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‘I couldn’t sit at home’ – protests against Boris Johnson are just the beginning

gal-dem attended the protests held the day after the election of Boris Johnson and a Tory majority govt and spoke to women of colour about resistance.

14 Dec 2019

Whether you shut your eyes on 12 December to the image of Labour’s worst defeat since 1935 or opened them to the news of a confirmed Conservative majority, the anguish of an entire movement resonated across the country overnight. The wave of rising right-wing movements found a ready home on this small island; an island which has torn itself apart over Brexit, an issue so ancient and new that no one can entirely put their finger on where the resentment began.

After weeks of tireless campaigning, endless persuasive conversations and slight hope, it would have been easy to spiral into despair. Instead, already communities have begun to mobilise, ready for resistance to build in the next five years. Yesterday, on the first day of Boris Johnson’s new government, hundreds gathered across the country to protest, including outside Downing Street.

The atmosphere at Downing Street was unlike anything I had felt before, full of hopeful desperation. There was a sense that while everyone there accepted we had lost the battle, we were not ready to lose the war. Even in such trying times, the protest felt comfortingly familiar. There were motivational words, chanting and placard-waving.

Naturally, the part of the protest which has garnered the most attention from the right-wing media was Antifa’s involvement, but it was only later in the evening that groups associated with Antifa clashed with the police and the atmosphere changed from one of peaceful resolve.

“On the first day of Boris Johnson’s new government, hundreds gathered across the country to protest”

I couldn’t help but notice the immense lack of ethnic minorities, a reflection of the fear we now have considering Britain has elected an unashamedly racist prime minister. Although the number of people of colour did pick up throughout the protest, the imbalance was still clear: going forward I would argue that we will have to rely on white allies to champion our rights in space we cannot safely exist.

Memoona Zahid, 21, a young Muslim woman, explained that she was also scared to come to the protest, but couldn’t “sit at home”. She believes that “we’ve given power to someone who absolutely doesn’t care about our existence… Coming out and showing support is really important. I don’t want to feel useless and they want us to feel useless.”

As more people arrived, the chants became more varied, touching upon Grenfell, poverty, the NHS, Trump – the list of grievances was endless. It was at this point the police presence became visible, the tension rising and fueling the passion in people’s shouts. A sense of exhaustion in the air, as an ideological group who have been facing continuous and systematic defeats for the past decade, not only in the UK but across the Western world, the mass right movement and its branches across the world are apparent to many on the left.

Speaking to Jade, 19, she explained that she had become more politically active in the past few years, as she had noticed negative changes across the UK and Europe. “I think it is really important to show we are not happy about the situation. Things have gotten significantly worse,” she said.

Despite this, she added that “she didn’t expect the Tories to get quite so big a majority”. It was a clear theme of the night and, according to Jade, was a grave warning to the working class. “[We] need to realise that we might have access to food and comforts now but that is not going to last forever, especially if we keep letting these people into power”.

We need a sense of hope going forward. Before the darkest hour comes the dawn. Speaking to disappointed friends, one told me how her mother remembered the despair their generation felt at Thatcher’s re-election, only to find hope once more in 1997 and the election of Tony Blair.

“At the protest, it was clear that, despite our differences, we all shared similar goals and ideals ”

For the past 24 hours, the media and even members of the Labour Party have begun a relentless attack, dividing us, splitting us into factions and playing the blame game. At the protest, it was clear that, despite our differences, we all shared similar goals and ideals that are enough to bring us together in an effective way, if we allow it to. There was an intense sense of unity between all the people attending.

Protestor Nadia Sayed, 23, put it perfectly when she told me that politics doesn’t end after the election is over. “We have got quite a fight on our hands,” she said. “We need to carry on the mobilisation on the streets. When Donald Trump was elected there was wave after wave of protests. That’s what we need to build in this country as well. I don’t think it’s the end of the story.”

We must not forget, even if it was only for a few moments, the camaraderie and direction we all felt because in the coming years it is all we will have to continue the fight for the most vulnerable in society.