St George: Flagging wrong and right

On Sunday in Brighton 80 or so far-right English Defence League supporters took up their option to ‘March for England’. The majority were hustled into an 800 metre walk along the seafront of this tolerant seaside town.  Most were out of earshot and virtually invisible behind phalanxes of police. As ever, flags of St George were the fascists’ most visible branding.

EDL_MArch_for_England_Brighton_2013

Some did manage to roam at large, fighting with people taking exception to their presence (see pictures by Guy Smallman ) but the main body of the march was neutered by hundreds of police and acres of crowd barrier. Not so much a march as a logistics exhibition by the plod. The marchers were an ineffectual sideshow, bobbing about in a sea of fluoro.

EDL_March_for_England_Brighton_2013

The mood amongst the couple of thousand who had turned out in the sun to show their disapproval was almost festive.  A mixture of vitriol and good-humoured abuse issued forth from onlookers, as the bright green ‘kettle’ of fascists perambulated meekly down the A259.

EDL_MArch_for_England_Brighton_201307

Amongst the opposition lining the pavement, the nice EDL (English Disco Lovers) played a wry & well-received set including tunes like We are Family & YMCA, on a 12 volt rig. No doubt bolstering their bid to overtake the fascists on Google searches… they currently lie third.

EDL_English_Disco_Lovers_2013_Brighton

Tourists at restaurant tables along the route grimaced at rude gestures from the marchers. Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas was out and about with a cadre of Green Party supporters, a press-friendly oasis of  quotes and photos.

Caroline_Lucas_EDL_March_for_England_Brighton_2013

 

Caroline_Lucas_EDL_March_for_England_Brighton_2013

With the marchers still hidden by police as their costly stunt neared its end, the flags of St George and Richard the Lionheart still dominated centre stage. The Royal Albion hotel provided an ironic backdrop. These sorry displays of fascist nationalism do seem to stake the flag of St George firmly in the camp of racism, homophobia and intolerance.

EDL_MArch_for_England_2013_Brighton

Luckily there are those who just don’t see it this way. The Kent Equality Cohesion Council & Brighton community arts company Same Sky have teamed up in a determined campaign to reclaim the red & white ensign for fair means not foul. For five years they have together produced St Georges’ Day parades in Dartford and Gravesend in Kent.

Same_Sky_St_Georges_Day_Dartford_2013

In these towns 23 April is a big day out for St George. The Union Jack does make an appearance, but with pubs featuring entire frontages painted in the Saint’s cross, it’s really all about the red and white. Same Sky pack their vans with dragons, a large puppet of St George and stacks of red and white-themed standards. They arrive in sunny Gravesend to meet the staff and children of  25 schools, who for several weeks have been making their own costumes and standards on the theme of St George. The schedule requires a parade in Gravesend, followed swiftly by another in Dartford.

Same_Sky_St_Georges_Day_Gravesham_2013

Same Sky’s workshops promote St George as a defender of one’s right to believe in any faith. Words emblazoning the childrens’ shields and standards reveal layers of meaning and discussion, built into teaching and the making process – Love, Truth, Faith, Honesty, Bravery, Aspire, Inspire, Equality and Community.

Same_Sky_St_Georges_Day_Gravesham_2013

Dartford and Gravesend both have a military history – perhaps reflected in the popularity of ‘Defend’ on the childrens’ standards. The word resonates slightly uncomfortably with the right wing farce in Brighton two days earlier.  Nevertheless, as these two bright parades for a new view of England wind through the towns, a hopeful interpretation of the cross of St George definitely makes its presence felt.

Same_Sky_St_Georges_Day_Dartford_2013

Interviewing onlookers and the mayors of both towns, there’s no mention of cross-cultural cohesion. Pride in England predominates. However the sight of people of all races waving the flag of St George and the enthusiastic participation of the children, gives one faith in the statement by Gurvinder Sandher, CEO of the Kent Equality Cohesion Council: ‘We think it’s important to celebrate what it means to be English today, and to show that regardless of colour or creed, the flag of St George is for everyone’.

Same_Sky_St_Georges_Day_Gravesham_2013

Same_Sky_St_Georges_Day_Gravesham_2013

Same_Sky_St_Georges_Day_Gravesham_2013

This partnership between Kent Equality Cohesion Council and Same Sky is plainly very successful. It is a great way of harnessing the power of education, art and young people to change the way history influences the present and the future. Faced with a vibrant show of hope, community & youth cohesion like this, it’s difficult to see how the far-right can compete. They’re just wrong. Thanks be to St George. Same Sky. And the Kent Equality and Cohesion Council. They’re just right.

Same_Sky_St_Georges_Day_Gravesham_2013