AROUND 1,000 people braved the rain on Sunday to join the march and rally organised by Black Lives Matter, writes Pete McLaren, secretary of Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.
A number of people commented on the impressive numbers the organisers had managed to mobilise in just 48 hours, including the police officer I spoke to at the start of the march. It was certainly the largest march in Rugby in the 35 years we have been living in Rugby, including the large anti-war marches of 2003. The mood was youthful, friendly and positive, and, following pleas from the organisers right at the start, followed self-distancing guidelines to the letter.
People joined the march as it made the relatively short journey to Caldecott Park for a rally, which included poetry, music and speeches, and lasted for over an hour and a half. Expertly compered by Rugby Black Lives Matters, the contributions were spontaneous with no reading from speech notes as is usually the case.
An early and poignant highlight was when everyone ‘took the knee’ with clenched fists during a minute’s silence.
The general themes that cut across all the contributions were that black lives matter at all times, and that black and white needed to work together in unity. A number of speeches referred to the brutal racist murder of George Lloyd and the need to stamp out racism in all its forms. Early on in the rally, ten year old mixed race twins brought the house down with their own poetry dedicated to racial unity. Their mother, separately, later on spoke about the importance of empowerment. A very eloquent 16-year-old lad put racism within a political context, and a very brave girl of the same age related her autism to her struggles against racism. A local vicar spoke of the need for racial unity with compassion, and a Nigerian woman made a very telling point about being made to feel she was too black to be white and too white to be black. A number of contributors, especially, worryingly, the younger ones, spoke of the racism they had personally experienced at schools in Rugby
The event showed what a powerful message Black Lives Matters is putting across, and how much local support there is for that message about challenging racism and racial discrimination. As an organisation that has always campaigned against racism, and includes the importance of welcoming all immigrants in all its campaigning literature, Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition was very impressed with the protest and the organising of it by Rugby Black Live Matters. It was also a welcome experience to have had friendly and positive policing throughout the march and rally, and it was noticeable that the police officers in the park joined in with applause at the points made during the contributions. If community events can continue to challenge racism in this way, and across the country, then there is hope than something radical and more permanently anti-racist can develop nationally and, subsequently, internationally. Black Lives Matters has lit the touchpaper of something that could end up making racism a rarity rather than the norm.
I left the rally feeling galvanised and uplifted. It is early days to say where this movement will go. What is clear is that it will go somewhere, and that it will be led largely by the BAME community and young people. That is the most encouraging aspect of all.