By James Beecher, Jeremy Green, and Laura Rowan, with over 200 signatures listed below
Living through the Covid-19 pandemic under the measures and restrictions introduced to manage the spread of the coronavirus is not easy. The new national lockdown announced on Halloween will have many effects beyond hopefully slowing the spread of the virus and reducing the number of people who die or suffer severe consequences. But pretending the virus does not exist and rejecting any and all guidance and advice about how to limit it spreading is no help to anyone. People who peddle racism, deny the Holocaust, and promote baseless conspiracy theories should not be invited to speak in our town.
Organisers of a rally planned for next Saturday 7th November in Stroud seem determined to go ahead despite the fact that Stroud District Council has “refused permission to hold a rally in Stratford Park on November 7 due to the current Covid restrictions.” It is not a surprise that organisers plan to ignore measures. Though the event is to be held outdoors where the chances of infections being passed on are lower, it still represents an unacceptably complacent attitude towards the people in our community who are at higher risk from Covid-19.
Our problem with the event is not only that it will be in breach of guidelines and potentially worsen the local Covid-19 situation; organisers have invited two speakers who promote anti-scientific nonsense and a range of conspiracy theories. As well as sharing misinformation about Covid-19 and claiming it is a ‘hoax’, Piers Corbyn notoriously denies scientific evidence on climate change. This event will not be the first where he has spoken alongside a Holocaust denier. Sandi Adams, the other invited speaker, has several examples of clearly antisemitic material on her personal website.
In a post dated July 2020 (subsequently deleted but available through the Way Back internet archive) and entitled “The truth IS anti-Semitic”, Adams points to the long discredited antisemitic hoax document “the Protocols of Zion” and claims that Jewish groups are part of a “powerful and insidious” effort to exert global control and to stop people from questioning the Holocaust. These are claims that have long been used to persecute the Jewish community and immensely harmful. Though she has now deleted this specific post, other content on her website is barely different. She endorses and hosts on her website a 12-hour neo-Nazi propaganda documentary that contains Holocaust denial and very clear anti-Semitism, for example. Someone who promotes such damaging ideas should not be given a platform in Stroud. It would not be good enough for the organisers to claim they did not know about the background of their speakers, but they have been presented with them. It is utterly inexcusable for them to continue now they have been made aware of these details.
How we deal with Covid-19 can and should be debated. The government’s guidance and laws are often confusing. How well they apply advice from experts in public health can be reasonably discussed. Even the less severe measures – like wearing masks, and keeping our distance from each other – feel uncomfortable and onerous. National lockdowns are extremely restrictive, and the World Health Organisation only recommends them as a last resort. The impacts in terms of unemployment, poverty, and on local businesses – here and globally – cannot be ignored. Neither can loneliness and the strain on people’s emotional and mental health. There needs to be much more attention, investment and action on these issues. It’s essential that our community can discuss these problems, support each other, and come up with solutions together. Claiming the virus itself is not real or is being exaggerated as part of a ‘new world order’ conspiracy doesn’t help.
We could consider the organisers of the planned rally as ridiculous cranks. But Covid-19, climate change, poverty, and racism are all serious. They affect every person in our community to varying degrees.
Though we will respect new national lockdown restrictions and therefore not hold a gathering to counter the event, we wish to make our opposition clear. We ask people considering attending to please think about who you will be empowering, and the ideas you will be bolstering, by doing so. We call on the organisers to withdraw these invitations.
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Stroud Against Racism
Sarah Phaedre Watson
Mary Hannah Moss
Molly Scott Cato
Tanya de Weymarn
Olivia Cait Raeburn Dick