Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Russell Dryden RIP

Sorry to hear today of the passing of Russell Dryden. Familiar to many from his fish stall in Bermondsey's  blue market, which he ran  for more than 30 years, he championed music through his involvement with Bermondsey Beat and Bermondsey Carnival.

He also had a lovely singing voice himself. Back in June 2011 'Nigel of Bermondsey' hosted Southwark Folk, a night of South London themed songs at the Cuming Museum on Walworth Road. Nigel/George performed, I sang a few songs as did John Constable, and Russell charmed us with some of his own compositions including one I remember prompted by hearing an American accent in the market and reflecting on the ever changing area.



Sunday, May 12, 2024

Hate is a Drag! - Honor Oak protest exhibition in Catford

Hate is a Drag! is an exhibition at Catford Constitutional Club's Gallery SE6 of art from and inspired by last year's Honor Oak anti-fascist counter protests. It includes placards and signs from the movement as well as other work by Kate Emblen who curated the exhibition and who was herself targeted online by the far right for her participation in the events.

From February to July 2023 there were monthly far right protests targeting a Drag storytelling session at the Honor Oak pub. The first one saw 500 people turn up and block the road to oppose them, and that set the tone for an ongoing community mobilisation which outnumbered the far right each month until the final one in July 2023. By this time the storytelling session had stopped anyway, it's in the nature of events in pubs that they come and go over time though I think that the company running the pub may have brought pressure for it to take a break and no doubt the police had a word in their ear too. 




The exhibition at Catford Constitutional Club runs from 10 May to 5 June 2024



I've written an account of the protests at Datacide magazine, here's an extract:

'The protests were first called by Turning Point UK, a Trumpian ‘anti-woke’ group, and amplified by right wing influencers like GB News TV presenters Calvin Robinson and Laurence Fox. Both of these attended the first protest in February 2023 where their 30 or so supporters were heavily outnumbered by community opposition, with several hundred people occupying the road by the pub to stop them getting near. Since then there have been monthly face offs with anti-fascists as the far right has tried and mostly failed to occupy a space directly outside the pub for its protest.  In the most serious confrontation in June intelligence that the far right were planning to arrive very early led to an to an even earlier counter effort. By 6 am people had gathered to defend the pub and soon afterwards the Turning Point mob turned up and piled in. Scuffles continued for a while before the police turned up, a few people were injured and a window broken in the pub but the line held. After the early departure of  the far right there was dancing in the road before the police cleared the impromptu street party.  Giving evidence against a protestor who was arrested, a cop claimed that the sound system had been louder than Rampage at Notting Hill Carnival – a slight exaggeration.

Since then events have settled down into a routine with 100+ anti-fascists outside the pub, large numbers of police (12 van loads at most recent count) and a hard core of around 20-30 anti-drag activists, mostly older white men with long term involvement in far right street politics. Among those identified have been people previously associated with Combat 18, Blood & Honour (white power skinheads) and the British National Party. One regular attendee spent years in jail for being part of a neo-nazi gang that nearly killed a man in a racist stabbing in Essex.

Opposition to the far right at the Honor Oak has come from a mixture of  younger queer and trans activists, long time Lewisham leftists and trade unionists and other local people just outraged at the presence of bigots in this diverse part of London. Despite some political differences some interesting connections have been made and a tentative South London antifascist community of struggle has emerged over seven months. Large banners have proclaimed ‘South London Loves Trans People’ and ‘South London is Anti-Fascist’.