The welcome return of the street corner meeting

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Last night, Left Unity Leamington members went along to support Warwick Anti-Racists and PPU‘s protest against the rise of a particularly nasty political movement on their campus. Apart from the heartening number of people who turned up, it was, in most respects, a typical small protest – ably reported by Coventry Socialists here. In other respects, though, it was really something rather special.

Because after the banner waving and the photo opportunity for the press, and before the chanting began (and anyone who has looked on at marching and chanting and cynically looked down their noses at it has no idea how it acts to build energy and solidarity in a group of people), we had the speeches. These also, to an untrained eye, might have seemed like the usual affair – a Trotskyist paper-seller gives a speech about the need for a programme, an old-hand from a trade union gives a rabble-rousing speech, putting this demo of a couple of hundred students in the provinces into the context of the grand historical march to freedom, and so on.

These are needed. We need to hear these voices. But something more impressive was also happening. A young student who declared himself an anarchist gave a quiet but moving and poetical speech about the importance of mutual aid and solidarity. Teachers at Warwick University put the struggle against fascism into its historical context and convincingly explained why the far-right was rising again now – and why it must be fought all over again. Students and others, who declared that they’d had no intention of speaking before that moment, told of their personal experiences – of the ordinary everyday hardships experienced by people if you are the wrong colour, the wrong gender, the wrong sexuality, from the wrong country, the wrong class, and of the difficulties of speaking out against these prejudices and oppressions in a culture hostile to political engagement. How all these hardships are exacerbated by ‘austerity’ politics.

And yet we also heard of the joys and pleasures and opportunities living in a multicultural context brings, how it teaches us about diversity and mutual respect and makes our worlds bigger and more interesting places. As one young woman pointed out brilliantly, what is most important is doing exactly what we were doing – public displays of our own kind of politics to force our opinions into the light of day, to prove that our politics – of mutual aid and solidarity – is far more valuable and fun than anything the fascists have to offer. Differences of opinion, too, were intelligently and forcefully expressed, without anger or impatience.

And, to round things off, a young man pointed out that, however wonderful and encouraging the whole occasion had been, we had to remember that we were at that moment living in a tiny, unusual and highly privileged bubble – that the real work was not talking amongst ourselves and congratulating ourselves on a job well done, but to do the work that it’s all too easy to shy away from: to challenge people when they say they’re worried about immigration, to challenge the overheard conversation on the bus that wishes Warwick wasn’t “quite so diverse” as it is.

A friend of mine recently shared on social media an obituary of an old-school socialist and lamented that “they don’t make ’em like that any more”. I hope he is as heartened and inspired to hear, as I was to witness, that this is not the case. The production line never stopped. And if there’s hope, it’s that this kind of politics spreads throughout the country, and fast.

In Left Unity, the new political party of the left that we helped found last year, we often hear it expressed that what we need is a “different kind of politics”. The good news is that we don’t need to scratch our heads to figure out what this might look like. We just need to follow this lead.

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