This weekend saw chaos across US airports, as Donald Trump’s Executive Order on migration came into effect. The order halts the US refugee programme for 120 days, indefinitely bans all Syrian refugees and prevents entry of all nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries. The ensuing disarray resulted in US residents being detained on their way back from trips abroad and widespread confusion about who the order applied to, with companies, universities and even sports teams hastily urging anyone abroad not to try to come home incase they couldn’t. 2 residents who were detained and served with a deportation order appealed to a Federal judge and won a temporary stay, effectively halting the deportations of those on US soil who’re affected by the order until their case is heard. While the constitutionality of the ban will be tested in the courts, the racism and inhumanity of deliberately targeting those from Muslim majority countries needs to be resisted on the streets.
As protests erupted across the US, the response back home was to invite Donald Trump for tea with the Queen. A petition calling for his planned state visit to be cancelled has now gained 1.4m signatures and backing across the political spectrum.
Demonstrations were organised in towns and cities across the UK this evening and, since the left were involved, Glasgow saw not one by two huge rallies this evening, to protest against what’s been dubbed the “Muslim Ban” and to show solidarity with Muslims, immigrants and refugees around the world.
At 5pm, the group “Stand Up to Racism” organised a demonstration at the Donald Dewar statue. At 6pm, another demonstration was organised in George Square. Yesterday served both as an inspiring example of our collective strength and a depressing reminder of the issues that still blight us.
I only briefly passed by the demonstration at the Donald Dewar statue. It was big, very big. While I didn’t stick around long enough to hear every speaker, the list appeared to include quite a few lefty sects, admittedly speaking under an impressive array of guises. More on that later.
As I headed to the George Square demonstration, organised by just some punter (as far as we can tell), I was a bit worried there would be no-one there, given everyone was up the road but it was also big, very, very big. I don’t want to play “my demo’s bigger than yours” but I think I just did.
There were speakers in the Square from Labour, Patrick Harvie from the Greens, speakers from the US, a Muslim speaker, a Christian speaker, a comedian, a poet and some I probably forgot. The central messages refutes the familiar “wot good does standing about do?” better than I could.
Patrick Harvie asked whether the “special relationship” was with “the man in the White House or the people he threatens”, Claire MacAulay who set up Scottish Action for Refugees said, “We cannot all do everything but if everyone does the one thing they can do, it adds up to something”, another speaker reminded us that this was the moment when people in the US and worldwide must say of Trump’s administration: “First they came for the Muslims and we said ‘not this time motherfuckers'” and there was the ever timely reminder that “if he hits that button, we’re all mince.”
But the words of a speaker who identified herself as a Muslim who had sought refuge in the UK were the most clear reminder of what – and who – we need to keep fighting for, thanking people for attending the event, she said, “I have 2 hands, I can earn my money. We are here to save our lives.”
While it’s easy to see events like last night as “just another demo”, particularly when it’s “about something we can’t do anything about” – it’s equally as important to acknowledge that and why so many people were there. It’s not often you get a demo this big in Glasgow on a cold Monday night, nevermind two. International solidarity is important and we shouldn’t be ashamed to send a message that we stand with those resisting this in the US.
But this is an issue which impacts on our communities, the British Government now seems to believe Brexit has given them a mandate to do whatever they like, particularly to migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and residents who happen to have been born somewhere else. The far right lurks in our shadows too, and in positions of power and influence.
Theresa May isn’t suddenly a massive racist because Donald Trump’s coming over, as Home Secretary, she was responsible for “racist van”, deported TENS OF THOUSANDS of people indiscriminately and oversaw a barbaric detention and deportation system. Vans still round people up in the night because they’re from the wrong country, in Scotland, in 2017. A black man died with no explanation (but plenty of injuries) at the hands of the police in Kirkcaldy. Complacency was yesterday’s problem, this has to be our problem now.
I’ve stood around and written about so many protests and last night shouldn’t have been exceptional: but the fact so many were on the streets does matter. The clue as to what some “demonstrations” are about is in the name. It really was a demonstration of the collective strength of our communities and a restatement of their solidarity – not just with those under attack in the US but with everyone fearful of what’s ahead. The drip, drip, drip of denigration, dehumanisation and isolation of refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, Muslims and people of colour didn’t start with an Executive Order far away – but if we don’t send a message that we’re ready to stand together and fight, we give a green light to the forces of racism at home. Last night sent a clear message that we have no choice but to stand and fight – and we will.
This would normally be the point where I tail off, you’d heard the edited highlights, gazed at the cherry picked collection of banners and we’ve all confirmed that actually, despite some pish, it was a worthwhile event. But there wasn’t 1 event, there were 2; two demonstrations within no more than a 5 minute walk from each other. As far as we have gathered, there was no reference to why this was from the platform of either event. But we have to talk about why. Because we have to acknowledge just how big a problem we have to deal with, and just how little time there is to do it.
[CONTENT WARNING: Discussion of rape, sexual assault]
The 5pm, Donald Dewar statue demo was organised by “Stand Up To Racism” (SUTR), the latest in a long line of front groups set up by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The SWP are now best known for being the socialist sect who covered up the rape and sexual assault carried out by a senior member, Martin Smith. Smith was an organiser of an “anti racist” front group set up by the SWP. The notion the SWP should be allowed to hastily dump their now toxic “Unite Against Fascism” brand, associated with organisers like Smith, and rebrand themselves as “Stand Up To Racism” is staggeringly insulting to the women and survivors whose names they dragged through the mud. It’s shamefully inappropriate for the SWP to be associated with a movement which claims to stand against the misogyny of Doanld Trump, given the refusal of their members to stand up to in their own ranks.
Equally shameful were the hacks who shared a platform with them yesterday. There would of course be hundreds/thousands of people there who had no clue that or why there were 2 demos. There might even have been speakers on the platform who weren’t aware. But anyone involved at a senior level in RISE, who were represented at the SUTR/SWP event, absolutely knows what happened and what they’re doing.
For those not familiar with RISE, they used to be the Scottish Left project, a spinoff from the Radical Independence Campaign, the group set up by the Artists Formerly Known as Coalition of Resistance AKA The International Socialist Group (ISG) after that went tits up. Basically, a splinter group from…the SWP. They previously vaguely pretended to care about not rehabilitating the SWP but it’s clear that was strictly strategic and that they are prepared to throw people under the bus in the name of a “unity” which was sorely lacking last night.
If you want to know why people do what they do, particularly in politics, follow the money. These front groups work by getting hacks to pass motions for union funding at branch meetings and at national level, this then allows paid positions to be created, which they elect themselves to. It’s a tried and testing formula of voting yourself into a job with the money of working people and one that might seem more appealing to the SWP/RISErs, now they know they’ll get nowhere near Holyrood. But it’s exactly this dangerous strategy which put Martin Smith in a position of power and they know that as well.
So, thankfully, there was another demo attended by hundreds more people who were also totally unaware of any of this, and hundreds who’d chosen to go to the demonstration not organised by the SWP. Still, it was nice of the SWP to march down to the Square, that’s definitely what you do when people are attending an event specifically because you weren’t at it. Again, I’m sure many people who thought “yes, let’s unite with the other people a few minutes away” had no clue they were pawns in the SWP’s power game.
The turnout at the George Square event is a direct challenge to those who pretend we need the SWP because of their organisational capacity and it’s also a demonstration of how many people feel excluded from their events. Of course, as I keep saying, MOST PEOPLE DIDN’T KNOW and can’t be used as cannon fodder – but I saw at least a few hundred people in the Square who would absolutely never go to an event organised by the SWP. The left is deliberately excluding these people ever time it lends credibility to SWP events and works with them in their front groups like Stand Up To Racism. Those hundreds of people are a better building block for our movement than the same 2 people from the SWP or indeed RISE, who somehow still get to speak every time someone opens a fucking envelope.
I’m awaiting pelters and incredibly original Monty Python memes for mentioning what happened last night, “shut up, in the interests of unity” and that. But, there was no unity yesterday, just a massive snake dressed as an elephant in the room: the SWP and those who now seem happy to associate with and rehabilitate them. We have to acknowlege that this essentially new movement is already divided along familiar lines: those who believe we should stay silent on the issue of abuse, those who don’t – and everyone else. If we don’t deal with this now, there won’t be an everyone else. And we’ll lose, again.
Last night demonstrated there are vast forces who’re ready to stand together, and the same old problem dividing us. Ultimately, we need to decide if rebuilding our communities and movements from the ground up matters more or whether we’re more taken in by the fact the SWP have a bigger PA system, more money and shinier banners. We can only have 2 rallies right next to each other for so long before those choices have to be made. Despite having exactly no faith in many sections of the “organised left” who made the wrong choice yesterday, I’m eternally hopefully that the wider movement can and will make the right choices, if only because it can’t afford not to.
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