International reports from the Black Lives Matter movement

The Black Lives Matter movement has rapidly spread across the world in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by police in the USA. The size and strength of the solidarity demonstrations internationally has revealed widespread outrage at police violence and the system that engenders it. Comrades of the International Marxist Tendency have taken part in demonstrations in countries such as: the USA, Canada, Britain, Belgium, Mexico, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Greece and Sweden. Below is a selection of reports from Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Canada.


Britain: London

These recent demonstrations have shown the sharp shift in consciousness, with many protesters expressing a need for a systemic change in order to truly abolish racism. One protester we interviewed, for example, said: “This isn’t something new; racism is built on imperialism and colonialism. Nothing will change until that is destroyed. Society won’t see change until the system changes.” Protestors also highlighted that police brutality and the use of force is not limited to the United States. Placards reading “The UK is not innocent” and “Racism isn’t only an American problem” filled the crowds. Thousands chanted the names of those who have lost their lives at the hands of the police and because of racial injustice, shouting “Say his name, George Floyd”; “Say her name, Breonna Taylor”; and “Justice for Belly”. The energy of the crowd was full of rage against the wrongdoings of the police, mourning for those who have had their lives stolen from them, and determination to be at the forefront of the fight for a better society. With such a large crowd, different groups of protesters marched from Parliament Square to Buckingham Palace, 10 Downing Street, Victoria Station, and the US embassy. Along the way, people jumped on trash bins, bus shelters, and even on buildings shouting “Black lives matter”. Meanwhile, workers stood outside of shops holding signs of support, bus drivers honked their horns, and construction workers shouted in unison with the masses showing their solidarity. Racism is a pandemicThe overwhelming majority of the protest was full of young people of different backgrounds, coming together to express their disgust and shame towards this broken system. “I am so proud that so many different races, ethnicities, and identities came out to support this today,” one protestor shared with us. “I am just so proud.” The actions of the racist police have clearly struck a nerve with a great majority of young people. The battle for racial equality and an end to police brutality however, does not end with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Arbery, or the hundreds of people who have died as a result of police violence. As Marxists, we believe that the unity of the working class, on an organised basis, fighting for revolutionary demands is essential for the liberation of black lives, and all of those oppressed under capitalism. As Huey P. Newton stated: “We have two evils to fight - capitalism and racism.”

Bristol

The Black Lives Matter demonstration in Bristol took place on Sunday 7 June, with around 10,000 people taking to the streets to protest against racial injustice and police brutality. The slogans and home made placards reflected the mood of anger and frustration that we are witnessing across the world. This, in turn, expresses a questioning of capitalism and all its ills. Socialist Appeal supporters marched alongside other activists with a banner stating 'capitalism is racist'. This slogan was very well received, with many people taking photographs of it and raising their fist in solidarity. The Bristol protest has become national news thanks to the city’s 18ft statue of Edward Colston, which had stood in central Bristol since 1895. But now it stands no more. At the end of the demonstration, a large group of protesters returned to the statue of the infamous slave trader, tore it down, rolled it down to the docks, across the city centre, and chucked it into the river. The demonstration continued well into the late hours of the evening, with chanting and slogans that could be heard across town. The mood is definitely one of recognising strength in numbers. Workers and youth are gaining the confidence to stand up, and to rebel against the institutions that exist to serve the vested interests of the capitalist class. This highlights the enormous potential power that is held in the hands of the working class. There is no force on earth that can stop the working class when it is mobilised, organised, and united.

BLM London image Socialist AppealDemonstrations in Britain have shown the sharp shift in consciousness / Image: Socialist Appeal

Manchester

Manchester City Centre was full this weekend as thousands of protesters filled the streets to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matters protests that have engulfed the US in the last few weeks, but also to fight against the racism and inequality still seen in Britain. Saturday (6th June) saw an incredible gathering. It’s hard to remember anything similar in recent years. At the centre of the protest you could barely see where the mass-gathering started and finished. Later reports confirmed over 15,000 protestors filling out Piccadilly Gardens - far exceeding anything Manchester has seen in the last decade. Speakers at the rally exposed the ubiquity of racist police brutality, running through both the United States and in the UK. Personal stories were told to reveal the stark reality of systemic racism, with loud responses of anger, solidarity and hope coming from the huge crowd. The protest had been stated by the organisers as a peaceful one. But peaceful certainly did not mean calm. The mood was far from tranquil, as choruses of ‘No Justice, No Peace’ and ‘Say His Name – George Floyd’ rang out loudly across the crowd. Following the rally there was an impromptu march that covered the entire city centre. Here is where the disdain of the crowd turned towards the actions of the Tory government. “Boris is a racist”, “Justice for Windrush” and “Tory scum” were rallying cries. The anger against the racist ruling elite was palatable. The demo on the following day (June 7th) was a smaller protest - yet still larger than anything else seen in Manchester! As well as the similar impassioned speeches of the previous day, speakers at St Peter’s square put it to the crowd simply: Let this not be the end. We must all take to the streets every week! Though smaller, the Sunday protest had something of a more political character, with demands for change directed at the largely unresponsive authorities at Manchester City Council. “Racism on the streets in Manchester has increased, the City Council have remained silent!” Over both days, the crowd was largely young, audacious and lively - something clearly acknowledged by the speakers. Manchester has shown yet again that it stands in solidarity against any form of racism and discrimination, demanding an end to police killings and the systemic racism that runs through the state. This energy needs now be turned into bold demands, which will reveal the true enemy: capitalism. The police and the whole state apparatus exists to protect private property. And the ruling class consciously attempts to divide the working class along racial lines, to help the bosses. Workers and youth in Manchester, like the rest of the world, have shown that we will not let this happen. We need to unite, overthrow capitalism, and put an end to the violence of the state.

Glasgow

Thousands gathered on Glasgow Green for the Black Lives Matter rally over the weekend. It was difficult to gauge the true size of the crowd, as hundreds of people continued to stream up the lawn towards the Nelson Monument for about an hour. There, you could hear the chants and cheers spread from the centre of the sprawling crowd outwards. At one point the crowd simultaneously went down on one knee out of respect for George Floyd. Protestors were soon up again loudly chanting, clapping and cheering the speakers. It was almost entirely young people - students and workers of all backgrounds. Surprisingly, Marxist society activists carried the only red flag there. This was regarded with approval. Everyone we approached was keen to take a flyer on capitalism and racism. Observing the serious and angry mood, it was clear that this mass of people has truly been shaken - not just by the murder of George Floyd, but by the mass movement that has developed internationally against inequality and injustice.

BLM protests 2 Swansea 2Wales has seen its biggest demonstrations in recent memory / Image: Socialist Appeal

Wales

Thousands took part in the biggest demonstration that happened in Swansea in recent memory. An even bigger demonstration took place in Cardiff. The attendees were almost exclusively in their teens and 20s. Moreover, hundreds more workers and youth also attended in small towns in Wales - towns that haven't seen political activity since the 1984 miners strike. South Wales has indeed been rocked by this movement. The slogans mainly related to calling for justice for victims of this racist system - like George Floyd and Belly Mujinga. One placard exclaimed: "New gen, new system!". The speakers highlighted the racist injustices people of colour face, either by the hands of police or systemic poverty. Socialist Appeal activists in Wales took part, calling for a socialist system to end all the injustices that ultimately stem from capitalism. We are also going to be present at Thursday's demonstration in Newport. A new generation had come into action through this movement everywhere. South Wales had been no exception. And these protests show that this traditional arena of class struggle is set for a dramatic awakening.

Cambridge

In Cambridge, Socialist Appeal activists attended the BLM demonstration at Parkers Piece. Local news estimates that there were around 6,000 people protesting, representing one of the largest demonstrations in the city in the last decade. This is particularly notable given that there were very few Cambridge University students attending. The mood at the demonstration was extremely radical. Slogans such as ‘You can’t have capitalism without racism’ were received exceptionally well. The speeches at the demonstration made clear that racism is not simply an American problem, as the Tories and their media mouthpieces are trying to push. Rather, racism is a lived reality for all minorities in this country. Black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than their white counterparts in Cambridgeshire. Barnie Hakata, one of the event organisers, emphasised that the local inequalities within the national picture are systemic. As one protestor told us, ‘the whole system has to go!’ The demonstration itself was a static one, where social distancing was observed. We kneeled for a minute silence, and the names of all those that ‘should be alive today’ were later read out. The burning indignation against police brutality - which flows from the institutional racism of capitalist states - has obviously radicalised huge swathes who would have typically been apathetic towards politics. As the saying goes, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. After the demonstration, hundreds of school students and young people broke off into an impromptu march through Cambridge. For many of those chanting ‘No Justice, No Peace’, the heavy realisation that this requires radical action against the system itself seemed to be appreciated. We leafletted for the emergency event our local Marxist society is putting on about racism and police brutality. Our flyers were all quickly snapped up. We will have to print more in future! It is very clear that the youth, in particular, are looking for ideas capable of ridding the world of all oppression, exploitation, and bigotry. Our bold, socialist slogans are resonating more by the day.

Sheffield

Socialist Appeal supporters in Sheffield attended a Black Lives Matter protest in the city centre over the weekend. With over 3,000 present and two solidarity protests taking place elsewhere in the city, it was one of the largest demos we have ever seen here in Sheffield. Those attending were overwhelmingly young. But people of all ages and backgrounds were present - whether white or BAME; students and locals. This not a fight between black and white as the Tory press have tried to paint it as, but the people united against racism and the system that upholds it. Speeches detailed how racism is upheld by all institutions of the state: from the justice system to the education system. At the end of the protest, an unplanned march took place through the city, stopping traffic. Despite the poor weather, the mood was one of both anger and hope - and with an awareness that the struggle against racism must be a united one.

Durham

On Saturday 6 June, around 500 people gathered at Palace Green in the shadow of Durham Cathedral for an inspiring demonstration in support of the growing international Black Lives Matter movement. Organised at a grassroots level, protesters showed incredible discipline in wearing PPE and social distancing. It is clear that many people had not been put off, despite the pandemic and media narratives surrounding the legality of protesting. A counter demonstration by right-wing thugs had been organised in the centre of town with the aim of intimidating protestors. But this ended up being ignored and irrelevant. In fact, you could sense a confident and energetic mood among BLM protestors, which was clear from the placards and speeches made. All expressed the fact that the violence and daily racism BAME people face cannot continue. Socialist Appeal activists presented clear slogans such as Malcolm X’s famous words: “you cannot have capitalism without racism” pointing to the real cause of racism, which distinguished us and drew people’s attention to us, our arguments and our event we have advertised for next week. It was clear from the crowd, made up overwhelmingly of youth that people want real change, and that means fighting to overthrow the capitalist system.

BLM protests 2 London 5The size of the protests in the UK is unprecedented / Image: Socialist Appeal

Plymouth

Socialist Appeal supporters attended the Black Lives Matter demonstration in Plymouth this Sunday. The protest took place outside Drake’s Circus Shopping Mall, named after the famous pirate and slave trader, who has also many streets and buildings named after him in the city, along with a large statue in his honour. The crowd was made up of mostly young people, with many teenagers. Almost everyone wore a mask, although social distancing was hard to maintain, likely because the organisers did not expect so many people to be there. The size of the protests in Plymouth were unprecedented, with thousands of overwhelmingly young people filling the streets in the city centre. Protests are rare in places like Plymouth and we have never seen one so big before. The turnout and mood was reminiscent of the recent climate change protests - but far more militant. The anger and depth of feeling was palpable, as demonstrators spontaneously marched to the city police office. Activists surrounded the entrance, and then gave speeches and led chants. The protest lasted for two hours and ended with an 8-minute kneeling silence. It was very peaceful for its duration. The mood was optimistic and hopeful. There were chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “No justice, no Peace, no racist police” - all from very young people with signs made from scrap cardboard. Crowds shouted the name of George Floyd, along with others who had been murdered by the police. Many slogans focused on the racist attitude of this Tory government as well as the personal racism of Boris Johnson. The protest was in solidarity with the racist police brutality in the United States. But it also drew attention to Britain’s racist legacy, which lives to this day. Plymouth has deep connections to the African slave trade. It was the city from which England’s first slave trader, John Hawkins, made his initial expedition to trade captured slaves in the West Indies. Together with his cousin Francis Drake, Hawkins enslaved between 1,200-1,400 Africans. As the signs of many demonstrators pointed out, the UK is not innocent.

Coventry

The BLM protests have had a huge response from the people of Coventry, the home of two-tone, creating the biggest protest in recent memory. On Tuesday, over 300 people marched; on Sunday it was near 1000. Wide layers of the working class have been involved. The mood has remained determinedly radical, with protestors marching on the police station chanting "Who are the murderers? The police are the murderers". Many on the protest spoke about how Britain did not just have racist police, but was the founder of modern imperialism ,which has continued to this day. Many we spoke to had no faith in the current political system to carry out the changes needed, and were therefore heading to the streets. Protestors shut down the dual carriageway running around the city centre. We were met with widespread support from drivers - the most popular traffic jam the city has ever had. As the march passed through residential areas, one three-year-old sat on their balcony and shouted “black lives matter”. They were met with mass applause as the protests passed by. Large demonstrations have not been seen so much in Coventry in recent years. The climate strikes and other political events have passed with little furore. But the BLM protests have made their mark. This represents a huge turning point in consciousness.

Newcastle

On Saturday 6 June, Socialist Appeal activists attended the Newcastle Black Lives Matter protest. It's estimated between 1000 and 1500 people gathered around the monument in the city centre, with social distancing maintained throughout the protest and face masks worn by all in attendance. The protest was largely made up with young people, holding placards that condemned Boris Johnson, amongst other issues. The mood was angry, with many showing revolutionary attitudes. Our leaflets were taken even more readily than in previous Newcastle protests, and the Newcastle Marxist Society banner attracted some attention. Anti-police sentiment was high. An unplanned march through the city centre irritated the police, who asked us to disperse and return to the monument. This was met with booing, but reluctant compliance. A strong police presence was maintained throughout the protest, which stayed peaceful. This movement shows a lot of potential. Marxists activists will do everything we can to support it, and to connect with this radical mood.

Guildford

The BLM demo in Guildford ended in a hilly park. It was hard to see how many people were there, but it could easily have been around 1000 - almost exclusively young people. There was some sporadic chanting throughout the march. Slogans such as “black lives matter”, “no justice, no peace”, and “change the system” were the most common. During the march, some of the protesters started chanting back at people shaking their heads, shouting “You shake your heads at us, but not at racism”. This is probably the biggest protest there has ever been in Guilford in recent memory, showing how many young people want real change, even here in the Tory heartlands.


Germany

The global protest movement that followed the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis (USA) has also found an enormous echo in Germany. At an extremely short notice, impressive demos were called up and down the country that attracted tens of thousands. The bulk of demonstrators were young people, many of them from an immigrant background who attended the first demo in their lives. Comrades of Der Funke, the IMT in Germany, took part in these events in a number of cities, selling papers and handing out leaflets.

BLM protests 2 Berlin 3The protest movement that followed the murder of George Floyd has found an enormous echo in Germany / Image: Der Funke

While the demos numbered many thousands in the bigger cities and tens of thousands in some places, the movement also found an echo in smaller towns and rural areas where events took place. In the country town of Waldkraiburg (Upper Bavaria) local comrades of Der Funke were the initiators and organisers of a demo which attracted some 150 participants including refugees from a nearby asylum camp. „Fight Racism – overcome Capitalism“ was the central slogan of the demo written on a banner.

This is also a definite break with the state of shock caused by the pandemic in the last three months and the recent attempts by right wingers and supporters of all sorts of conspiracy theories to prance as the only real opposition in the country.


Italy

The youth of Italy flooded the streets in solidarity with the insurrection in the US.

During the last weekend, throughout the main town and cities, north and south, tens of thousands of people took to the streets demonstrating in solidarity with Black lives matter in the US. The demostrators were overwhelmingly young, students from the high scholols and from the universities, young workers, mostly teenagers! Even more relevant, there was a significant presence of second generation immigrant boys and girls. There was no doubt that they are looking at the mass protests in the Us as an inspiration and that they compare the discrimination they felt everyday in the schools and in the neighborhoods in Italy to the repression on the black people in the US. In their interventions from the platform, they cried out all the anger for the everyday racism perpetrated by the institution and by the bosses. “They exploit everyday my father on the shop floor, we pay taxes and bills to the last euro, but I am still not an italian citizen and when I turn eighteen I will have to beg this right to the same people (the police) who beat us”.. It was a speech of a young girl in Turin, but the same message was delivered from Milan to Rome, from Naples to Bologna.

BLM protests 2 Napels 2 Image RivoluzioneThe youth of Italy flooded the streets in solidarity with the insurrection in the US / Image: Rivoluzione

Most of the placards reproduced the slogans of the movement in the US “I can’t breathe”, “No Justice, No peace”, “Justice for george” etc… chanted several times together with “No to racism” and the mourning of George Floyd with raised fists. Slogans against state repression were quite poular as well.

Solidarity with blacklivesmatter came not only from the youth, but from the organised labour as well. Near Bologna, during a demo against the closure of a metal plant last friday, one thousand workers took a knee for George Floyd.

After the lockdown, these was really the first mass action at a national level. It revealed that a large sector of youth were not “anesthetized” by the pandemic, and it is ready to fight. This mood was shown by the on-line meeting on Minneapolis we held last friday, with Erika Rodl from the Us section, where more than 250 people attended.

Our intervention in the flashmobs of last weekend was very successful. In several cities we ran out of our pamphlet “Fight racism, overthrow capitalism” and we collect ten of addresses of youngsters, eager to discuss with us.


Switzerland

Black Lives Matter – this is the slogan around which 2000 people gathered on June 6th in Basel to express protest, anger and solidarity. People wore masks or handed them out to others and held their distance to protect each other from Covid19 and stave off the danger of a second wave. However, the pandemic is not the danger to black lives this protest was about. The unjust murder of George Floyd resonated with millions around the world, with their collective experience of racism, injustice and oppression. As one speaker put it, it is not just about the US and excesses of police violence. It is also about Switzerland and the daily insults, the miserable living and working conditions and the systematic discrimination people of color experience here. Like many others she expressed how she was fed up with explaining racism to people who barely even listen. In a gut-wrenching story, she told us about her father who, as one of the first black people living in Switzerland suffered a life of insult and injury. This slowly undermined his mental and physical health until he died of cancer. In 2018, in a case very similar to Floyd, a young black man by the name of Mike Ben Peter was murdered by the police in Switzerland. Racism kills.

Besides anger and mourning, this protest was also a strong symbol of hope. Not only was the turn out huge for a small Swiss city which only just left the lock out, there was a massive layer of youth, many of which identified as socialists. These youngsters have realized that there is no solution for the problem of racism if we do not also tackle the class regime it props up – or in the immortal words of the late Fred Hampton: We fight racism with solidarity and capitalism with socialism. Let us throw this rotten system on the dustbin of history! No justice, no peace! Black lives matter!


Canada: Big cities

On June 7, Montreal held one of the largest protests thus far, exceeding the number of participants just the week before. At least 10,000 participated, although this may be an underestimate. The violent protest predicted by some never materialized, save for one mailbox being knocked over. The police, however, still declared the protest unlawful, dispersing protesters with tear gas later in the evening.

In Edmonton, police estimate that over 15,000 took part in the protest on June 6—one of the largest in that city’s recent history. Protesters gathered at 4:30pm, with some marching until after 11pm. In Calgary, some 4,000 people attended a protest that same day, after holding earlier protests on May 31, June 1 and June 3—each one larger than the last.

Vancouver held protests on June 5 and 6. On June 5, between 5,000 and 10,000 gathered in the city’s downtown. In anticipation of the protest, business owners boarded up storefronts, although no looting or property damage ultimately took place.

canada BLM Image FightbackFightback comrades at Toronto protest / Image: Fightback

Of Canada’s large cities, only Toronto saw a decline in participation from the previous week—although thousands still participated in protests held on June 5 and 6. This is due in part to false media reports about a potential riot being planned, which scared away some participants, as well as various activist outfits spreading unfounded rumours about the protests.

Interestingly, Toronto’s protests were the smallest of any major city—and even smaller than certain small cities—despite it being Canada’s largest and home to many of the country’s activist organizations and “left” personalities.

Fightback and La Riposte activists joined the protests in almost every major city. In many cases, they led chants of “One solution, revolution” and “Abolish the police,” being joined by hundreds during the march. In some cities, protesters flocked to the Fightback table, eager to get involved. In every case, activists reported an interest in revolutionary politics unlike ever before. In recent weeks, dozens have asked to join “the Marxists,” while hundreds of Fightback and La Riposte newspapers have been sold—a reflection of the maturing radicalism.

Small cities and towns

However, the real significance of the present movement lies in the participation of Canada’s small cities and towns—many of which have not seen protests in years, let alone protests of this size.

Protests have taken place in Saskatoon, Moncton, Fredericton, Charlottetown, Burlington, Barrie, Thunder Bay, London, Guelph, Peterborough, Niagara Falls, Rimouski, Sherbrooke, Prince George, Cloverdale, Lethbridge, Red Deer, Llyodminster, and Iqaluit—to name just a few. In fact, almost every Canadian city with a population over 50,000 has held at least one protest in the past two weeks.

In Burlington, Ontario, pop. 200,000, police estimate that up to 10,000 joined a march held on June 4, or five percent of the city’s population. In Guelph, Ontario, pop. 135,000, at least 5,000 took part in a protest on June 6—the largest protest in the city since the Metro Days of Action, if not the largest ever. In Thunder Bay, Ontario, pop. 110,000, a city in Ontario’s north with a history of police brutality against Indigenous people, some 2,000 joined a protest on June 5. In Niagara Falls, Ontario, hundreds of protesters marched close to the U.S. border, and signalled to protesters on the other side in Niagara Falls, New York. Those on the Canadian side carried a large banner that read “One Voice Two Countries.”

In Alberta, sometimes dubbed “Canada’s Texas,” protests have cropped up in 9 out of 10 of the province’s largest cities and towns. This includes Fort McMurray, home to Canada’s “oil patch,” where 1,000 joined a protest on June 6, and Red Deer, which has held three protests so far.

Canada’s remote north has also hosted demonstrations. In Iqaluit, Nunavut, pop. 7,000, hundreds gathered to protest on June 5. The protest here took on a particular importance: a few days earlier, an Inuk man in Kinngait, Nunavut had been intentionally struck by a police vehicle—an experience all too familiar for Canada’s Inuit population.

The list could go on.

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