Powerful opening rally of Arise Festival defends our Right To Resist


“When picket lines are formed, you join them. When demonstrations are called, you join them. We must stand ready to get involved in every dispute and every act of resistance”

John McDonnell MP

By Sam Browse, Arise Festival volunteer

As the annual Arise: A Festival of Left Ideas begins this year, hundreds tuned in to watch the opening rally of the festival, entitled ‘Our Right to Resist’. You can watch the online rally in full below:

Our Right To Resist – the opening session of Arise Festival 2023 held on May 31st, 2023.

The festival begins as the Government has presided over 13 years of economic stagnation, a cost of living crisis, a crisis of public services, a humanitarian crisis in the Channel, and a worsening climate emergency.

Now, it has the human rights act in its sights, while it passes laws that attack the right to protest, suppress voter turnout, and continue the onslaught on the right of workers to take industrial action and defend their interests – all while it attempts to scapegoat asylum seekers, climate activists, LGBTQ+ people, and trade unionists resisting the attack on their pay and conditions.

The rally, chaired by Labour Peer and former General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), Christine Blower, featured a stellar array of speakers from across the labour and social movements at the frontline of resisting the Tories.

Speaking at the rally, Kate Osborne, the MP for Jarrow, said “every day we see a new scandal, and every week I speak to people and business that are struggling with the damage this government is doing to public services and communities after 13 years of cuts and chaos.”

“That means more and more people are starting to resist, standing up to say enough is enough. Huge swathes of society are saying we can’t take any more – and that’s why we’re seeing such vicious attacks on our right to resist.”

Sam Knights from Green New Deal Rising said “we all have to come together in networks of solidarity and say we are going to continue to resist.”

There followed a statement, read by the Chair, from Morgan Trowland, a climate activist in prison facing an unprecedented five year sentence for taking direct action. He said “as the government’s legitimacy crumbles, it can only rule through fear. Thus, we now see ambiguous new laws which make anything potentially illegal, even bringing placards to a coronation.”

In a passionate speech, the Liverpool MP, Kim Johnson, said “the ruling elite are doing what they do best in a crisis: using scapegoats – pointing the finger at migrants and asylum seekers, trade unionists, black people, trans people, and climate activists.”

“But where injustice prevails, resistance will follow. We have to agitate, educate and organise.”

Rob Poole, from Strike map, told the audience that “our choice is clear, we know that we cannot win this fight alone, but only if we stand together. We’ve been told that our demands are too radical, too costly and too unrealistic; but we know that they are not only reasonable, but necessary.”

Chris Peace, representing the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign argued, “the attacks on the miners, along with the lies about Liverpool fans at Hillsborough and the printers at Wapping, are being repeated to whip up hate against today’s protestors.”

“Whether you are resisting racism or fascism, fighting climate change, or asserting your trade union rights, objecting to the monarchy or fighting for historic miscarriages of justice, the new anti-protest laws of this government has you in its gaze and wants to suppress you.”

Miriam Kane, Black Liberation Alliance, reminded us that “protesters are often demonised at the time when they make a stand but celebrated decades later. Statues of the suffragettes and Nelson Mandela now stand in Parliament square.”

Speaking on the need for the labour and social movements to put those disproportionately affected by the Tories’ assault, Zita Holbourne of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC UK) said, “freedom was never gained through silence. Black lives matter at work, in elections, and in education. We must have a seat at the table, we must have a voice in the world, and we must defend our right to protest.”

Phil Clark, Vice President of the National Education Union, argued that “where unions fight, they will grow. The previous ant-union laws were brought in when the government didn’t think large scale action was possible. But now, with these new laws, after this wave of strike action, they’re saying no matter how well organised you are, we will force your members into work.”

“We need to coordinate better, work together, and put aside out sectional differences because this is a massive threat to our movement. You’ve got to go into your workplace and organise.”     

In closing, John McDonnell said  “we’re in a classical crisis of capitalism. Capital wants to restore profitability, and it attacks the working class because it wants to make us pay.”

“The closer the Tories come to losing power, the harsher will be their repressive measures.”

“When picket lines are formed, you join them. When demonstrations are called, you join them. But we’ve also got to take seriously the implications of the minimum services legislation. We’ve got to start planning now for when that first worker is sacked, and that first trade unionists is fined, that we have coordinated action across the trade union movement, and civil society.”

“what this rally has done tonight is alert us all to stand ready – to get involved in every dispute and every act of resistance. We need to transform our society from one of repression to one of freedom.”

Featured image: The SOSNHS demonstration in Central London on March 11th, 2023. Photo credit: Ben Folley/Labour Outlook

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