On the day far right protesters had planned to demonstrate at the site of the former Colston statue, the empty plinth was instead host to a celebration of anti-fascism.
Far right group For Britain had scheduled a demo for today (April 9) in protest against Black Lives Matter. That demo was called off on April 2 after a widespread response from Bristol groups who mobilised for a counter-protest.
Dozens of anti-fascist and anti-racist activists gathered from 11am around the empty Colston plinth where they stayed throughout the day, playing music, dancing and hearing speeches marking their victory against the For Britain protesters who wished to darken Bristol’s door.
Half protest, half party, there was free food and drink on offer and people sat on the grass, giving a picnic feeling to the afternoon. A gaggle of clowns arrived at one point to the amusement and slight confusion of those present.
The empty plinth was decorated with images of Bristol figures who have fought against racism and injustice, including: Mary Carpenter, a 19th Century campaigner against the slave trade; Princess Campbell, one of the first black NHS ward sisters in Bristol and an anti-racism campaigner; and Paul Stevenson and Roy Hackett, who led the Bristol Bus Boycott.
When a megaphone appeared later in the day, Kiran Khastra, identifying herself as a second generation immigrant, stepped forward to address the crowd.
Khastra began by praising the ‘kindness and care’ of Bristol. ‘I have lived in most of the continents of the world at one time or another and saw nowhere else that felt as safe and as welcoming as this city to my children,’ she said.
Khastra went on to say: ‘In these times of war, climate crisis, in these times of late-stage capitalism, where the powers will hold on even tighter as their grip begins to wane. We must keep showing up, we must keep fighting, but most of all we must keep loving. Loving each other, our brothers, our sisters, our friends that we know and those that we have not met yet.’
A spokesperson for Bristol Defendant Solidarity, a volunteer group providing legal, court and prison support to people arrested at protests, said of today’s rally: ‘This is Bristol defending itself. Bristol will defend itself against the far right and we’ll defend ourselves against encroaching powers of the state.’
BDS is currently providing legal and court support to those arrested for participating in the riot on March 21 last year during Bristol’s first Kill The Bill protest. The spokesperson described the work of BDS as part of a ‘tapestry of resistance’ to the police, the courts and the Crown Prosecution Service.
‘Everyone who takes action in the spirit of creating a better world should be proud and we try to support people while they’re being criminalised,’ they said.
The rally had around 60 people at its height, with many others passing by throughout the day.
Anne Marie Waters, founder and current leader of For Britain, said her group’s protest had been cancelled due to the presence of “Antifa”.
Speaking in a livestreamed interview on the ‘Voice of Wales’ website, which has itself been accused of hosting racist content by Welsh politicians and faced sanctions from YouTube, Waters said: ‘It’s remarkable to me – I wouldn’t dream of doing anything like this. Our side never does stuff like this. The left-wing has its protests and has its events, and we never try to disrupt them. We never try to get them cancelled, we never threaten violence or threaten to organise a mob, which will descend into violence – we know it will.
She also said: ‘We are going to Bristol, but we’re going to be going at a time when Antifa don’t know we’re going.’
Police presence at the rally was minimal and there was no sign of any far right protesters.
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