First of all, I would like to apologise for how long it has taken me to publish this article. It was my sincere intention to get this out a day after the event, but it has been a very busy week!
It was a sweltering hot afternoon in central London and a rather unusual emerged from Hyde Park. Hundreds of Union Jack waving people were marching through the hot sun towards parliament square. Not a common sight here in London. As somebody who has been to marches and demonstrations designed to appeal to left-leaning people, I was curious about what Day For Freedom would be like. The actual march from Speakers Corner towards Parliament Square was quite a bizarre affair. This was clearly not a group of people that were used to marching. In fact, most of the crowd was rather muted as it passed hundreds of bewildered onlookers. Ultimately, the heat got too much for me and the ‘down with sharia law’ placards make me feel rather uncomfortable so I ditched the main march and headed straight for parliament square.
When I got there the first thing that surprised me was the sheer variety of the people there. Contrary to what many deriders were saying on social media, the audience was not comprised of ex-national front members and football hooligans in combat jackets. The audience was much less homogenous that many of the stop of the war events I have attended.
The order of events for Day For Freedom was distinctly divided into two halves. There was an anti-Islam half followed by a free speech half. The first crop of speakers was the anti-Islam lot. It was in this first hour that the divisions amongst the crowd were the starkest. Speeches from Tommy Robinson and Gerard Batten emphasised the threat militant Islam posed to freedom of speech here in the UK. This was the low point of the day. While the there were some bouts of sporadic applause from the front row of the crowd, most people near the back and centre of the were clearly not at Day For Freedom to hear about Muslims. In fact, the whole Anti-Islam hour felt like an uncomfortable add-on to the free speech agenda of the day. The nadir of the whole affair was a speech by Anne Marie-Waters, a woman so Islamophobic that she had to leave UKIP. Her warning of a ‘global elitist Islamic communist conspiracy’ was met with silence by most of the crowd.
All in all, the first half of the day was a disappointment. Is radical Islam a threat to free speech here in the UK? Somewhat. On a day to celebrate free speech did the topic of Islam require four separate speakers? Definitely not.
The second half of the day is where Day For Freedom really hit its stride. A massive TV screen appearance by Lauren Southern signalled a marked change of pace for the whole affair. By far the best and most well-received speakers of the day were Mark Meechan, otherwise known as Count Dankula, Carl Benjamin (Sargon of Akkad), Gavin McInnes and the infamous Milo Yiannopoulos. It was here that the whole Day For Freedom began to make sense. Although it has to be said that McInnes and Yiannopoulos are far to the right of myself, the message of a clear, intelligent and articulate case for freedom of speech resonated with many different people. Culminating in thunderous rounds of applause and cheering.
If you read many of the articles published after Day For Freedom you would assume that it was some sort of occult gathering. Where everybody in the crowd secretly knew that ‘freedom of speech’ was some byzantine code for ‘ethnic cleansing’. But nothing could be further from the truth. Free speech is an enormous virtue in and of itself. It doesn’t need to be stapled onto a nationalist agenda. That for me was the clear message from Day For Freedom.
I often find libertarians rather downtrodden about their beliefs. I myself have been susceptible to episodes of “oh what’s the point”? But if Day For Freedom has taught us anything, it is that there is an enormous enthusiasm for libertarian values like freedom of speech. Unsurprisingly the conservative party has swallowed the anti-free speech agenda wholesale. Leaving lots of right-wing people stuck in limbo, between a directionless Tory party and fanatical flag waving ultras. In this space, there is room for a non-racist, positive call for freedom.
I hope that because of Day For Freedom, liberal minded folk will feel empowered to start spreading their ideas and organise their own events. There is clearly a huge appetite for the message of freedom in Britain today. We should not let that demand go unanswered. Because nobody else is going to do it or us. Perhaps 2018 really could be the year libertarians emerge out from internet chat rooms and onto the streets.