The rise of fascism is not inevitable – just look at Bridges Not Walls
27th December 2016
When your friends and family regard you as The Political One, seismic news events are a bittersweet experience. For every political catastrophe this year has thrown our way, I have received messages and phone calls from family and friends hoping that I might have some special insight, some furtive piece of knowledge that will explain things and assure them it will be OK. In the chaotic aftermath of Brexit, several friends contacted me — some of whom I hadn’t seen for years — asking what they could do to make things better.
The joy that springs from speaking to loved ones meant I always tried to come up with some nuggets of wisdom, but the truth was I didn’t have any answers, and I felt just as hopeless and worried as they did. But elsewhere others were coming up with answers. In November, an seller called Will woke up the morning after the US election and wrote to a friend with an idea.
Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall on the border between the US and Mexico reminded Will of Martin Luther King Jr urging people to “build bridges, not walls”. In his letter to his friend, a seasoned activist, Will outlined an image he had of thousands of people gathered on Britain’s iconic bridges, each displaying a message of solidarity against the rise of fascism in democracies across the western hemisphere. Will’s friend liked the idea, and he told other activists about it.
And so it was that in early December, I was invited to the first organising meeting of a new movement called Bridges Not Walls to witness some of the UK’s most experienced activists bringing Will’s idea to life. There were about 40 people present, and the room included: veterans from UK Uncut, the avoidance movement that held over 500 protests and spun an offshoot that took the government to court activists involved in Reclaim the Power, the group that organised direct action protests against fracking in Balcombe which led to the arrest of MP Caroline Lucas Disabled People Against Cuts Hope Not Hate Migrants Organise and more. Smart, resourceful people who get stuff done.
It was agreed in the meeting that, although everybody will be affected by the rise of fascism across Europe and the US, the result will be “a period of intensified oppression and violence” for ethnic, religious and other minorities. So bridges are not only about making connections they are also the midpoint of two sides, and eventually those in the middle have to pick one. Bridges Not Walls is a movement responding to a historical fork in the road its founders recognise there is no such thing as neutrality in the face of oppression, but they also know how hard it is for people to resist if there is no obvious resistance movement for them to be a part of.
Bridges Not Walls is an attempt to give people who want to resist the rise of the far right somewhere to go. The first demonstration will be on 20 January, the day of Trump’s inauguration. Activists will gather along London’s iconic bridges to display messages of solidarity to those who will suffer the most under Trump and his European counterparts.
On the movement’s website, there is a map that allows people around the country to organise similar demonstrations on bridges near them. From these demonstrations, members of Bridges Not Walls aim to build permanent resistance that will be a home for anyone wanting to take a stand against fascism. The demonstration will be a moment that could instigate a movement.
So the next time a loved one calls me asking what they can do to address the injustices they see, I’ll tell them that six years ago when I was working in an office job in Liverpool, I phoned a group of UK Uncut activists and asked them the same thing. They told me to occupy a Vodafone shop in Liverpool to protest against tax avoidance, as they had in London. For reasons I’m still unsure of, I impulsively did it, and it is still one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
No one regrets fighting for a better world, and even after a terrible year, I still think the world can be better. My hope for 2017 is that we don’t accept the rise of fascism as inevitable. We can beat it, if we come together and act.
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