Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Rock against Racism carnival.

Respect due to Robert Elms and his BBC Radio London show today, which had an excellent feature on the April 30th 1978 Rock Against Racism Carnival at Victoria Park. It wasn’t just a music festival, it was a political protest which started a process which changed everything. If you go on the BBC i-player you can listen to it.

Elms was there, briefly as he said, he turned up after a party for about half an hour and then went off looking for a pub. I knew him back then and that’s about typical of him in those days. Except that he was there to make a stand when it mattered and since then he has come good. I may be wrong, but in my poor memory I also seem to remember him telling me that he helped out on ‘Temporary Hoarding’, the RAR paper even though he didn’t mention it on his show. His heart was definitely in the right place.

I had had a late night too, that was the night before – in my case I was up into the early hours, making RAR ‘Lollipops’ by their thousands; round placards which you would remember if you were there on the march, I’ve still got a couple. It was a good day.



 I’m going to tell you some of the background that didn’t make it onto the show – it was also an important day.

Fascism was big and getting mainstream. Racism was everywhere and respectable. The Police were the worst. My generation had a choice – put up with it or say ‘Never Again’. It was all or nothing then.

People like me and Robert Elms made the right decision and fought in our different ways for a Britain without racial prejudice and discrimination. It’s a different country now and a better one because of it. That doesn’t mean the battles are over, they never are.

The Old East End had always been a stronghold of the old style fascists and what the BBC London programme didn’t say was that it wasn’t just about music and the attempt to make a stand for what was right, we went there expecting  that we would have a fight on our hands – it was about territory.

It was a long march from Trafalger Square, through the City of London, into the area of warehouses and wholesalers, then the sweatshops and Brick lane.

We turned up ready for the worst – a few thousand people fighting their way in and fighting their way back out again. In fact there were a sixty thousand marchers and the East End; Black, White, Asian and Irish came out to dance. The fascists melted away and although there were still many fights to be fought (I may tell you about some of them when I get a bit more ill and don’t care anymore) but the heart went out of the opposition.

If you look it up on the net you will find films of the carnival, the music and peoples recollections - do have a look.

We learnt then that if something is wrong, you shouldn’t just accept it – you need to fight to put it right. It’s what I did at 18 and it’s what I’m doing now and I’m no hero.

I was very emotional over the Olympics – I may Blog about that later too. One memory that came back was anti-racist leafleting and canvassing on poor estates in the East End – always starting at the top of the Tower Blocks and working our way down in case we had to fight our way out.

At the time of the Olympics, the new East End celebrated – those were the same areas where I leafleted when I was young and when members of ethnic minorities would be too frightened to go out at night. These are now, like my West London, multiracial and getting on with life. Problems continue – of course. But problems can be solved if we want to solve them.

I have no regrets about those great days and I’ll take this opportunity to thank everyone who turned up and made a stand on that day.

And ‘The Clash’ and ‘Steel Pulse’ were great, I know, I was up at the front, pogoing.

Neil Harris

(a don’t stop till you drop production)

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