Learning The Lessons Of The Battle Of Cable Street

30/09/2016 12:25

Eighty years ago, on October 4th 1936, the local community involved in the Battle of Cable Street had little understanding of the impact and lessons the day would have in shaping the fight against racism and fascism for the future.

On that day, Jews alongside other left-wing demonstrators and those from other minority communities took to the streets of London's East End to stop Oswald Mosely and the British Union of Fascists (BUF) from marching through the heavily Jewish and immigrant area.

It is estimated that nearly 100,000 anti-fascist demonstrators turned out to protest and block the route along which the BUF were planning to march. These demonstrators used anything they could lay their hands on to build barricades at every possible turn. There are many stories of people who recall preparing the use of pots and pans to throw water over police officers from a height, children using marbles to destabilise horses, and people using broken furniture and mattresses to block street entrances and alleyways.

Demonstrators refused to back down from the threat of the march and the threat it posed to their communities. They were met by a strong police presence that tried to clear the way for the BUF members to pass through the area, but were eventually forced to order the BUF to suspend their march instead due to the risk to public safety.

This battle attracted and continues to attract all of the modern commemoration. It was, and still remains, a firm example of communities coming together to confront racism. And 80 years on, it is more important than ever to remember the Battle and the legacy it has left amongst the Jewish and wider community.

Cable Street is part of the heritage of London Jewry, and more important than ever this year is about remembering those people who witnessed the Battle first hand. As many of these veterans are now in their nineties, there may not be many more significant anniversaries where they, along with their relatives and the community can share memories and stories, and commemorate the day together.

The 80th anniversary will go some way in ensuring that the legacy of Cable Street is passed on to future generations. Cable Street is not just a reminder of our responsibility to protect our community. For many British Jews, the Battle of Cable Street symbolises part of a proud and longstanding history of society coming together to fight racism and fascism. Those who fought back against the fascists were those who shared a common world view against racism.

As distant as the Battle of Cable Street may seem, especially to younger generations, we must remember that there are threats in society today that are just as credible. There remains a need for a strong, united coalition to stand up against racism. To do this effectively, we must reach across communal divides and stand together with other communities in the face of adversity. It is not about race or background, it is about values.

This is the kind of message we need to embrace in order to move forward, and work towards a society that stands up to those rejecting diversity; that the commonalities and bridges that we build with other communities will withstand any attempts to fracture us and cause disunity.

Standing up to fascism is not an event or a one-time generational experience. It is something that we have to carry with us every day in our words and actions, because, unfortunately our society is still plagued by these experiences.

This is the lesson of Cable Street, and when we are marking the 80th anniversary this year we all hope that future generations will carry on the same resolve to fight racism and fascism.

We also want younger generations to remember their grandparents, great grandparents and other relatives who paved the way and allowed us the legacy we have today.

Organisations such as the Jewish Leadership Council and London Jewish Forum put on events to commemorate the Battle, but the real legacy lies in the memories, the pictures, the lessons the day taught us and how this is relevant to life today.

We must, as a community, say again to those who look to divide us with hatred and intolerance "they shall not pass".