by Zoe Harding
Article contains strong language.
I went to a counter-protest last week.
Chances are you did too, if you’re reading this. The protest, by a group called Unity UK, was opposite the Norwich town hall and was probably against immigrants, although most of the people there seemed to think it was in favour of Brexit and one chap wanted to Drain The Swamp (an odd choice of slogan in a county that would be little more than Thetford and a lot of dry mud if we drained it, but I digress.) The counter-protest, on the other hand, was a who’s who of Norwich’s local lefties, turning up with drums, flags, megaphones and a generally good-natured if slightly intense demeanor, to stand opposite them and drown them out.
Now, I’m not the world’s most experienced protestor. I missed out on the Student Loans protests, the trial by fire for my generation when it comes to getting kettled and throwing traffic cones at policemen, and while I’ve put on some good boots and a nice thick jacket and gone out to shout about Trump a couple of times it’s not really the same, is it? Still, I had fun. Someone gave me a megaphone, which was silly of them, and I spent the rest of the two or so hours it took Unity UK to give up and leave yelling whatever came into my head through it. It was fun, and it gave me an idea.
Even the last angry man with a poppy and a flat cap standing calmed down a bit before admitting defeat and stomping off
See, the kind of people who turn up to counter-protests are usually pretty politically active, and strongly opinionated about racists who dare to raise their heads in public. They should be shouted down, they should be drowned out, they should be intimidated and they should damn well be told that these are not ‘their’ streets, this is not ‘their’ country and they’re the ones who aren’t welcome. And all that’s fair enough. While there wasn’t any physical violence while I was at the counter-protest (there was that one bloke in the hoodie who got dragged off by four coppers past the waiting EDP camera crew, but I’m still not clear whose side he was on) there certainly was a suggestion that it might be imminent, or at the very least that a lot of people were quite prepared to wade in if those bastards on the other side tried something.
And the chants, eesh, the chants. I understand the general principle, right. Football fans learned that it feels good to be one of fifty thousand people yelling the same thing and shite if you aren’t part of it a long time ago, and these are people who’ll happily pay £12 plus postage and packaging for this… thing. If you can get a proper chant going it can be a great feeling. Unfortunately, we… can’t. The three chants that sporadically got going were ‘Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here’, which sounds dreadfully earnest and makes me cringe every time I hear it, ‘there are many many more of us than you’, which while accurate doesn’t really need to be pointed out when counter-protestors outnumbered racists approximately 19-1 and ‘Whose streets? Our streets!’
I’m gonna use that last one to springboard into talking about a larger optics problem the counter-protest had. The Unity UK lot were (with some exceptions) pretty much just standing in their designated area, looking faintly embarrassed by their shoutier comrades, holding signs. Without the counter-protestors turning up they’d probably have just stood there for an hour or two then gone home, with the exception of the eight or nine who were there looking for a fight, who’d probably have ended up fighting each other. The counter protest, on the other hand, was big, loud, had a wide mishmash of banners and signs and looked like a proper protest. Trouble is, most people in town that day didn’t know what it was about, and as far as they knew a bunch of lefties were blocking the pavement and making lots of noise, while weird socialists tried to sell newspapers to all and sundry, and the spectre of those violent ANTIFAs they’re starting to hear about lurked in the background.
I got given a megaphone, and as I usually do (because I’m insecure and use humour as a shield) I started trying to get a laugh. I asked if their mums knew they were out. I dished out unrequested haircut advice (‘SIR YOUR WHITE DREADLOCKS ARE NOT A GOOD LOOK’). I demanded to know if the fighty man with the ‘I VOTED LEAVE’ sign actually voted, if he even had thumbs to vote with, then launched into a tirade demanding he show me his thumbs for special journalistic purposes. I asked the last racist to turn the lights off when they left. When the counter-protest crossed the road to stand next to the protestors, I yelled about how we felt sorry for them for the low turnout so we were letting them borrow some of our people.
400 people doing cartoonishly over-the-top Fawlty Towers silly walks behind your very serious protest about immigration? That’s worse.
I don’t know how funny I actually was, and with the weak megaphone I don’t know how audible I was, but what I do know is that the atmosphere started to change. Even the last angry man with a poppy and a flat cap standing calmed down a bit before admitting defeat and stomping off. The last few Unity UK folks slunk away smiling, but in a slightly awkward way – not fleeing an angry mob, per se, more realising that everyone was laughing at them. The cops calmed down, the general sense of impending violence receded a bit, and the general impression that the two sides might take a swing at each other if allowed to meet face-to-face faded, to the point that one Unity UK guy surrounded by about fifty counter-protestors at the end got away supervised by one bored police officer with no injuries bar a bit of a dent to his pride.
It wasn’t just me, of course. Other people crossed over the road to talk and debate directly, still holding their signs. Other wags in the crowd took the mickey out of the racists. The whole thing was a small, non-violent counterprotest meeting a smaller, also pretty much non-violent protest. Maybe this wouldn’t work against 30,000 EDL dickheads full of piss and lager with Yaxley-Lennon’s squeaky voice ringing in their ears.
But I’m reminded of things like this, and the way that The Producers has never been adopted into Nazi propaganda but American History X has, and the way that the ‘just joking it’s satire’ defence of holocaust jokes doesn’t seem to apply to jokes about neo-nazis getting punched, and let’s be honest – Nazis are inherently ridiculous. Look at this stupid shit. Look at this fucker, where’s his fucking chin? Look at this bunch of fucking jokers, finally realising that they look less like stormtroopers and more like nerds who’ve just spent way too much on shields at MCM. Remember the Blues Brothers scene (above)? Never seen any cheeky fucker cutting in bits of this scene to his dreadful YouTube videos about white genocide, have you?
My point is, having 400 people yelling at you that these are their streets and drowning you out is intimidating, but having 400 people laughing at you? 400 people doing cartoonishly over-the-top Fawlty Towers silly walks behind your very serious protest about immigration? That’s worse. If there’s one thing that’s attracting people to the alt-right in particular and right-wing causes in general, it’s that they get to feel smart, and clever, and funny, and cool. It’s not a coincidence that there’s a thriving sub-industry of ‘SJWs owned’ and ‘feminist cringe’ videos on YouTube – the right wing operates on schoolboy rules, where you win the argument if you act all cool and aloof like you don’t care, and no-one else gets under their skin.
and let’s be honest – Nazis are inherently ridiculous
Hitler might have said back in the day that ‘the only way that the Nazi party could have been stopped was if it were destroyed in its infancy’, but what the fuck did he know? He wasn’t exactly all that strategically adept, and he lived in a mindset of simplistic fascist bullshit rather than common sense. I might have said back in the day that punching Nazis is generally fair enough, and I stand by it, but note that the punch I cite most in that article was inherently amusing to watch, and a lot of people had fun with it.
Nazis and fascists are dangerous, but they’re also idiots, and they’re also silly. It’s time we made a more concerted effort to use that.
Featured image CC0
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