Rallies, Nazi salutes, and suicide. Whose streets are they anyway?

A rallying thought. Note: This has no connection to political views expressed by anyone at any march or rally. However, it’s the kind of thought that makes me less welcome within political groups.
 
During rallies last weekend in support of Tommy Robinson, two people were seen to make a Nazi style salute.  That’s not something I ever want to see except in a rendition of “Springtime for Hitler” or a historical documentary.
 
The take home lesson from some left-wing pages I follow was this: The people at those rallies were mostly Nazis or neo-Nazis intentionally following the ways and beliefs of Hitler.
 
At a counter-rally I attended a couple of years ago when an anti-immigration, anti-refugee group had their own rally in Newcastle hundreds and hundreds of people around me shouted out calls for the people on the other side of the police cordon to shoot themselves in the head.
 
At a march I attended around the same time in support of the NHS hundreds of people shouted out calls for a government minister to be murdered, led by a man with a loudspeaker.
 
If I analyse these events in the way the left-wing pages analyse those two Nazi style salutes what conclusions should I draw?
 
If I follow such internet logic then I am probably a person who wants people to kill themselves or be murdered.  Obviously, I’m not. I wrote a blog post at the time about how ashamed I had been to be at those rallies even though I believe in the cause of helping refugees and believe in a fully public NHS that continues to be free at the point of access and is adequately funded and is not put more and more in the hands of private companies.

Internet logic is unreliable.  It’s the world of condemnatory soundbites, of stereotypes, of absolutist black and white thinking.  It can be a world in which reason is left behind because we’re so convinced of the rightness of our cause and the wrongness of someone else’s.  It’s an easy world to live in.  I confess that sometimes I live in it too.

 
I very rarely attend rallies now even when I broadly agree with the views of speakers. I don’t want to be aligned with events where such things happen – and are promoted by the people running the rallies. I don’t want to be among placards calling for things and people to be smashed or destroyed. I don’t want to be caught up in the mob mentality – and it’s easy for any of us to be caught up in that.
 
I hate racism. There. I’ve stated a definite viewpoint. But the anti-racist rallies can turn into horrible places for me to be. And in cases when the two sides clash, what really does that achieve? Nobody on either side is convinced. Instead, they become more hardened in their beliefs in reaction to events in the streets. And gentle people who might hate racism too are shown that anti-racists can be quite objectionable at times. All you end up with is two groups of people telling each other they’re shit.  Anyone else can find it hard to spot the difference between the two groups.
 
Then the side with more people insults the other side for having less. I’ve been in rallies where the other side were dismissed as pathetic and unimportant posturing fools because there were few of them. This weekend the activist anti-racists were dismissed in exactly the same way at an event in Northern Ireland by the DUP representative who spoke.
 
I’ve been on marches where the call and response, with typical intelligence is “Whose streets? … Our streets.” At the big Tommy Robinson march in London the call and response was often, “Whose streets? … Our streets.”
It’s the same kind of call as the Jets and Sharks in the prologue to West Side Story.  It’s the same kind of call as any gang has.  Yes, the anti-racists and the anti-immigration sides behave more like teenage gangs than people who can recognise nuance and complexity and can have discussions with each other.  There are speakers to talk with intelligence and who work hard towards justice, in whatever way they define it, but the message is lost in the chant.
 
Bollocks to all that “our streets” nonsense. Here’s my version:
 
“Whose streets? … Everyone’s streets, because we live in the UK and have a reasonable degree of freedom and everyone has a right to walk down the street without being told that street belongs to someone else and not to them and anyone who says otherwise isn’t displaying any grasp of the basic principles of freedom that we have in our country that they might display in an arena that isn’t a political march or rally.”
 
It’s not as catchy. But it’s more true.
 
This weekend Newcastle may see a march and rally in support of Tommy Robinson. If that’s the case it will see a march and rally in opposition. Each side will have speakers who will talk about the other side. Each side will talk of the other in often unfair caricatures.
 
They’ll probably both give that rallying cry. And in doing so will reveal how wrong they both can be.
 
I hate racism. But I’ll be somewhere else. Even if I had nothing else to do on Saturday I’d be somewhere else.  I hope all those who are there or who witness it all stay safe, physically and emotionally.  I hope there’s no violence during or after the events as there was in London on Saturday. At this moment I wish everyone well there, on both sides. It is their way and away from the mob chants many of the people I used to march with do a lot of positive work, far more than I’ve ever done. They’re good people caught in a crowd and crowds can sometimes display both the best and the worst aspects of people. But I’ve learned it’s not my way and I no longer feel guilty about that.
 
As it happens – and this is purely coincidence – I’ll be at a small event, a very creative event, run by a woman who has herself been subjected to racist abuse though that’s not directly connected with the event except insofar as all our stories are connected with it. Nobody will be blasted. Nobody will carry placards calling for people or groups to be smashed. Instead, the hope is to lay a foundation for building something positive, to build community and friendships, to be just one more small light in our city.
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