A few months ago, I was lucky enough to go to New Orleans. It’s a city I have always wanted to visit, and it more than lived up to my expectations. It is a vibrant city, full of excellent music, good food, and wonderful people. New Orleans is not without its problems however; the city has become increasingly segregated since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and it has an uneasy relationship with one of its most important industries, tourism (I wrote about the problems with AirBnB in New Orleans here). However, it doesn’t seem to be a city that shies away from it’s problems. The protest stickers I found suggest that New Orleans is a city with a healthy political culture, and I’m certain it’s people will never stop trying to make it a better place.
Most people who know anything about the history of protest in London are familiar with the Battle of Cable Street, which is remembered by many as a victory of anti-fascism over the anti-Semitic British Union of Fascists in 1936. Less well-known is the Battle of Lewisham, which took place four decades later in South East London. The two events share many similarities; the Battle of Lewisham was also sparked by attempts to prevent a far-right group from promoting a xenophobic message by marching through the streets of London, and it also ended with clashes between demonstrators and police. It is also seen as the beginning of a decline in the fortunes of the fascist group involved, the National Front, leading to a significant period of unpopularity for far-right ideologies which has only recently come to an end.
The events known as the Battle of Lewisham were spread out over quite a large area, so I put together this map to help make sense of things:
During the mid-1970s, New Cross in south east London was a focus for the organising activities of the National Front, a far-right fascist group. The National Front was quite popular in the area, and in 1976 the All Lewisham Campaign Against Fascism and Racism (ALCARAF) was set up in order to counter this growing popularity. In 1977, tensions increased further due to the arrest and trial of the ‘Lewisham 21,’ 21 young black people whom the police accused of being part of a gang responsible for 90% of the street crime in south east London. The National Front decided to capitalise on this tension, and announced plans for an ‘anti-mugging’ march in the area on the afternoon of 13th August.
Local church leaders, Lewisham Council and the Liberal Party all called for the march to be banned, but David McNee, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, refused. Anti-fascist groups started planning how to disrupt the march itself, but could not agree on the best response. As a result, 3 separate counter demonstrations were planned by different groups:
- ALCARAF organised a peaceful demonstration for the morning of the 13th August.
- The 13 August Ad Hoc Committee planned to occupy the National Front’s meeting point at Clifton Rise.
- The Anti-Racist/Anti-Fascist Co-ordinating Committee (ARAFCC) called for support for the ALCARAF march and for a physical attempt to stop the National Front. To confuse matters further, the ALCARAF was a member of the ARAFCC.
At 11:30 on the 13th of August, the ALCARAF demonstration gathered in Ladywell Fields in Lewisham. Around 5000 people listened to speeches by the Mayor of Lewisham, the Bishop of Southwark and the exiled Bishop of Namibia. After the rally, ALCARAF marched as far as Algernon, where the police turned them back towards Ladywell Fields. After this, however, ARAFCC stewards led people through back streets to New Cross Road, which was part of the National Front’s planned route. As a result, lots of people made it from the ALCARAF demonstration to the afternoon protests.
The first clashes between police and counter-demonstrators happened at about 12:00 pm, when Socialist Worker Party activists were evicted from a derelict shop on New Cross Road near Clifton Rise. There were further clashes when the police tried to force the demonstrators down Clifton Rise, away from Achilles Street, where the National Front started assembling at about 1:30 pm. At 3:00 pm, the police escorted the National Front out of Achilles Street and onto New Cross Road. The police had cleared a route with some difficulty, but the road was still lined with people, and the National Front were pelted with bricks, smoke bombs, bottles and other objects. Some protesters managed to break through the police lines and separate the back of the march from everyone else. National Front banners were captured and burnt before the police managed to separate the two groups. Mounted police were used to clear a path through crowds who were trying to stop the National Front advancing along New Cross Road. The police used roadblocks to keep people out of the area, and officers surrounded the National Front 3 deep.
Anti-fascist protesters went to Lewisham town centre, where the National Front march was supposed to finish, and blocked the High Street. As a result, the National Front had a short rally in a car park on Cressington Road, then were escorted by the police to trains which were waiting at Lewisham Station to take them out of the area. Most counter-demonstrators were not aware that the National Front had left the area, and clashes continued between them and the police for several more hours. At one point, the police briefly lost control of central Lewisham, a period that was later dubbed ‘the People’s Republic of Lewisham Clock Tower.’ Throughout the day, more than 100 people were injured, about half of them police officers, and around 200 were arrested.
The Battle of Lewisham was a humiliation for the National Front. They were vastly outnumbered by counter demonstrators, and what was meant to be a show of strength and legitimacy made them look weak and unpopular. It was also a significant moment in the history of protest policing: it was the first time riot shields were used on the British mainland (many tools used to police protesters were used in northern Ireland first). Baton charges and mounted police were also used to try and disperse protests, a technique which has become familiar to activists in London over the last few decades.
According to the Remembering the Battle of Lewisham project, undertaken by Goldsmiths to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Battle in 2017, very few people know what happened in south east London that day in 1977. On the 40th anniversary of the Battle, a plaque commemorating the protest was installed on 314 New Cross Road. There are also plans for a community memorial to be situated on nearby Batavia Road. Perhaps projects like these will make more people aware of what happened during the Battle of Lewisham. As people like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, and Jacob Rees Mogg continue to gain power and influence, it can only be a good thing for people to know that fascism can be defeated by popular protest.
Sources and Further Reading
Goldsmiths, University of London. “Remembering the Battle of Lewisham 40 Years on.” No date, accessed 8 August 2018. Available at https://www.gold.ac.uk/history/research/battle-of-lewisham/ (There are a lot of great resources on these webpages).
Townsend, Mark. “How the Battle of Lewisham Helped to Halt the Rise of Britain’s Far Right.” The Guardian. Last modified 13 August 2017, accessed 8 August 2018. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/aug/13/battle-of-lewisham-national-front-1977-far-right-london-police
Whitmore, Greg. “Flares and Fury: The Battle of Lewisham 1977–in Pictures.” The Guardian. Last modified 12 August 2017, accessed 8 August 2018. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/gallery/2017/aug/12/flares-and-fury-the-battle-of-lewisham-1977
Wikipedia. “Battle of Lewisham.” Last modified 5 January 2018, accessed 8 August 2018. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Lewisham
One of the most common themes of protest stickers is anti-fascism in pretty much every city I have visited (see London’s Protest Stickers: Anti-Fascism 1 and 2), and Brighton is no exception. There is a strong tradition of anti-fascism in the UK, inspired by events such as the Battle of the Cable Street (1936) and the Battle of Lewisham (1977). I have found anti-fascist stickers all over Brighton, some unique to the city, others that I have also found elsewhere. There is a local group called Brighton Anti-fascists, but the stickers I have found suggest that the city is also visited by a lot of other anti-fascist groups.
A few months ago, I spent a couple of days in Manchester. I’ve already blogged about the brilliant museums I visited whilst I was up there (the People’s History Museum, and the Imperial War Museum North), but I also found some great protest stickers whilst exploring the city. Paying attention to a city’s protest stickers helps me get to know a place, by giving me an insight into the issues that matter to the city. Manchester had a lot of protest stickers, many of which I hadn’t seen before, which is just one of the reasons I liked it so much. Manchester is a vibrant city with a fascinating history. Protest stickers in some cities are dominated by only one or two issues (Newcastle, for example, had a lot of stickers relating to animal rights), but this was not the case in Manchester. Its diversity is reflected in the wide range of issues that are represented in the city’s stickers. There were also a lot of stickers in Manchester that I haven’t seen before; I have not seen any of the stickers featured in the post anywhere else. I’m not saying they are all unique to Manchester, but it is an indication of the city’s healthy culture of dissent.
Apart from anarchists, anti-fascist groups may be the most prolific sticker-ers that I have ever come across. So much so that they’ve provided me with enough material for a second blog post (the first post can be found here). In this post, I am focusing on the ways in which anti-fascist groups interact with, and make use of, history and geography. For many activists and social movements, the memory of past protests and events is an important source of inspiration and morale. This process is demonstrated by stickers that refer to significant moments in the history of anti-fascism. Geography also seems to be significant to anti-fascists, as many stickers refer to particular locations or local groups. It seems like anti-fascists might be as pre-occupied by time and space as geographers are!
The location of all the stickers featured in this post and others are marked here, on the Turbulent London Map.
Brighton is a coastal city in the south of England, about an hour away from London by train. It is well known for being an open and accepting city, and it also happens to be my home town, so it’s very special to me. I have written about protest and dissent in Brighton on Turbulent London before, but the city also has an awful lot of protest stickers so I think it deserves (at least) one more post. I took the pictures featured here on a walk down a single (admittedly quite long) road in the city. London Road runs from the city centre to the outskirts in the direction of London, funnily enough. Quite run down when I was younger, the area along the road is going through a rapid process of gentrification, to the extent that is known by some as the Shoreditch of Brighton. Gentrification is frequently a contested process however, and London Road has no shortage of protest stickers.
Paul de Gregorio has worked in fundraising since 1996; he is currently Head of Mobile at Open, a fundraising and communications agency. In his day job he finds ways to inspire the public to take action for some of the charities and not for profit organisations here in the UK and increasingly overseas. He blogs about it here. He’s also a fellow protest sticker-spotter, a habit he indulged on a recent trip to Berlin. In this post, Paul showcases some of the stickers he found, as well as reflecting on a museum exhibition he visited about antisemitic and racist stickers. He’s sometimes posts pictures of the stickers he finds on Instagram.
In my day job I help charities and non-profit organisations generate mass response to their campaigns and appeals.
In my spare time, down time between meetings and when I’m on holiday I spend an extraordinary amount of time taking pictures of political stickers on my mobile. I do it because I want to amplify some of the messages I see, but also because I find their designs a good source of inspiration for my day job.
Berlin is always a good place to find this stuff. On a recent trip I was lucky enough to be in town for the Sticky Messages exhibition at the Deutsches Historisches Museum. The exhibition, to give it its full name, “Sticky Messages. Antisemitic and racist stickers from 1880 to the present”, was a detailed look at the history of the political sticker in Germany over time.
The exhibition itself is great, and whilst at the exhibition I learnt all about Irmela Mensah-Schramm. She is a 70 year old woman, well known in Germany for her personal commitment to the removal of neo-Nazi messages from public places. For the last 30 years Irmela has been scraping off and spray painting over all the neo-Nazi messages she finds. From time to time this has put her into conflict with local Nazis. But she continues to do it. Having removed over 70,000 stickers since she started, she’s now a hero of mine! You can hear more of her wonderful story in the film below.
You can also read more about her here.
And what follows are a tiny handful of the stickers I found on that trip…
Paul de Gregorio
All photographs are my copyright. You can use them, I’d just like you to ask and credit me.
If you start looking out for protest stickers as you move around a British city, you will quickly notice that anti-fascists are particularly prolific sticker-ers. I’m not sure why, but anti-fascism is one of the most frequent themes of protest stickers, aside from anarchism. Most large towns and cities have an anti-fascist group, and as the largest of the lot London is home to several groups, as well as drawing in groups from elsewhere.
In April 2015, I went to the annual conference of the American Association of Geographers, which this year was held in Chicago, Illinois. Seeing as I was flying almost 4000 miles, I also took some time to look around the city. There are plenty of protest stickers to be found in Chicago, just like in New York and London. As in other cities, protest stickers in Chicago give us a clue as to what social movements and subversive political campaigns are striking a chord in the city. These movements reflect multiple scales, from the local to the international. Below are some of my favourite pictures from the Windy City.
Special thanks to Llinos Brown, who put up with my odd habit of taking close-up pictures of random bits of street furniture and also helped me find a few stickers whilst we were in Chicago.
Stickers are a ubiquitous part of the urban environment, often more common than graffiti in city centres. They are quick, easy and cheap to produce and put up, so they are an effective way of getting a message across. They are employed for a variety of purposes, such as advertising, art and dissent. The meaning of many is not obvious, they remain indecipherable to all but the author and those with the right knowledge to decode them. They also come in many shapes and sizes, with many different techniques used to produce them. Like graffiti they are meant to be ephemeral, gradually disintegrating under the weight of the weather, idle hands and cleaners. As I move around London I photograph many of the protest stickers that I see, gradually building up a map of dissent in our capital. Below are some of the stickers I have seen.