The Anti Rascist festival – Now and Then

October 3, 2011 at 2:54 PM Leave a comment

A couple of weekends ago over 3,000 people enjoyed the anti racist UpRise festival which was heavily sponsored by trade unions took place on the streets of Dalston in Hackney. The festival emanated from the Rise (formerly RESPECT) festival that was originated by the TUC in 1996/97 and revived by the Mayor of London in 2001. UpRise has been organised for the last two years by a small group of community activists and was a response to the current Mayor deciding that an anti racist festival was not something that was needed. This year’s festival called ‘Community is Home’ was a development of the idea that UpRise is a festival for the community put on by the community and more in keeping with the tradition of the anti-racist festival which started with the historic Rock Against Racism festival in 1978 an event I will never forget.

The date was 30th April 1978 the place was Victoria Park Hackney, the event a free all music festival and amazingly by the early afternoon what threatened to be a washout turned into a warm sunny afternoon. The crowd had come from all over the UK with over 40 coaches coming from Glasgow a trainload of people from Manchester and at least 15 coaches from Sheffield. I was 19 at the time and had got involved in Rock against Racism through some friends of mine. We formed a group in Islington and I then got involved with helping to organise the Victoria Park event. I had a great view of the crowd and the stage as I was in put in charge of the press phgotographers.

A music festival was not something unusual but his festival was truly unique as its purpose was to promote anti racism. Organised under the slogan of Black and White Unite and Fight the event was put together by Rock against Racism a grassroots organisation that had emerged two years before in response to Eric Clapton’s declaration at a gig at the Birmingham Odeon that we should send them all back and that Enoch Powell was a prophet who was needed to keep Britain white.

Local Rock against Racism groups had emerged all over the country putting on gigs in pubs and small local venues and a magazine called Temporary Hoardings had been established and the distinctive Rock against Racism star was to be seen on badges of all kinds of young people. Central to the philosophy of the movement was that there is more that unites than divides us. Gigs were organised on the basis of music that reflected the emerging rebel youth cultures of both black and white youth at the time, punk and reggae, with the express intent of attracting mixed audiences.

The Victoria Park festival was organised partly in response to the rising electoral success of the National Front who and more generally to put anti-racism on the map as an integral part of youth culture. It was preceded by a march organised by the Anti Nazi leagues which assembled at Trafalgar Square and made its way to Victoria Park.

When the event kicked off there was a lot of apprehension about whether enough people would come to fill the area we had been given in Victoria Park. There were only about 100 people in the park at the time and although we knew there were 10,000 people on the march it was important that this festival was successful if our aim to put Rock against Racism on the map nationally was to succeed. In the event we should not have worried, by the early evening 80,000 people had gathered in the Park, Rasta’s, skinhead’s Punks, Hippies people from every walk of life, to listen to the music and to affirm the message opposing racism and fascism.

This was a landmark event it established anti racism as part of British youth culture, brought together black and white music in a way that had not happened before a paved the way for a tradition of anti racism and anti fascist events with popular music at their heart.

For me the main lesson is that ordinary people inspired by a just cause can achieve anything and that the need for black and white youth and communities to unite to fight the twin evils of racism and fascism that pervades our communities is need as much now as it was in 1978. I for one am delighted that UpRise is carrying on that tradition.


Entry filed under: Politics.

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