EDL vs Walthamstow: Why a 30 day protest ban was not a victory

On the 1st of September this year (2012), the English Defense League, an extreme right political group with a passion for hating muslims, attempted to hold a rally in Walthamstow. They were given permission by the police and the local council, however, their rally was derailed due to the overwhelming numbers of local opposition. For some extra detail, watch this video: EDL Defeat in Walthamstow

The clashes were mostly peaceful (mostly!) but the EDL were truly thwarted and humiliated; managing a pathetic 300 strong mob that was faced with 3-4k local protesters who blocked their route to the rally point. The EDL planned another march for today (27th October 2012), presumably with intent of enacting reprisals for their previous defeat. The local residents were more than ready to defeat them once again, however, this time the council and police decided to stop the rally. This was due to police intelligence suggesting imminent violent confrontation. The ban took the form of a 30 day ban on EDL and “related” protests. The counter rally still went ahead although it was quickly kettled and dispersed by a large police force after it stopped at the top of Walthamstow market.

The fact that the EDL never made it to Walthamstow today was obviously a relief for many residents and hailed as a victory by many involved in the counter protest. However, banning things in this way is not really a victory; it has some very negative connotations.

The EDL can (and do) claim this reaction as a victory, they claim to their supporters that Walthamstow and other areas are afraid of them, implying their strength which can result in greater confidence, an increase in recruiting and an impression of success and legitimacy. Without actually turning up, their members cannot see for themselves how strong and defiant the local people are. This is not a good thing.

This sort of action also results in reduced civil liberty for everyone in the local area. What happens if a local campaign group who opposed the EDL try to protest against cuts to council services? banned. What happens if they want to protest against a school or hospital closure? banned. If we slip into a culture that readily bans protests, pretty soon we will have no protests at all because there will be no right to protest. This is not a good thing.

Some will undoubtedly argue that letting protests and counter-protests happen is a bad thing because it costs the tax-payer, it disrupts traffic, puts people at risk and ties up police resources that could be deployed elsewhere. These are all valid points, it would obviously be better if there was no need in the first place. However, given that the EDL exist, and people like them will always exist we have a choice to make; stand up and fight for what we believe in or surrender to a court order that attempts to sweep it under the proverbial carpet. I know which I choose.

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

On 1st of September, the protest and counter-protests went ahead; this is how it should be every time the EDL think they can spread their message of hate. Let them come and express their abhorrent views; but let us come and express our views also, in much greater numbers and much louder voices.