Updated: Jun 14
Rob McArdle, Coventry Socialist Alternative
All the propaganda of the media and government trying to deter the Black Lives Matter protests from taking place didn’t stop thousands of people marching in Coventry on two #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations last week in the wake of the brutal police murder of George Floyd. Not even the dismal weather on Sunday could dampen the energy that had gathered. Socialist Alternative members were out in force showing solidarity.
Around 500 people came out on Tuesday and marched through the city centre, stopping outside the police station to demand justice for victims of police brutality in the UK, including Darren Cumberbatch from Coventry.
Socialist Alternative member and Coventry City UNISON Assistant Branch Secretary spoke at the protest, bringing solidarity greetings and reading out part of a statement passed by his UNISON branch. This highlighted the role played by transit workers in Minneapolis, including members of Socialist Alternative, who refused to transport arrested protesters for the police. This kind of concrete action from workers is essential to building a movement against racism.
Over 1000 people then joined a second demonstration on Sunday. Many in the crowd had never been on a demonstration before and the City Centre was filled with homemade banners. Parents brought their children along, standing shoulder to shoulder with people of all races and all ages - united in their struggle to stamp out racism.
Protesters marched on the city’s ring road, stopping traffic, then through Earlsdon and back into the city centre. A further group of protesters went further and marched onto the M6 demonstrating the level of anger and energy. Over 1000 also protested in Rugby and 500 in Leamington Spa, showing the huge anger being felt by ordinary people on this issue.
Our stall was busy as protesters signed up for more information, bought newspapers and badges. Leaflets advertising our online public meeting, 'Windrush, Grenfell, Covid-19 the Tories are not innocent!' were snapped up willingly. Young people were very open to discussions around socialism and older members of the public remembered racism, decades earlier in Coventry.
One of the striking features on this protest was the amount of young people that had turned out. Voices of young black women, angry and unafraid, were being heard for the first time by many. This was also reflected on the long march as slogans boomed around the city. But it wasn't just about #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd - other names were remembered too. Chants also rang out for black London Underground worker Belly Mujinga, whose bosses forced her into work when she had an existing health condition - a passenger claiming to have coronavirus disgustingly spat in her face, and she subsequently died of Covid-19. Anger over the death of 32 year old Coventry man, Darren Cumberbatch in police custody with 50 injuries was also heard. Chants of “the UK is not innocent” reflected the obvious reality that racism is not just a US problem, black people in the UK face police violence as well - and the Windrush scandal and the Grenfell fire prove that, to this Tory government, black lives don’t matter. This anger at the Tories was expressed succinctly in spontaneous chants of “f*ck Boris Johnson!”
30 people came to a Socialist Alternative meeting during the week and heard Maddy, a member of our sister organisation in Minneapolis, give a report from the front line of the protests. After the meeting Maddy and other workers led successful walkouts at workplaces across the US, with workers stopping work for 9 minutes - to mark the 9 minutes the police knelt on George Floyd’s neck.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement has highlighted the anger felt by many, and must lead to the wider struggle to change society by ending the system which oppresses us all - capitalism!