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Detroit to Derry - The fight for civil rights

Thu 25 Oct 2018, 7pm, Central United Reformed Church, Norfolk St. S1 2JB

Sheffield Socialist Workers Party meeting with discussion on the rise of the civil rights movement across the World. What lessons can be learnt from the events of the 60s and how can they shape resistance today? The background to the discussion includes 1967 Detroit (the "Motorcity") which was doing well on the surface. Tens of thousands had jobs in dirt and danger of the sweltering car factories, foundries and pressing plants. But hatred of the police was widespread, especially among the black poor. The vast majority of cops were white and racist, and the force recruited and promoting the most bigoted. Violent officers routinely stopped and searched young men and women. Even old black men were routinely addressed by police as "Boy". On Sunday 23 July, soul superstar Martha Reeves was on stage in her hometown, with thousands of mostly black teenagers dancing in the summer heat. Police had raided The Blind Pig, a black, unlicensed, late-night drinking club where locals were celebrating the return of 2 soldiers from Vietnam. Fights followed cops' attempts to make arrests, shop windows were smashed and soon looting began. By afternoon buildings were ablaze and smoke billowed across the city. Evening saw rioting spread and the overwhelmed Detroit police called in reinforcements. Hundreds of white officers carrying shotguns rounded up people who defied instructions to stay indoors. Arrestees were battered and bruised, and gave false names and addresses, creating chaos in the courtrooms the next morning. Unrest spread to many of the poorest black neighbourhoods.Likewise on 5 October 1968 in Derry, Ireland, a few hundred people assembled in the mainly Protestant area of the Waterside. A protest occurred which sparked one of the biggest revolts against the British state. Civil rights protesters carried placards with messages such as, "class not creed" in a demonstration had been banned by the Unionist government. Marching into the walled city of Derry was a privilege only available to the sectarian bigots of the Orange Order. Police drew their batons and attacked, walking slowly through the crowded hitting people hard over the head. Police in armoured cars fought to drive the people back into the Catholic ghettoes. Soon it wasn't a riot but an uprising. For the next few nights barricades were erected against the police. Petrol bombs made their appearance. Key activist and one of the march organisers, Eamonn McCann wrote, "The day after there was a palpable sense of excitement around the Bogside. There were crowds of people everywhere debating what to do next. Politics buzzed. And coming clear was a conviction, a certainty, that nothing was ever going to be the same again. No one knew exactly what was possible, so everything was."Refreshments available. Socialist book stall. All welcome.

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