I wouldn’t say I was surprised by the reaction to BLM in Lydney: George Floyd Anniversary | Zac Arnold

‘I wouldn’t say I was surprised by the reaction to the BLM protest in Lydney. I was, however, quite surprised by which people fell on which side of the dividing line. The Forest of Dean is a strange place, stuck in its ways and – largely – quite tribal and old-fashioned in both its beliefs and actions. The fact that there was going to be a demonstration in the town was more surprising than anything, a glimpse of hope in an otherwise completely disengaged and left-behind rural community.

‘The aim in the demonstration was to bring together and educate people about the lived experiences of minority groups, but, the reaction from certain elements in the community led to the initial short-term impact being widespread division and an atmosphere of abuse and intimidation. Signs left on a designated fence were repeatedly ripped down, a cabinet member of Forest of Dean District Council was forced to resign after significant online abuse, mobs of veterans turned out to defend war memorials that nobody had any interest in destroying, I had to pull out of speaking at the event as I was assaulted by two men in the early hours of the morning on the day of the protest and the organisers described receiving vile abuse and being bullied by both the public and officials. This didn’t surprise me, but the scale of it did. Facts didn’t matter.

‘Following the demonstration, Khady and Eleni did an amazing job at launching the Local Equality Commission and reaching out to the local community to try and bridge the divide. The protest made sure everybody was aware that there was an issue, but I think the change will be incredibly long term. The response we saw against this protest was one that showed no interest in gaining the perspective of minority groups. The parroting of ‘all lives matter,’ even by the Mayor of Lydney, showed that certain elements didn’t want to understand and would prefer to try and out-victim the actual victims of our system. For a lot of the people that need to, I’m not convinced they will ever change their views, so all we can do is hope that the next generation don’t grow up in ignorance and repeat history again.

‘Despite all this, the fact that this conversation was ever opened in Lydney is pretty close to a miracle and any small changes that arise from that are solid foundations to keep talking about the things that have remained undiscussed for far too long.’

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