SRtRC Patrons inspire activists at conference.
SRtRC Honorary Patrons and Leroy Rosenior and Paul Mortimer were invited to speak at the Unite Against Fascism 2012 Conference in London this past weekend. Here is a report from Paul Sillett on the conference.
“Over 400 delegates attended Unite Against Fascism's (Uaf) Conference in London last weekend and were enthused by Show Racism the Red Card (SRTRC) ambassadors, Leroy Rosenior and Paul Mortimer.
Both spoke at the opening plenary, alongside National Union of Teachers Deputy General Secretary, Kevin Courtney, Hugh Lanning from the PCS Union, UAF's Weyman Bennett, and others.
Reflecting on some remarks by Kevin about institutional racism, Leroy spoke first and immediately captured people's attention by reference to Patrice Evra, The victim of Luis Suarez's racism, being seen ridiculously, as the problem by some in bringing attention to Suarez's behaviour. As Leroy said, "racism has come out of the gutter again. If you can't recognise it then you can't deal with it".
"I never recognised racism in South London, growing up; my 4 sisters would sort out any trouble. But when I started playing football, problems began." Leroy recalled how once, when playing at an away game, he and the only other black player on the pitch, Paul Parker, were faced with thousands of Sieg Heiling, jeering, home fans. The experience led Leroy to believe that "my football career wasn't as it should have been, it wasn't a dream". The long trip home was depressing and led to much reflection.
Delegates were moved as Leroy recalled his father's advice to "Keep on, keep your powder dry". Leroy went on to recall how after he'd scored the winning goal against one London club, he looked forward to celebrating in the Reception Area, post match. Instead, he was asked by his sisters, who had watched the game, if they could leave the ground right away. Why? His sisters had suffered 90 minutes of foul, racist abuse from a man, as they had watched their brother play.
Leroy, not wanting any repeat, "never allowed them back to football". You could have heard a pin drop as Leroy sadly said "I couldn't be sure of their protection".
The tragic demise of Justin Fashanu was also remembered by Leroy. After having known him for a short time, Leroy wondered after Justin's sad death, "what could I have done? That day (of hearing of Justin's death), I vowed never to let anything like that happen again". "Don't let things pass you by", Leroy said to applause.
On his frequent school visits for SRTRC, Leroy said that children often asked "Why is there racism?” We need to answer such questions. Summing up, Leroy said, "I came out of football, wanting to do something." His final words were like a rallying call, "Things do change, its down to us to do it".
Picking up the baton from Leroy, Paul Mortimer argued that racism was built on "myths that don't make sense...Luis Suarez didn't understand what he'd done. The experience hasn't changed him, why did he have to be made to say sorry?"
"It's about having courage", Paul remarked. "At critical moments, you can panic, but during what I call, that 30 seconds of panic you needed, and can get the courage to do the proper thing".
Paul also recounted that when he spoke out at a club about the racism within, "the club hardly ever hardly spoke to me again!". Paul's sentiments spoke for many when he said that "courage is a hard thing to do, but principles come before careers".
Referring to what Leroy said earlier about school trips by SRTRC, Paul commented that the "best thing about SRTRC is at school when children put their mates right about racism". He concluded that there has to be more courage in education to tackle racism and related issues.
Weyman Bennett rounded up the plenary by congratulating SRTRC on its pioneering work. He moved on to talk about racism and its political expression in Britain and abroad. He argued that we have had victories but there are also "dark clouds" in the air. Weyman said that the BNP, who thrive on and encourage racism, had suffered a serious setback in last year's elections. They were wiped out in their key target of Stoke on Trent and in their former 'power base' of Burnley, have only one seat.
Weyman explained that different campaigning approaches to combating racism, can complement one another. Hence, the defeat for the BNP came after years of patient, principled UAF work that exposed the BNP as Nazis and mobilised voters against them.
He also discussed the growth of the racist English Defence League (EDL) which has tried to recruit from football fans. UAF football fans have countered this by leafleting fellow supporters at grounds.
Weyman pointed to the campaign in Tower Hamlets last year which was an important turning point in reversing the EDL’s fortunes, The EDL were prevented from holding their march in Tower Hamlets last September and were outnumbered by 5,000 anti fascists from London and beyond. Since then, the EDL has struggled to maintain momentum.
Weyman finished the proceedings by outlining that current tasks for the UAF include exposing the fascist core of the newly formed British Freedom Party and steadfastly opposing the BNP and the EDL. UAF is holding a number of National Days of Action. The plenary was seen by many as a great start to the event.
It was also clear that many thought Leroy and Paul made perhaps the most striking and inspiring speeches amongst many, that day.”