On Wednesday, May 9, about 45 Socialist Fightback Students activists from across Southern Ontario played a prominent role in the “Racists Aren’t Welcome Here” rally at Wilfrid Laurier University. The rally was held in response to repeated attempts by Lindsay Shepherd and the Laurier Society for Open Inquiry (LSOI) to invite far-right speakers to the campus.

Shepherd and the LSOI had previously tried on two occasions to invite Faith Goldy to speak at the campus. Goldy has done interviews on openly pro-Nazi radio programs, and was an open defender of and participant in the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, where left-wing activists were injured and Heather Heyer was killed. Anti-racist demonstrators halted those planned events that were set to feature Goldy.

On this latest occasion, the speaker invited was Frances Widdowson, who defends the oppression of Indigenous people in Canada, including scandalously supporting residential schools as beneficial to First Nations people.

The rally set up at 6 p.m., an hour before the lecture was to start, to show opposition from students and community members to the LSOI and the racist poison being peddled at the event. The 20 or so participants in the heavily guarded lecture hall were outnumbered by the people participating in the rally. Many local activists thanked us for bringing such a large contingent of Socialist Fightback Students from out of town to bolster the action. Our activists easily made up two-thirds of the rally, if not more.

While the lecture was happening, Fightback members engaged with university students and community members passing by, informing them of what was happening and why it is necessary to stand up to attempts to demonize and scapegoat Indigenous and other marginalized communities. Many students were very interested in socialism, and the connection between capitalist society and the poison of racism that has been on the rise in recent years. The mood on campus was decisively in support of the rally, and even those who hadn’t heard about the event communicated their disgust that far-right speakers like Widdowson would be invited to speak on campus.

Unfortunately, as compared to the previous action that had gathered several hundred against Faith Goldy, this rally did not have as much participation from the campus community. While Goldy is very prominently pro-fascist, Widdowson is lesser known. However, another factor was that the demonstration organizers made an official call-out for people to show up masked. This likely had the effect of intimidating or creating suspicion among students and community members who otherwise would have attended the rally. If an activist chooses to cover their face, that is their decision. However, they should also consider the impression it leaves on the community at large, those they wish to mobilize—the majority of whom feel no reason to mask up, even more so when attendees are requested to do so. The movement is most powerful when it draws in the broadest layers of ordinary youth, working class people, and community members. Wearing a mask is a symptom of weakness and fear, not strength. The best protection against the fascists and the state is to mobilize the largest number of people over clear political demands. This is difficult to accomplish when wearing a mask.

Protecting democratic rights of the working class movement

Mobilizing against the far right is directly linked to protecting the democratic rights of workers, youth, leftists, and marginalized groups. The far-right organizations all believe in using violence to repress the revolutionary left, workers’ organizations, and oppressed groups. To ensure that we can organize, mobilize and live in safety, the working class must unite against this threat to our class.

It is therefore important to also ensure democratic rights within the labour movement. Given the recent events at the Kitchener-Waterloo May Day, where workers and students with Fightback faced bureaucratic exclusion, we took the time to discuss with demonstrators and to distribute our statement on that incident. We wanted to make it clear that we will not stand for any attempts to politically intimidate and police us out of the movement in Kitchener-Waterloo, and that we have a right, as much as any other left-wing group, to put our ideas forward in the movement.

Debate around political differences between various political trends within the workers’ and youth movement helps to raise the political consciousness of the movement. Bureaucratic censorship and exclusion provide weapons to the trade union, student union, and NDP bureaucracies, which will be used against all trends on the revolutionary left. In the end, these methods only weaken the movement by resulting in lower numbers at strikes and protests (as would have been evident at this rally if Fightback had been forced to leave). The only logical reason for pursuing these harmful methods is preserving personal privileges, prestige, or position at the expense of the movement.

Some of the activists were unaware of what happened at Waterloo’s May Day. Most were very receptive to the discussion, and a number agreed and wanted to find a solution moving forward. This example of united action at the rally served to focus honest activists’ thinking on how to strengthen the struggle.

Unfortunately, a couple of the masked demonstrators became aggressive and one of them openly threatened physical violence against Fightback at the rally. Thankfully these people backed off under the pressure of those present. Fightback will not allow our democratic rights to be taken away by those who are threatening to use physical violence to censor or remove us from the movement. Those who use such thug-like methods will be resisted and openly held accountable for their actions in the labour, youth, and radical-left movement. We call on all to make a clear commitment that physical violence within the movement is unacceptable.

When the LSOI event was finished we were again present at the exit gates to hammer home the message that racists are not welcome on campus and that we will be implacable in our defence of the democratic rights of workers and students. We will not be silent while those like Lindsay Shepherd and the LSOI aim to facilitate attacks on the most vulnerable members of our community. As the rally dwindled, activists from the campus LGBTQ centre proposed that the different groups call an end to the demonstration instead of continuing the shouting match with the handful of racists who were still there, which is what the latter wanted. After leaving the demonstration, activists from across the province continued to have discussions on how to build the struggle against racism and capitalism.

The existence of events such as these and the presence of the far right are emblematic of the crisis of the capitalist system and growing political polarization to the left and to the right. Once again, this rally has shown that the organization and numbers of the left far outnumber those that the alt-right can muster. That being said, we cannot rest on our laurels and allow the far right to continue unchecked. The major task is to broaden the movement, especially to organized labour, and to bring hundreds and thousands of workers and youth into the struggle.

Fight racism with socialism!

Workers and youth unite against the far right!

Defend democratic rights for workers, minorities, and youth!