In Defense of Free Speech?

Today I was in town keeping an eye on the place. Nothing unusual in that you might think. For some self-appointed reason that’s the kind of thing I do. But today I was there looking for fascists and making sure, in so far as I could, that they did no harm.

Which as you'll see, they didn't.

Which as you’ll see, they didn’t.

All week a particualrly nasty bunch of the species, who I won’t dignify by naming, had been threatening all sorts if they weren’t allowed to do their march. Their ‘right’ they’d been calling it. ‘Free speech’ they’d been calling it. This bunch of racist, Islamophobic, holocaust denying, white supremacist totalitarians who’d apparently written to the City Council threatening “an action-packed weekend of ethnically-enriched chaos and mayhem” if they were denied their rights.

Naturally I was curious to see how it all went.

Outside News From Nowhere a group of Socialist Singers were exercising their right to a free song.

Outside News From Nowhere a group of Socialist Singers were exercising their right to a free song.

Something about fascism they’d picked specially.

While outside Barnardo's Herbert of Liverpool was raising them money by selling off his 'flamboyant clothes' as his assistants called them.

While outside Barnardo’s Herbert of Liverpool was raising them money by selling off his ‘flamboyant clothes’ as his assistants were calling them.

Still in Bold Street, Greenpeace speaking up for the Arctic.

Still in Bold Street, Greenpeace speaking up for the Arctic.

And on Church Street, the British Legion speaking up for bagpipes.

And on Church Street, the British Legion speaking up for bagpipes.

And someone else speaking up for Jesus.

And someone else speaking up for Jesus.

These and many and various other causes not photographed, all up and down the streets, speaking out as they have a perfect right to do. Some I agree with, some I disagree with and some I couldn’t care less about. But all going about their business peaceably, even the bagpipes. Not one of them, in my hearing anyway, threatening to send the city up in flames if we don’t all do what they say.

Also on Church Street, as ever, today’s quiet classical Greek Chorus of a man.

Him with the broken toy microphone and the guitar with no strings.

Him with the broken toy microphone and the guitar with no strings.

Possibly sensing the tension in the air he’s sweetening the atmosphere with his own gravelly rendition of ‘A spoonful of sugar’ from Mary Poppins.

All quiet passing the local home of our democracy.

All quiet passing the local home of our democracy.

And crossing the road where our own slavery days are remembered.

And crossing the road where our own slavery days are remembered.

Still have very mixed feelings about whether it’s a good thing or not to still have a street named after the island where the African’s captured into slavery were kept before being transported across the Atlantic.

Then I get to the Pier Head. Where the fascists will soon be arriving.

Then I get to the Pier Head. Where the fascists will soon be arriving.

Councillors Ann O’Byrne, Rachel O’Byrne and many trade unionists are here waiting.

When people start to pick up that the fascist's march is off.

When people start to pick up that the fascist’s march is off.

Police officers here confirm it.

Police officers here confirm it.

To general and righteous delight.

To general and righteous delight.

Even so, people hang around to make sure it's true.

Even so, people hang around to make sure it’s true.

I head up to Lime Street where they were due to be marching from.

And there is still talk that they haven't called it off.

And there is still talk that they haven’t called it off.

Opening the Gyratory to buses.

Opening the Gyratory to buses.

Then closing it again.

Then closing it again.

A good many tooled up and masked anti-fascists around.

A good many tooled up and masked anti-fascists around.

Some clearly talking about and looking for a fight.

Some clearly talking about and looking for a fight.

And standing there witnessing things and taking my photographs in the middle of the Gyratory I’m saddened by what I can only describe as the optimistic aggression in the air.

Most people clearly are here to see that no harm happens to our place or our people from the visiting totalitarians. But some seem like they might be just a different sort of totalitarian. A suspicion deepened later when I see this photograph by, I think, Joe Thomas of the Liverpool Echo.

The Anti Fascist Network in Liverpool today.

The Anti Fascist Network in Liverpool today.

This look is never less than threatening. And not just to the people they mean to threaten. To me this look threatens us all with secrecy and violence. And I like it no more than the fascists I’ve come to see safely on their way out of here.

After a while nothing has happened and I’m picking up on Twitter that the fascists really have called off their march and left town. So I go off for my lunch.

On the way passing today's bearer of random wisdoms.

On the way passing today’s bearer of random wisdoms.

And yes he’s done it again. Summed up the relieved mood of all of us.

“Speaking words of wisdom, Let it be!”

I go round to the Quaker’s for a peaceful sit and a quiet lunch. And I need and appreciate the peace.

Because today I have looked into the face of violence, and I didn’t like it anymore than I ever have done.

Later on it turns out the fascists never managed to leave Lime Street Station. Were in fact kept in the Left Luggage by the Police for their own protection. Now we can crow about this and call it a victory if we like. But I saw and heard some not fascist people there today prepared to do great violence. And I don’t call that  victory at all. Certainly not a victory for free speech, for democracy, for decency or humanity.

My solution? I don’t have an easy one. People who don’t have peaceful intentions clearly have to be dealt with very carefully. But if they’re met with the same kind of violence they themselves are threatening, then where might that lead in the not too long run?

Anyway, I get the bus home.

Anyway, I get the bus home.

And though there are still a good few police around.

And though there are still a good few police around.

A normal, peaceful Saturday has returned.

A normal, peaceful Saturday has returned.

This was ugly though.

19 thoughts on “In Defense of Free Speech?

  1. Jeff

    A thought-provoking column, Ronnie. I can’t fathom why the fascists wanted to march in Liverpool anyway. Sadly, there are men of all political persuasions (and none) who relish the chance to punch someone’s head in.

    Reply
  2. Pak

    Left luggage is where the fascists belong. The Anti Fascist Network look pretty scary too – would be hard to differentiate between the 2 groups if they clashed.

    Reply
  3. David Sakho

    I’ve just turned 60, and I haven’t participated in any kind of demo for 8 years. I used to be in Merseyside Animal Rights, and before that in Anti Apartheid. However, I did feel strongly enough about the fascists being here to at least add my body to the numbers today. Part of my motivation was that I work in the construction industry, and sadly, it is still stuck in the 1970’s in some ways; I regularly hear racist and xenophobic remarks on sites, and I had an argument with someone over it on the last site I was on because of his anti-immigrant, anti E.U. worker attitudes.

    I actually spoke to some of the anti-fascists wearing masks, they didn’t make me feel uncomfortable, because I knew that they were on the right side, but I can understand why they would look intimidating to some people. A bystander on the pavement actually shouted to one of them: “What’s with the masks mate?” and his reply was “The Police!” A lot of the anti-fascist and animal rights people cover their faces because they are regular activists and are worried about being identified and targeted by the Police.

    And yes, unfortunately, a few of them did come over as being out for a fight. Things got a bit rough at one point when three of the fascists were being escorted by the Police from Lime Street into Lord Nelson Street and some anti-fascists started throwing bottles and a few punches. Not neccessary in my books; defend yourself if one of these fascists attack you, but don’t pick a fight with them. Just letting them hear and see that they are not wanted is enough.

    Reply
  4. bornagainst

    Still… The ‘get in the sea’ banner was one of the better appropriations of an internet meme I’ve seen.

    I’d recommend everyone to read the National Action Northwest twitter feed just to see who these people really are. How could we forget the white genocide that’s going on under our noses!

    I have no issue with their freedom of speech, they are welcome to hide in the worst corners of Reddit posting pictures of lynchings to their hearts content, but when it comes to NA putting feet on the ground, I’m glad they were thwarted with the threat of a kick up the arse.

    (I support freedom of speech in the same way abortion clinics should not be surrounded by leaflet waving idiots, and holocaust deniers should not be published.)

    I’m proud of Liverpool for sending a message. No Pasaran! isn’t just a t-shirt slogan, yesterday it meant something.

    Reply
      1. bornagainst

        Well, it shows humour, wit and some intelligence in amongst the ‘threatening’ outfits. And it was certainly a mixed crowd protesting against NA as far as I’ve seen. The rainbow union jack flag was a great piece.

        I suspect the Police were probably quite happy with how the day went. A bit of a stand off, idiots on both sides being idiots, a bit of kettling, handful of arrests, neo-nazis sent home with their tail between their legs. Far better this than the march getting onto open streets where it would have been far harder to control and could have escalated into running battles.

        One of my mates who lives overseas said it better than I could…

        “Total dicks, put in their place by people who care too much to have their city sullied. Nice one Liverpool, you beautiful nutters. WONDROUS PLACE.”

  5. Ronnie Hughes Post author

    During the day after all of this someone from Liverpool who’d spoken with some of the masked anti-fascists told me ‘they were nice lads and really liked Liverpool.’ And that they’d travelled from Southampton for the demonstration and had thought it might be just them against the fascists. Naive, we both felt.

    Reply
  6. Geoff B

    Imposing your will by threats of violence while wearing uniform and masks makes you a fascist in my book, regardless how noble your cause. If you’re going to call someone else a fascist, make sure you’re not behaving like one yourself. Its not enough to claim to be ‘a cracking bunch of good old scousers’ and claim the moral high ground. A dishonourable draw today, at best. From what I’ve seen,I wouldn’t want to share the street with either side.

    Reply
  7. Linda Friday

    I think it’s such a volatile subject. If the anti-fascists want to wear masks I understand why and agree with them – wear character ones – minnie mouse- bat man etc Why wear black? How about multi colors to reflect our multi racial heritage. If we want to get mass support for such protests we need families -children- grandparents etc. This would REALLy show that ALL of Liverpool don’t want fascists here. The danger is that it could put people off. I loved the multi coloured union jack!!

    Reply

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