Against Racism, Homophobia & Islamophobia

The NO to Racism, Fascism and Islamophobia march on Nov 6 was a decent size and had rather more of a carnival air than most since it was organised by Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) as well as being organised by Unite Against Fascism (UAF). That did mean we got a DJ playing some very loud music, and when I found at one point I wanted to be right in front of the rather large speakers next to the lorry they were using I wished I had brought some ear plugs. It isn’t that I don’t like music, but when it reaches the kind of decibel level where all your internal organs vibrate it’s a bit too much. It used to amuse me when I saw the guys at Notting Hill Carnival photographing with ear-muffs on, but it makes more sense to me now.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Both the UAF and LMHR are widely regarded as being closely linked to the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)  although both draw support from a wider range of people – and get funding from bodies such as the TUC which the SWP itself would not.  Many left-wing activists are SWP members and without the effort they put into organising things we would have far fewer demonstrations and they would be considerably smaller. Many of the more active members of Stop The War are also from the SWP.  I don’t suggest anything sinister here, it is simply a matter of fact and generally strongly evidenced by the number of people offering SWP petition forms and publications at demonstrations.

But it is bad news for photographers, as these organisations all share a style of stewarding that makes our job difficult. There is an obsession with control which seems to be central to the SWP mentality (and one reason why I’ll never join them.) Usually it is just a matter of keeping photographers away from the front of marches by surrounding the march with stewards who link arms to create an empty area in front of the banner, making it impossible to get within a reasonable working distance to the front of the march, or indeed to get good pictures of the front of a march from a longer view.

At one Stop The War march the photographers got so annoyed that we staged a sit-down in front of the march on Park Lane until we were allowed a few minutes access.  But it goes further and I’ve several times been assaulted by stewards at such events – although others have been more cooperative and have apologised for the  behaviour of others. During one march from the US embassy I was fortunate to escape serious injury when pushed violently backwards.  It’s not surprising that we sometimes amuse ourselves by making up other meanings for the initials SWP – such as ‘Sod Working Photographers‘.

There was some of that aggressive and obstructive behaviour at this event. One of my colleagues was assaulted and most of us were at times rather frustrated trying to get the pictures we needed. It just isn’t necessary and it certainly is counter-productive. Much larger demonstrations manage without stewards who think they are storm-troopers, and it is obviously in both the protesters and photographers interest to get the best pictures possible.

A little chaos really does work fine and it seldom gets out of hand, as photographers tend to regulate themselves though there are a few who don’t play the game – mainly those with big video cameras, like the guy who several times swung his round rapidly and hit me the other day. And there are those sad individuals who like to try and organise everything and everybody who deserve to be dealt with drastically by the stewards. But most of the time we get along OK, and if they stewards would just stand back and  let us get on with it unless a real problem arose we’d get better pictures without compromising the march in any way.

Fortunately I don’t often spend a lot of time at the front of marches where these things happen. Certainly on this one there didn’t seem to be any ‘celebrities’ who might occasionally need a little protection from a crush of photographers, and almost all the people I found interesting were further back in the march where I could wander around as I liked.  There the atmosphere was much friendlier.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

There had been some anticipation that there might be some trouble from members of the English Defence League during the march, but they had the sense to stay away. When we saw this dog, sitting with its owner watching the march go by, most of us probably drew the conclusion both from the St George flag and the appearance of the dog owner that this could have been one of them, but when one of my colleagues asked him he told us he had no sympathy for people who behaved like they do although he was proud to be English. It was a lesson about being careful not to jump to conclusions based on people’s appearance.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
For once the weather was good and I remembered to make reasonably sensible settings on my two cameras, and everything worked as it should. It does happen sometimes.

But by the time we got to Millbank, the light was beginning to fade and it was getting harder to work, and even at ISO 3200 people dancing just moved too much to be always sharp, so after another round of speeches I decided it was time to go home. There was actually another problem, which you can see in a few of the pictures on My London Diary  with light from a large TV screen, mainly filled with purple creating a rather unhealthy effect.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

But by then I was ready to go home anyway.

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