Today the thoroughly nauseating and vile EDL held a static demonstration in Walsall. I'm not quite sure why they chose Walsall. Walsall may be a lot of things but it's never had a problem in welcoming people from all over the world to live and work in the borough. It has, by and large existed as a peaceful multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural town since I was a small child holding my Mother's hand as I walked around town, mesmerised by the exotic looking ladies in their sari's back in the 60s. There have been no race riots here, no big news stories that may have divided a community. Perhaps that's why the bigots chose Walsall; because as a community it tends to get on.
The EDL were confined to Leicester Street. We headed up to Gallery Square where the counter demonstration was being held. The first thing that struck me as we walked into town from Lower Rushall Street was how quiet it was. One didn't need to dodge cars ignoring red lights at pedestrian crossings and there was only one market stall set up. My heart went out to the market traders who through no fault of their own, were losing a days takings because the racist EDL had come to town for the day. There were a large number of police officers around the town. I silently wished them a non-eventful shift. We passed the end of Leicester Street. There appeared to be about 20 EDL supporters there at that time. Up in Gallery Square there were far larger numbers that increased as the day went on.
I had forgotten just how many leaflets you can accumulate on demonstrations and also how many people will approach you about attending other demonstrations. My bag is stuffed with every kind of leaflet. The live music was good and we chatted with various folks and enjoyed the friendly ambiance, speakers and coffee from Costa Ratheralota. A group of about 50 young people marched into the square and for a little while the atmosphere was a little less relaxed but a couple of speakers spoke of peace and non-violent protest and of removing scarves from faces. That did the trick and normal service was resumed. The police were noticeable by their sheer numbers however everyone seemed to be on good terms and even the guys with EGT (evidence gathering team...apparently) emblazoned on their backs were up for a chat.
By 1.30pm we were cold and needed to run a few errands and so began a long trek around Crown Wharf, the Fire Station, Stafford Street in order to get back towards Lower Rushall Street. Many roads by that time had been closed, as was the bus station. The Police were incredibly apologetic and helpful. We passed by the end of Leicester Street again. By now their numbers had swollen to about 200 but it was a nasty atmosphere. Lots of football type chanting and as we walked away they had turned around to chant in the faces of the police officers. Reaching half way up Bridge Street we heard a loud firework type bang, the chanting and shouting became frenzied and before your could say SPG, the riot helmets were on and a rather loud police officer was telling us and others to go away. Any questions directed towards him resulted in the same message being relayed in ever increasing decibels.
We left Walsall but not before being held up at the Arboretum whilst the police escorted in three coaches which we later discovered were for the EDL to get them out of town. Pity they came in the first place. They didn't achieve anything, just massive inconvenience for the people and traders of Walsall, an awful lot of costs for the policing of the day oh and one massive positive; the people of Walsall of all races, creeds and colour coming together peacefully to say EDL, you're not welcome in Walsall. We are Walsall.