Mass mobilisation is far from the only trick in the anti-fascist book. This isn’t an argument against squaddism, local electoral politics, media exposés or anything else in the anti-fascist toolbox. However, it is an important tactic, and it’s important to get it right.
Mass demonstrations, whether marches or statics, have historically been important to fascist movements in much the same way as they are useful to the Left. They provide a sense of solidarity and a feeling of a job well done, meaning that participants go home feeling part of a broader movement and willing to put that bit more effort into day to day political activity.
A large demo is also a useful peg to hang social media output and outreach from, and, if it’s rowdy enough, gain mainstream media attention, thus further building the movement, getting the message out, and attracting more people along to the next demo. The English Defence League executed this strategy perfectly in their early days.
The disruption of their demonstrations is of paramount importance to stop fascist organisations from marching and building. The very presence of any opposition at all totally changes the nature of a fascist event. When there are opposing crowds, the police treat the event differently – the fascists will be much more constrained, possibly kettled, possibly evacuated out of town by the police. They are more likely to have a boring shit day and less likely to come back again. Without opposition they are free to pretend to be normal, mingle with the public, put across their views, go drinking in local pubs etc. Therefore they have a better day and are more likely to come back again in bigger numbers.
Numbers are critical because when faced with two opposing crowds the police tend to kettle and constrain the smaller group. If there are 5000 of us and 200 of them, most likely they will get escorted inside a police kettle – if the numbers are reversed, most likely we get the heavy policing.
The public messaging is also totally different. Without opposition, they can pretend to themselves and to the media and the world at large that they represent ‘mainstream’, ‘normal’ people. The media may even believe it. When there is an opposition of any sort, that is much less likely to happen.
The EDL very much surrounded in Liverpool
Our aim is for us to appear as the voice of obvious common sense and for them to be the outcast extremist freaks. They are attempting to achieve the reverse.
What follows is a (by no means exhaustive) guide based on experience of trying to disrupt fascist marches through mass community action.
Building the anti-fascist movement
Realistically your group isn’t going to have 500 members ready to spring into action when you blow the whistle. Anti-fascism works as a lens to focus the strength of the Left. Your job is to keep an eye on what the opposition are up to locally and nationally and be prepared. Having good links with trade unions, community organisations, social centres, football supporters groups and so on, provides you with a base to build from when the fascists decide to march in your town.
You should try and build up a good social media presence. Every group has its own flavour, but bear in mind that the purpose of this is to get a good crowd out, so aim for a broad appeal. Photos of you and your mates in balaclavas waving knuckledusters are questionably relevant (as are pictures of Stalin, dogmatic screeds about autonomist operaismo or gateways into the latest intra-leftist flame wars) – remember, you’re going for mass appeal.
There’s also other long term cultural building that you can be getting on with (especially if the fascists are at a low ebb). Organising film nights, self-defence classes and gigs can help to raise funds and build the movement.
Travelling to support other anti-fascist groups around the country is also necessary work, especially if there isn’t much of an anti-fascist presence in a particular town.
The fascist demo is announced
This is it! The forces of “Albion Awake!” the far-right street movement, have announced that they’re coming to your town. This is a planned demo, not a flash mob. Depending on the capacity of the fascist group, you could have anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to build. Like the Left, the far-right have to build for large demos. This means a certain amount of public organising that it’s your job to spot in the early stages.
Fact files – Very few ultra-nationalists will arrive as pantomime villains. National Action were the only group in recent years to openly declare themselves as Hitler worshippers, for example. Cleverer nationalists will latch onto subjects of local concern and represent themselves as concerned patriots. Your propaganda in the run up must aim to expose their real aims and their concrete links to far-right activism (this was done when the ‘March for England’ came onto the scene in Brighton).
Sheffield vs the EDL
Press releases – It’s worth considering press releases to local papers and radio stations, both of which are still a major source of info for most people. Most local news outlets are so short-staffed that there’s a good chance your release may be reproduced verbatim, so provide a quote. Keep it clear and concise, and remember that you’re trying to appeal to the majority.
Leafletting – Make a list of all events in your area that might be worth leafletting: gigs, political meetings, sports events etc. Think about mosques, churches and synagogues, colleges and other places where the community gathers. Organise a rota and go out to leaflet them. Keep your leaflet succinct with links back to your social media.
Stickers, flyposters, graffiti, banner drops – Cover your town in stickers and flyposters. Flyposting is obviously the cheapest option but stickers (if you can afford them) mean saturation coverage is more likely. Divide the town up into areas and send out teams. Graffiti messages or spraypaint stencils are another method that has been used. Banners just need to be big enough and legible! Drop them from bridges around the town.
Public meetings – It’s definitely worth calling a public meeting in the run up. Here you can go into a little bit more detail about the fascist group that’s marching in your town, and answer any questions or deal with any disagreements the community might have (be prepared for questions around free speech and so on).
Street stalls – A brilliant way to engage the general public (with everything that entails). Have a banner, a massive stack of leaflets, and a simple well rehearsed line to give to people.
Other local anti-fascist groups – If you’re lucky, there might be other anti-fascist organisations in your town. It is worth keeping up a liaison with them, if only to keep an eye on what they’re doing. Try and find some common ground and see if you can coordinate. It won’t help you on the day if you’ve called for a militant intervention and they’ve worked with the police to call a counter demo away from the opposition.
Social media – keep it busy, keep it focused. All of the above activities if filmed or photographed (you might want to avoid faces) can provide more social media content. Your aim is to be the go-to source of information about the day. Dedicated FB events and Twitter handles are ideal.
Props – Banner making workshops, flags, whistles, mobile soundsystem, loudhailers, drummers etc. etc. – brainstorm ideas for anything big, loud and visible.
General Tone – It’s worth having one logo or graphic across all your publicity. All groups have their own idea of what anti-fascism is, but our advice is to avoid obvious calls for violence or black block imagery. Think about what you’re trying to achieve and if possible set the bar low. Calls to ‘Oppose’ or ‘Stop’ are more likely to resonate than ones to ‘Smash’ or ‘Destroy’. Remember, you’re looking at getting the whole town out. (It’s also worth not over-emphasising the opposition’s capacity for violence)
Numbers – The crucial element. Without numbers of people out on the street then any action, ‘militant’ or otherwise, is impossible. The police will act to keep you away from the fascist demo. The whole day may turn into a damp squib.
All of the methods listed above are designed to do one thing – get the numbers out. If someone hears about the day through three or more avenues they’re far more likely to turn up.
The police – There is a good chance that the cops will try to contact people who they see as organisers and ‘liaise’ with them. Unless you want your demo to be four miles away and end up being forced to pay for portaloos, don’t bother.
Congrats – You’ve bootstrapped the event into reality!
The day itself
Use your social media (now with hundreds, if not thousands of followers thanks to your engaging content) to announce where you want people to gather. Turn up there yourself. Make sure you have banners, flags, whistles, and bust cards to hand out.
Avoid ‘cunning plans’ – these tend not to survive first contact with reality. Fascist demos are a three way struggle between the fascists, the anti-fascists, and the police. The potential for chaos is, therefore, high. It is better to allow a crowd to use its own initiative, reacting to events as they unfold in real time than to try and run some kind of paramilitary command structure.
Twitter can be used to keep people up to date on route changes or any other developments that might happen during the day.
Here’s a short video of the March for England that took place in Brighton a few years back.
The job isn’t done yet. Get a press release and a social media round up/congratulations out as soon as possible. You need to be the ones shaping the narrative. There also might be the matter of arrestee support and getting people legal advice. Getting nicked can be a traumatic experience, so make sure that there are people outside the station ready to greet arrestees with food and drink. (Don’t forget the opposition may also have taken arrests and their mates might be hanging around outside too).
This is not intended as a fully comprehensive guide on how to oppose fascism. As stated above, we think effective anti-fascism requires every tool in the box. This is just one facet of it that we’ve worked on over the years.