'We took a risk, and it paid off'

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Leicester was one of the turning points in the battle to stop the EDL. It was to be the first major UAF demo built locally, despite facing a national mobilisation by the fascists. At the time it represented an attempt to turn the EDL strategy on its head. Instead of them leaving behind local groups, UAF would use the opportunity to put down deep roots.

Leicester had been trying to get a local UAF group running for a while. We had managed to get a number of people to some of the national mobilisations against the EDL, as well as days of action against the BNP. We that knew sooner or later the fascists would target our multiracial city.

When the EDL announced they would march on 9 October 2010 we assumed that there would be a national UAF mobilisation. But we received a call from the UAF national office telling us that we had to build a local demo. Our first reaction was, "You've got to be joking!"

We resolved to hold a counter-mobilisation on the same day as the EDL march. The group emailed every trade union and councillor in the city looking for support. The only response came from the PCS public service union, who said they would be there with their banner, as well as backing from three local councillors.

Muslim organisations were worried there would be violence, and feared for their youth. The churches opted for a prayer vigil on the Friday. The city council put out a message to discourage people from protesting.

As we had no formal support for the Saturday protest, we just went on our own. We leafleted the mosques, the town centre, and every workplace we could think of. We emailed and phoned everyone we knew. We contacted the Indian Workers Association who agreed to put out a joint statement. They hosted a meeting with some 150 people. We also held a public meeting in the city's multicultural neighbourhoods.

The Kurdish community told us that the police had visited community groups and told them that the EDL were not "racists" and the best thing was for them to stay out of town on the day. That Saturday we took a huge risk - we did not know if 20 people or 500 people would turn out - actually over 700 people joined us. It was a great success.

We knew our mobilisation was a risk, but we were convinced that if we allowed the EDL to march unchallenged they would keep coming back. On the day the EDL rampaged through the city, culminating in a horrible attack on Asian cafe.

After that demo Leicester UAF grew to become an established and important organisation, and when the EDL returned in February 2012 we had all the unions on our side. But again we faced harassment by the council and the police when we vowed to hold a counter-demonstration.

As chair of UAF, I was threatened with arrest if anyone dared to protest in the city centre. I had to formally resign my position, and on the day "individuals" - including councillors and trade unionists - held an unofficial protest near to where the EDL were gathering. But it was an important show of defiance, and a clear message that we would not be pushed around.


Jacqueline Lewis is the former chair of Leicester UAF