September 12 was an important day in British politics, possibly a turning point we will look back on, the start of a new era on honesty and straightforwardness, though we still have a while to wait to see if a decent and principled man can survive as leader of his won party for long enough for the electorate to be allowed to pass their judgement. It certainly won’t be easy, with not only the Tories and most Labour MPs keen to preserve the status quo, along with the entire mass media baying against him. But even though our newspapers have recently been judged as the most right-wing in Europe, if he begins to look as if he may win, some will change their tone. Its always more profitable to be on the winning side, even if it rather sticks in your throat to be so.
My main concern on September 12 was not however with the Labour Party leadership – in which I didn’t have a vote, never having got over being thrown out of the party as a member of a Labour student organisation that was ‘proscribed’ back in the 1960’s, although I did briefly photograph one of the victory parties – and wrote about it here earlier.
Zita Holbourne of BARAC with one of her artworks showing a boat full of refugees
Also taking place was one of the larger protests that London has seen for a while, the Refugees Welcome Here national march. The plight of refugees, mainly fleeing from war-torn Syria and other areas of conflict and making their way across the Mediterranean, facing hardship and death had captured the attention of the British people.
It was of course the pictures and videos and stories on TV in particular, but also on the press that had made us aware and awakened our concern. The stories were dramatic and shocking enough to gain extensive coverage, enough to overcome the continual drip-feed of anti-refugee propaganda which usually fills our media. The continued and systematic use of the words ‘migrants‘ and ‘immigrants‘ rather than ‘refugees’ or ‘asylum seeker’s, the ridiculous, sloppy and inaccurate use of the term ‘illegal immigrant‘ (or even the shorter ‘illegals‘) and the hysteria whipped up over migration statistics and stories which should be about the failure of our government to provide support for local authorities where these people settle rather than blaming them.
Then we have a whole raft of racist legislation – the setting up of prison camps like Yarl’s Wood and Harmondsworth – and raids on shops, offices, restuarants, stations and streets by ‘border police‘.
Although tragedies reported by the media brought a positive response from the British people, our government was largely unmoved. As I wrote “More than 50,000 people of all ages from across the UK marched through London to show their support for refugees facing death and hardship and their disgust at the lack of compassion and inadequate response of the British government.”
Maimuna Jawo a refugee from Gambia and from Women for Refugee Women wearing an ‘I’m a Refugee’ t-shirt left Gambia to avoid having to take over when her mother, the local FGM ‘cutter’, died.
Before the march there was a rally and I photographed all of the speakers – including the Liberal Democrat leader, London’s MEPs for the Green Party and Labour, and representatives from various groups concerned with refugees. Two of the speakers, Zrinka Bralo of Citizens UK a
and Maimuna Jawo of Women for Refugee Women had come to this country as refugees.
I photographed the front of the march, and walked with it for a few hundred yards before stopping an photographing others as the march streamed past, filling the wide carriageway of Piccadilly. It took an hour to pass me by and then I rushed to the tube to get to Westminster, one stop away, where the march was heading. I arrived just before the front of the march, which must have been around a mile long.
I took a few pictures as the front of the march went in front of the Houses of Parliament, and a friendly steward let me in to the area in front of the banner, but I had to work very close to it as otherwise there were too many people in the way. I’d have liked to have the banner clear to read, but it wasn’t possible.
Another rally was starting, along with some celebrity speakers, but I decided I was too tired to cover it and sat down for a few minutes to eat a late lunch on a wall on the other side of Parliament Square as the square filled up. By the time I left it was pretty full, with people still coming in – and many others like me deciding it was time to go home.