Over 500 people packed out Plymouth’s extensive Guildhall for a conference to launch The Monitoring Group’s Rural Racism Project.
For the South West of England, an assembly of 500 people talking about racism is a major success in itself. That the conference, held on Wednesday 11 February, heard some excellent speeches and is the launch pad of a major anti-racist initiative makes it a turning point for the Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset region.
The conference heard both local activists and organisers and national speakers, such as Lord Herman Ouseley (former head of the CRE) and Imran Khan (solicitor for the Lawrence family). They outlined both the national situation and the tasks facing those trying to tackle racism in small, scattered rural communities. The recent dispersal and isolation of asylum seekers, the growth of the BNP and the irresponsible reporting on asylum seekers by the national and local media have all contributed to the increase in racist attacks in the South West in the last three to four years.
The conference was timed to mark the fifth anniversary of the Lawrence Inquiry report. Drawing upon the experience of the Stephen Lawrence Family Campaign, the conference took as its touchstone the experience of the victims of racism and heard several harrowing accounts of cases involving racist violence, police hostility and bureaucratic indifference. The conference workshops considered a range of issues from the experiences of young people in tackling racist violence to the difficulties of campaigning in a rural setting.
The conference was widely reported in the local media. The impact of the Rural Racism Project on those who attended the conference and those who have now heard about its plans and programme is extensive. It remains to build on this excellent start and campaign to highlight, and ultimately stop, racism in the South West.