By The No
As you might know, Clapton Football Club, eight leagues below Premier League neighbours, West Ham United, has recently become the adopted home to a fast-growing group of fans who are disillusioned with the professional game and want to put their antiracist, anticapitalist, community-centric politics into action.
Clapton play their home games in Forest Gate, and one Saturday a few weeks ago a handful of us sought to demonstrate our support for people who live and work near our ground who are increasingly being targeted by the government’s racist anti-immigrant agenda.
The Home Office’s Operation Skybreaker – a name as naff as its aims are sinister – has already seen gangs of immigration officers engaging withbusinesses in Newham (amongst other boroughs) whose employees or customers might be undocumented.
And by engaging with we should be clear we mean harassing, intimidating, misinforming, entering without express permission, and rinsing information from people by whatever snide means they can.
These visits are basically pre-raids, and are principally about enabling the immigration enforcement to mess up more and more people’s lives.
In response to Skybreaker invasions, the ever-awesome London Black Revs already staged a well-received action at Queen Street market in nearby Upton Park, offering local people Anti Raids Network cards with information about their rights. Our plan was to try and do a our bit on our home patch.
We met at a local café for a bit of training from a Clapton-supporting member of Newham Monitoring Project before heading out in pairs with cards in English, Bengali, Punjabi, Arabic and a few other languages.
We had prepared ourselves for the possibility of shop and café owners being too busy to entertain us or unsure what to make of a bunch of (albeit friendly) football fans. After all, most of us were wearing our Clapton scarves ahead of our local derby with Barking later that day (0-0, in case you wondered).
However the response we received was not only welcoming, but in some cases revelatory.
We spoke to the owners of two adjoining convenience shops at the bottom of Upton Lane one of whom we had heard had already given Home Office Robocops their marching orders when they’d tried their charm offensive (stress on the offensive) recently.
The shopkeepers clearly knew they were allowed to ask these thugs to leave their premises if they didn’t have a warrant, but they were receptive to the idea of handing out our cards so their customers know their rights as well.
Others, though, were less aware of their rights. Another shopkeeper told us about the form the police and immigration officials made him sign, saying he gave permission for them to be in his shop (something we’d touched on in the training, and which no one is under any obligation to sign).
Another reported police demanding access to the rented-out flat upstairs in relation to an unspecified incident 15 years ago. Why? Checking for who might be living there? As the man said, God knows what they were looking for.”
There was the white shop owner who was emphatic in his view that he was treated with infinitely more respect by the uniformed bullies than most of the neighbouring businesses.
And the café owner who said he’d not only take cards, but he’d happily put a poster in his window.
And the NHS health centre staff who accepted the cards without hesitation as necessary information for local patients.
And the travel agency who invited us to sit down before telling us in detail about when their tiny shop was visited by seven or eight tooled-up immigration officers demanding to see who they employed (without warrants), advising them they risked arrest if they did not share their ID (untrue) or answer their questions (ditto).
I had to leave this visit early: the combination of the abuse they depicted and the calm, resigned way these men spoke about their treatment just floored me.
I am pretty sure I don’t just speak for myself when I say the couple of hours we spent talking to these good people made a massive impression on me. This is happening now, and it only promises to intensify as the route to political power becomes more about how the government is seen to crush those who it deems are not welcome in our communities.
As Clapton fans and, for the most part, new members of this community, we intend to offer our neighbours our solidarity.
We’ll be back doing the rounds before our Saturday home games in November, and it would be great if others came and joined us. More details on the Anti Raids blog here.