleeding obvious.
As expected John McDonnell called for a general election to big cheers which was repeated on the march with some placards and chants, whilst others at the demo chanted for a second referendum on Brexit, others for a Green New Deal and those up for a bit of Full Communism now. It’s important to bear in mind that when you mobilise broadly you will get a broad range of opinions, some of which are in conflict with each other. It’s a space that enables a chance to feel powerful and hopeful on the streets away from the infinite scroll of social media, for many it’s the first time they’re on the streets and we should develop better ways of connecting and exposing people to the varied concrete struggles that have been appearing all across London that require huge numbers to make effective. This will require actual organising and talking to people, and making the case that these movements will only grow if our networks and base grows. The better we get at this, the better our chances in pulling off more powerful actions.
25 years to the day of the big anti-Criminal Justice Bill demonstration in 1994, it was a fitting anniversary bringing anger in the form of a street festival with young people many of whom would have been studying in colleges or working in precarious work, and who on the whole reflected the diversity of working class youth in London, female, queer, ethnically diverse.
This was reflected in the ecology of organisations involved in calling and organising for the street festival: Women’s Strike Assembly, Grime4Corbyn, Feminist Anti-Fascism, Momentum, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, GalDem, Docs Not Cops, NUS Black Students’ Campaign, Sisters Uncut, Student Climate Action and Plan C LDN, all under the FCKGOVT//FCKBORIS banner. This is testament to the movement building that’s happened in London over the last few years, particularly the last two – from Women Strike to Feminist Anti-fascism to Rent Strikers and Base Unions, and a sign of an emerging radical coalition in the capital that has moved far away from the old Trot oligarchy and big trade unions reticent to allow new forms of organising and innovations to disrupt there cookie cutter models.
The street party made the demo, finding the emotions and desires that bring us together – and at the end of the day, at least for most people, it’s this emotional desire for a free and equal life that keeps us going, and the moments that show how possible this other world is, not the most perfect theory, political line or organisational structure. The vibe was high energy and joyful, but there was an underlying militancy and anger that might promise other potentials too – several times the chant became “fuck Boris fuck the police” – and this combination could be powerful in articulating people’s hatred of Johnson and the Tories in a yet more revolutionary direction.
Mobilising the movement ecology
Of course, this emerging coalition and ecology is as much a result of the historical moment as it is of our active organising. At the front of the march down to Whitehall, just behind the main banner, were youth climate strikers with a huge banner of their own and bringing radical energy, carrying themselves well with solid organising and militancy that suggests some older radicals should learn before they preach. Their rise and participation undoubtedly made the demo what it was, and they brought and distributed thousands of legal bust cards advising no comment and no cooperation with the police, in a marked political contrast to other activist strategies that have recently been working with the police and demonstrating a wilful ignorance of the police’s role in suppressing social movements. Though it should be mentioned that XR didn’t back the demo due to their policy of not being abusive to individual politicians. The youth climate striker who spoke at the beginning of the rally showed how clearly they understand that overcoming climate chaos requires a critical radical politics, refusing to divide system change into distinct “issues”, already pushing beyond the limits of XR’s politics.
We are not faced with unlimited alternatives in the coming months but hard choices to dislodge an increasingly more dangerous far-right Tory party whose advisers and new cabinet members have supported everything from sneaky arm deals, to capital punishment and even hailed the leader of the fascist For Britain group a “hero”. This is not alarmist to suggest that unless we beat back by any means necessary the rise of this party as it permeates its way across the state, we will face increased repression on the streets, in our workplaces and communities. With an already emboldened far-right alright appealing to Boris to “Free Tommy”, an entire clusterfuck is awaiting us unless we pull together the common thread of resistance from the streets to the state to push back this right authoritarian shit show that will hamper any attempts for the liberated cities we want to live in, and a climate that won’t kill us.
To have any chance in this fight we will need to expand and deepen the autonomous left coalitions to strategise where and when to act. With a possible general election happening this year and given the general conditions, we need to in this moment of relative calm, create and mobilise wider layers of the class, be weary of the dampener actions and bad strategy of the old trot oligarchies (from People’s Assembly to Stand Up to Racism to Stop the War)….and make what happened on Wednesday the stepping stone to real powerful movements and an intensity of struggles.
For that to happen, we all need to get involved in something, there are tons of organisations, including Plan C, pick one, get involved, get educated and get planning.
(main photo credit: Angela Christofilou + Nadine Persaud )