Philadelphia unites against the alt-right

November 26, 2018

Gabriel Timberg reports on how the broad anti-fascist mobilization that dwarfed the forces of Philadelphia’s alt-right was organized.

MORE THAN 1,000 anti-racist protesters came together in Philadelphia on November 17 to oppose a far-right rally disguised a pro-police event. A united front of socialist organizations, unions and social justice organizations from across the city mobilized over 1,000, while the fascists only gathered maybe two dozen people.

The “Sports, Beer, and Politics” group on Facebook planned to meet up at Independence Hall Green next to the Liberty Bell for what it called a “We the People” event featuring conservative speakers. Before the page was removed from Facebook, the group described itself as a “patriot group” whose members liked to laugh at “fairies” and “social-justice warriors,” while supporting Trump and loving America.

More overt and violent white-supremacist groups, most notably the Proud Boys, also said they would mobilize — to come and recruit members and brawl with any counterprotesters.

With their recent provocations in New York City and Portland, Oregon, it was clear that a massive and united mobilization was key to demonstrating to the alt-righters, their sympathizers and the city as a whole just how miniscule and unwelcome they are.

Anti-fascists protest in Philadelphia against the Proud Boys
Anti-fascists protest in Philadelphia against the Proud Boys (Sam Bishop | Twitter)

At 10:30 a.m. on November 17, two large socialist contingents assembled a block away from each other until the area was deemed safe. Around 11 a.m., the campus coalition marched down 6th Street to join forces with other anti-racist protesters set up right across Independence Street from the tiny gathering at the “We the People” rally.

United in song, chant and dance, our forces overwhelmed their “mobilization” until they dispersed around 2:30. The energy was incredible.

PHILLY ANTIFA and One People’s Project led the online #Pushback campaign to prevent the fascists from showing up by trolling the right’s social media organizing. “Their numbers are low because we scared them,” said Daryle Lamont Jenkins, founder of One People’s Project. “We aren’t going to play this game.”

The “game” Jenkins referred to is the right’s strategy of attempting to win sympathy by posing as the victims of left-wing street fighters — when in fact it’s the right that has been the source of violence, from Charlottesville to Pittsburgh.

The Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO issued a statement condemning the “We the People” rally, writing, “We wish to express organized labor’s absolute opposition to any rally expressing racism, anti-Semitism, or any other hateful prejudice in our city.” Many union members were visible and vocal in opposition to the far-right mobilization.

On the day of the event, people from all walks of life turned out. “As a Jew, I am outraged that neo-Nazis and fascists are organizing in view of Independence Hall, right next to the Jewish History Museum,” said Drew S. Another person said, “I am horrified by the growing rate of hate crimes. We can’t let Nazis grow...I am very worried about violence.”

Among the popular chants was “Get outta Gritty’s city!” — a reference to the fuzzy orange mascot introduced this fall by the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team. My personal favorite sign read: “Our orange asshole is better than your orange asshole.”

While #Pushback gathered intelligence about what the far-right groups were up to and harassed them online, campus activists at Temple University got together with various social justice and progressive religious groups to publicize the counterprotest, plan speakers and coordinate marshals to ensure the safety of students and community members.

This planning group included the International Socialist Organization (ISO), Temple Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), Socialist Alternative (SA), International Marxist Tendency (Temple Marxists) and Philly Against War and Militarism.

The Workers World Party in Philadelphia held a press conference to urge the city not to let white supremacist groups organize and recruit in the Philly area, including speakers from a few organizations listed above. They also documented the event with extensive photography.

Going forward, the left should build off the communication networks developed for organizing this protest so that we are able to mobilize even larger numbers in the future.

Further Reading

From the archives