Over 1,000 people attended yesterday’s Black Lives Matter rally in Alexandra Park.
Speakers challenged those attending to ‘be an ally’ – to be actively anti-racist and to spread the word among their families. One man who attended said later: “It had the feel less of a protest, more of a movement that’s here to stay.”
Hastings In Focus asked Liberal Democrat Nick Perry for his thoughts and here’s what he had to say about the event.
I have been asked to write for Hastings in Focus about the Rally Against Racism, in Alexandra Park on Sunday. What it was like? Why I went?
Let the record reflect that being a White British, squarely middle class, male, I am not sure my opinion is everything that you need to know.
But I am an ally to the cause. I am needed too. And the cause – anti-racism – and the fact that there is still so much work to do, across the world, has been brought back to the attention of our mainstream – and now local – media, by the horrific murder of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
Understandably, there has been a wish to acknowledge the horror of this incident by concerned ‘citizens of the world’ to coin a phrase. In the UK it resonates so deeply because of our shameful slaving and imperial history. Edward Colston’s Saddam moment came in Bristol, as a result.
Here in Hastings we had a quickly-convened opportunity to do something to show our solidarity. It was necessary for me personally to think through whether or not to attend. I had seen online the consternation of folk who did not want the success that we have had locally, in respect of maintaining a low infection and transmission rate of the COVID-19 virus, to be compromised.
I had also read the rationale of the organisers – to provide something local so that people weren’t tempted to travel to London to protest – perhaps even more rash, Covid-wise; that there had been an apology from the organisers for careless language about our own Sussex Police; that there was a promise of a carefully stewarded event, conscious of the need to keep social distance.
I won’t list the many and various reasons for me attending but if you ask me who is my political hero, I will tell you that it is Martin Luther King. If you ask me the ethnicity of my partner, she is Tottenham-raised Black British, of Jamaican heritage. She has a mixed race daughter and I have two – White and East African Asian. I am a liberal – and for me our freedoms, as citizens of whatever colour and creed, are pivotal.
I also felt that there are various ways in which I have been risking myself and others during the last weeks of lockdown. Whether it has been through my work continuing to assess people who are very ill – sometimes physically as well as mentally – under the Mental Health Act; or whether it has just been going to Morrisons’ to shop for food. There have been ordinary, required reasons to put others at risk. And the need for this #BlackLivesMatter movement to have my careful, PPE’d support, felt to me to be a requirement too.
I am sure it was a similar thought process that brought so many others to the park on Sunday – over 1,000 were gathered. It was no surprise to me that there was a good showing of our young people there. But what was so interesting was that there was, to my mind, a far higher proportion of people of colour than perhaps Hastings would ordinarily see on its streets. This should be instructive to us.
It was an event that had representation from across the age ranges; perhaps apart from the very old, who are shielding but I know of many who will have been with us in spirit; and many who may have been watching as the event was streamed by Isolation Station (our local Facebook TV station) online.
I am hard of hearing, so it was not easy for me to hear exactly what the various speakers spoke, and sang. But what is my abiding memory is the energy of compassion and togetherness that the event generated. The considerate and sensible way that attendees observed the requests of the stewards to observe social distancing.
I needed to leave before the end, but I gather there was a full eight minutes, forty six seconds, when folk remembered on one knee the exact length of the racist violence that killed George Floyd.
I am sure some will scoff at and criticise our Hastings protest. Some may have cogent arguments in favour of other forms of radical, but non-collective action. I understand. But let me say this. I am glad that I took the decision to attend on Sunday and I am grateful to the organisers for ensuring the integrity of what was a symbolic, considered, essential event.
After all, this is only the beginning. We have so much more work to do.