Firefighters are challenging the poisonous ideology of the far right says Cameron Matthews.
Firefighters protect their communities from all sorts of dangers regardless of gender, race, age or sexual orientation; we are a humanitarian service. It’s why we must oppose the poisonous narratives and ideologies of the far right that attacks, threatens and intimidates the people we safeguard. Last week firefighters from across the UK, some as far as Scotland, came to Cambridge to demonstrate against the racism and bigotry of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson and the Football Lads Alliance.
The reception we received from the diverse community of Cambridge was nothing short of humbling. Yet on the same day, without provocation, good people faced threats and discourse from people who are intent on sowing the seeds of hate, division and a polarising extremist ideology.
So the question is in such hard times where people of good conscience are called to act - where do firefighters stand? The men and women entrusted to protect others when they are at their most vulnerable.
The true test of honour and bravery is not what we do in times of convenience. It's what we do when times are tough. On the demonstration firefighters showed we stand for justice, peace and equality. We stand with all members of our community.
Many will have seen the disgraceful comments from Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) about Grenfell. Vitriolic and heartless comments about a preventable tragedy where 72 innocent people lost their lives. In his diatribe he showed his complicity to exploit the situation in order to champion the rights of the rich, to let off the hook the building owners who clad the tower in flammable material and let off the political decisions around safety legislation that led to that horrific day.
Using the largest loss of life in a fire since the Second World War to push hate is despicable. He even suggests "why is this even on the news still"? Tommy thinks we should all just shut up about Grenfell. Firefighters have a similar view - Tommy Robinson should shut up.
Challenging hate never comes without risk
We need look no further than our brother Steve Hedley from the RMT union. Viciously attacked by thugs on the far right Tommy Robinson protest the weekend before. Still baring the scars of that attack, Steve fearlessly attended Cambridge the next weekend with 40 other brave RMT members. Unwilling to be cowed by violence. We proudly stood with them in unity supporting diversity and inclusion, opposing racism at the peaceful demo.
How did our day end? With the 500 strong Anti-Racism demo seeing young children from our local community waving at us and saying thank you to us during the march.
The Tommy Robinson/EDL/Football Lads Alliance group? They attacked three police officers with chemical spray.
14 hour return train journey from Glasgow to Cambridge. 1 hour march with the #FBU to support @AntiRacismDay. 2 min speech bringing solidarity greetings from @FBUScotland. All worth every second of the journey to stand up to the politics of hate. pic.twitter.com/v0ys5RqjjH— Denise Christie (@densherryboe) 21 July 2018
We are firefighters. We protect our communities. We shouldn't just support them in times of convenience. We should demonstrate our support at all times. Particularly when they need us the most.
Like Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."