By The Norwich Radical Editorial Team
In the process of putting together our reporting on the far-right presence and pro-LGBTQIA+ counter-protest at Storytime with Auntie Titania in Norwich last Wednesday, we received a number of accounts from people who attended the counter-protest. We were not able to reproduce all of those accounts in our original article, but we believe that they offer valuable insight into the events in question, the strength of LGBTQIA+ solidarity in Norwich, and the lessons that can be taken forward from this action. This article reproduces more of the content of those accounts, with small edits in places for clarity and to maintain anonymity.
Why did you join the counter-protest?
“Far-right organisations have been manipulating vulnerable women by spreading transphobic and homophobic vitriol, and organisations like the PA [Patriotic Alternative] have become emboldened by high profile fascists like Donald Trump, Liz Truss, Boris Johnson or Andrew Tate. Hearing that actual fascists had been attacking library events for children, I couldn’t not join the counter demonstration.”
“I joined today because I wanted to fight the fash in the streets. But seriously, I just really dislike the way bigots and far right extremists and a sad collection of lost boys and girls are trying to portray something which is harmless as something depraved. Children love dressing up and listening to stories, and Titania is fabulous.”
“It’s all well and good going to Pride, but we also have to fight every other day of the year to even maintain our current level of ‘rights’.”
“I attended because I think it was important to show that Norwich is a queer-friendly city and the actions of this alt-right group do not represent our fine city. I felt that their organised ambushing of the North Walsham event was cowardly and did not want to let them get away with the same bully tactics again.”
“I needed to go because a strong opposition is the key to protecting everyone’s safety, and I don’t know if I could live with myself if I did nothing.”
How did it feel to be part of the counter-protest?
“It was honestly overwhelming, both with rage that these people dare attack our libraries and our community, and pure love at the amount of people that joined us and supported us. Norwich really stood up and said: ‘Not here, not ever.'”
“I enjoyed showing solidarity […] and being part of something which enabled the event to go ahead, helping parents with children attending the event get into the library safely, despite the abuse from the protestors. I did feel sad they had to go through this though.”
“It felt quite good seeing the turnout in support of the event. I was expecting only a handful of people but seeing so many people there to support storytime was really uplifting. I didn’t feel threatened by the fascists, despite having my pride flag and make up on, thanks to everyone else who was there.”
“Being part of the massive crowd of counter-protesters was great because it showed the LGBTQ+ community can come together with the support from straight allies. It showed that Norwich isn’t just a rainbow for Pride. We live and work here and are part of a wider community that will not accept bigots slandering and demonising queer people as an abstract idea to hate. Organising together showed we are real and we are here and you can’t make us your bogeymen.”
“It was amazing to see children walking in and out with their families, and the support and love that they clearly are able to receive from parents who love their kids unconditionally – whether or not they turn out the way their parents expected them to.”
“I went through a lot of feelings that day – anxiety, pride, appreciation, closeness to those around me. It really felt like we were at a massive tipping point, but perhaps it was just another day for the fascists.”
What was your impression of the far-right protestors?
“They were reactionary, rude, abusive and violent. They shouted slurs at us, got right up in peoples faces, blocked the entry to the library, swore at families taking their children in. There weren’t many of them in comparison to us, but any number is sickening.”
“The protestors were quite a mix of people, including some really aggressive men who were abusing people verbally and, in at least one case, physically. Abuse seemed mainly from older angry white men and aimed at parents with children, LGBTQ+ people, women and disabled people. There were A LOT of very young people, including one young man who was coming to Trump protests and Kill the Bill protests last year and was also on Channel 4 Dispatches [Barclay Walsh]. I tried to speak to one or two people, but they didn’t express clearly why they were there. The PA were mostly from elsewhere, Birmingham for example; they were more organised and numerous than the other protestors, and more dangerous because of their racist, far-right and fascist views.”
“I spent most of it talking to some people, one who had nasty views, another with nasty leaflets. I tried to engage with them somewhat – it felt a little bit like a lost cause but I thought I might change someone’s mind. They said they were from ‘the light group’ or something, sounded like a smaller group – antivax, anti-state, ‘shadowy influences’ types.”
“They mostly seemed to have no idea what the actual issues are, they’re just repeating pathetic and disproven bigoted talking points from online. They just seem to want to get angry over things, which actually makes me feel a bit sorry for them.”
“The alt-right protestors seemed to be a small group of bigots that had been shipped in to create an artificial image of what ‘the real Norwich’ thinks. A lot of them dispersed quickly after they’d finished shouting at the parents and children entering the building. I don’t know if this is because they were overwhelmed by our numbers, embarrassed by the group they’d realised they were a part of, or just needed to catch the coach home to wherever they actually live! By the end of the demonstration there were hardly enough of them to hold their massive sign.”
“I wonder how many of them actually believed the things they were saying; in my experience people are capable of believing whatever suits them. They also tried to ‘infiltrate’ the counter-protestors to film them, claiming to be from ‘the news’.”
“Ironically some of their signs said “let kids be kids”; I believe that message more represents what the LGBT+ contingent were there to represent.”
“They weren’t very sharp – their arguments and insults were terrible, they were just belligerent, aggressive, and loud. They also seemed caught off guard – I don’t think they were expecting such a large turnout [of counter-protestors] nor so much passion!”
What was the police response like?
“Unfortunately the police were completely useless, despite us asking for assistance. We were told the police had escorted them out of the city, but we discovered the fascists were in fact down the pub.”
“Cops were, well, cops I guess. They found a couple of black bloc people carrying an antifa flag more worrying apparently than the mob of PA morons on the steps.”
What lessons can we take into queer solidarity and antifascist actions in Norwich in the future?
“More people, be bolder! And I really think people should mask up. So many weren’t and the protestors were livestreaming, photographing etc constantly.”
“It was a good showing, but to bystanders it probably came across as just two radicalised sides. We could engage more. Even more extreme people can be made to question things.”
“I think the counter protest could’ve been better advertised […] I didn’t even know what time to show up.”
“We could all do with self-defense training if we want to protect ourselves and each other!”
“Whoever gets into PM next, the fascists are going to have another person encouraging them, and as the cost of living crisis gets worse these people are going to be targeting the LGBT+ community, refugees, migrants, disabled people and people of colour for a scapegoat. It’s going to be really important to build our communities, to keep connected and standing up for each other.”
All images credit: James Burton Photography
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