Celebrating International Women’s Day, Confronting Fascism

Posted on 27 March 2012 by

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The AWOL banner, held by visiting Angry Women of London and Brighton

It was great to have such a well publicised and attended march for International Women’s Day, with speakers, stalls, food and entertainment afterwards in a great venue.  It was the best planned IWD we’ve had in Liverpool that I can remember, and I’d like to thank the organisers for the hard work and dedication they clearly put into the march and event.

The march began with a gathering in the Peace Gardens behind St. George’s Hall, where our AWOL banner got its first airing.  But as we gathered for photos, news spread that something else was going on in town that day – members of Liverpool Antifascists informed members of AWOL and MWM that the BNP had set up a stall in Church Street, just half a street down from the intended route of the march.  Recent events have shown how vital it is that we have solidarity in Liverpool to confront fascism on our streets, so as the organisers huddled for a pre-march conference, I asked whether we could divert the march to circle the stall and see them off.  This was perhaps a little optimistic, but if it had happened I still say it would have been an amazing message to send.  There were understandable concerns about this strategy – people hadn’t come prepared for a confrontation, there were a lot of children on the march, and an unplanned diversion could cause difficulties for the organisers in future.  So I suggested an alternative.  I was lined up to speak before the march – I could announce the presence of the BNP and suggest that those of us who felt able to should break away for a brief diversion to Church Street, along with our allies and supporters from Liverpool Antifascists.  Then everybody on the march could make their own decision about whether to continue straight to St. Bride’s for the IWD meeting, or take a detour to confront a party whose members have stated that rape’s not a big deal and that single mothers should be imprisoned.  There was some conflict amongst the organisers about this, and I was told by some not to take women away from the march, that the BNP were a separate issue and nothing to do with us, that the IWD plans were more important.  In the end, I did announce the BNPs presence in town, and emphasised the importance, for women and for everybody, of not letting them spread their lies unchallenged.

The planned break-out march spread by word of mouth, and a small group headed away from the roughly 200-strong march to join a larger anti-fascist presence that was gathering in Church St.  I won’t go into the details of the confrontation, which was covered by others, except to say that I’m glad AWOL and some of the IWD march had a presence there.  It would have been shameful if we’d ignored that call.  On International Women’s Day, opposing Nationalism and Fascism is exactly what we should be doing, and we were exactly where we needed to be.

Many of us later went along to St. Bride’s, where the warmth and friendliness of the event organised by MWM was a welcome contrast from the confrontations in Church St.  I don’t intend this post to be a criticism of the organisers – I’ve been involved in organising big activist events myself, and I know what a nightmare it can be when something unexpected crops up and you’re asked to make changes on the spur of the moment.  The first instinct is to preserve the original plan, at all costs, even against your own political instincts, because the event has become the cause.  But we have to remember that marches are the means, not the ends, of our activism, and that the possibility for more militant action should be seen as an opportunity for events like this, not an obstacle to them.

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