Mutiny interviews a West London organiser, who is operating between XR and Black Lives Matter, another example of the youthful, global, tech-savvy movement that is forming to demand a better future.
18 June 2020
Two hundred people – give or take – line the fence of a park in Chiswick in West London. In the middle stands someone in a fluffy unicorn mask and heavy military overcoat, despite the summer heat, leading the chants of ‘black lives matter’.
Under mask and coat is 28-year-old Anil, organiser of the protest. This is Sunday, and he’d come up with the idea on the Monday, floated it with fellow members of the local Extinction Rebellion (XR) group, and then decided to go for it. Leveraging off XR’s network, the word was spread on WhatsApp, Facebook and local social media platform Nextdoor. I found out about the event the day before the protest, when a friend shared it on Facebook. By Sunday morning there had only been 16 confirmations on the event’s page, so it was with a degree of trepidation I squeaked and clattered in on the Mutiny bike, Rosinante, a couple of hours later.
Anil was a tad fretful, too: ‘At the start there was just a ragtag assembly of strangers.’ But the numbers continued to swell, and a local action of 200, pulled off with little more resource than what Mr Zuckerberg provides, is not bad going by any reckoning.
The line of – appropriately distanced – protestors chant ‘black lives matter,’ ‘no justice, no peace’, and ‘what do we want? – systematic change’. The last doesn’t exactly flow off the tongue, if I’m being honest, but you’ve got to try. A small sound system pumps out vintage ska. Motorists honk horns. Shoppers wave, and some join the line. The vibe is positive.
Anil’s pleased with the turnout, and is planning further actions – hopefully a rolling programme across the West London borough of Hounslow. In future, he plans to source a PA from XR, which if nothing else should be easier on his voice, and get a range of speakers, representative of the local community. ‘We need to build a network,’ he explains: ‘going into the communities. Education has got to be a priority – not just within white communities, as biases exist elsewhere, which need to be addressed.’ He’s already approached local churches and gurdwaras, and is interested in the prospect of reaching out to unions locally. To coordinate, he’s set up Discord, a platform originally for gamers that is getting traction in the analogue world.
Once Anil had decided to go for the Chiswick action, he contacted Black Lives Matter, but hasn’t heard back yet. ‘It would be good to get approval for what we’re doing,’ he says: ‘And it would be better for a black person to be leading this. I’ve just taken the initiative because it looked like no one else has locally.’
Anil got involved in politics after the disappointment of the last general election. He’d thought about joining Labour, but opted for XR instead, seeing a need for positive action – something XR offered.
The link between climate crisis and racism is something he’s very mindful of, given that it is the global south that will bear the brunt, along with those at the bottom of the pile in countries such as the UK. I mention the work by Asad Rehman, over at War on Want, linking climate change and imperialism, and Anil puts one of his videos on Discord.
So, I’ve got to ask – why the unicorn/overcoat combo? ‘I thought the mask would be quirky,’ he says with a chuckle. ‘I bought it at Lidl last year.’ The reasons for the overcoat are less playful, however – ‘Wearing something heavy like that is good if you’re attacked – useful if someone tries to stab you.’ Something that he’s learned from experience that is best to prepare for. Things passed off peacefully in the end, though he adds, ‘when I got home and took it off, I was drenched.’
Talking to people such as Anil – or, in the US, Tzipporah – two things are apparent: first, that this movement is being organised by young people, many of whom have never been involved in any form of protest or politics before; second, that what they’re doing has struck a chord. What’s being accomplished so far has little tangible organisation, at least at a local level. But that seems to be changing, and it’s changing now. If you live or are visiting in or nearby West London, and would like to attend a future BLM protest in the area, please click here.