Over 500 people turned out in support of Bookmarks' solidarity event this weekend following the attack on the socialist bookshop by a far-right group a week earlier.
The event on Saturday (11th August, 2 - 5pm) took place between its Bloomsbury-based shop and the large hall of nearby Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, hired in order to accommodate "the huge numbers" of well-wishers. Readings and speeches ran simultaneously across the two venues, accompanied by the presence of trade unionists who brought banners, while a musician played the fiddle during breaks.
Among the event's speakers were authors Louise Raw, David Graeber and Lindsey German, Weyman Bennett, co-convenor of Stand Up to Racism, and "Eastenders" actress Ann Mitchell, who read the poem "Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East" by Jewish East End poet Bernard Kops.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn shared a message that was read during the event by David Rosenberg, a Corbyn constituent and author of Battle for the East End, which said: "Bookshops being attacked shows how frightened they are of ideas of a different world of social justice and equality... There is only one eternal answer: solidarity."
Other messages of support were also read out during event, including from Angela Rayner MP, Shadow Education Secretary, and Richard Leonard, leader of the Scottish Labour Party. Leonard said: "Bookmarks is not only an institution on the left that we must defend, it is also a living source of ideas on the left that we must defend. Every generation has to fight the same battles over again. We have to stand up to racism and stand up to fascism and like generations before us we will. Stand firm. No pasaran!"
Former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen wrote a poem for Bookmarks that was read on the day. Referencing the troubling incident on 4th August, which saw two staff members shoved and verbally abused while magazines were torn up and books thrown to the ground, it begins: "It looks like we’ve got/ yet another case/ of guys out rooting/ for the master race/ invading a shop,/ being a bit of a pain/ trying to make ‘Britain/ Great Again’/ by pulling books off shelves,/ refusing to leave:/ ‘what a tangled web’/ these klutzes weave".
After drawing comparisons with the rise of Hitler and other fascist movements, the poem culminates: "Come summer, come winter/ wind, frost or rain,/ we stopped them before/ we’ll stop them again."
Bookmarks manager Dave Gilchrist said: "The response has been phenomenal. We’ve had online orders from Honolulu to Helsinki, and today’s event surpassed all expectations. The real message of today was the need for unity to drive back the far-right. Many speakers emphasised that it was a short step from attacking books to attacking people."
He added in conversation with The Bookseller: "We’ve gone from feeling under attack and feeling vulnerable to having hundred of people come directly to the shop and support us. And the range of authors and people who support us, including Michael Rosen writing us a special poem, has been fantastic. The staff feel very buoyed about the whole thing.
"I think putting on the event has shown we’re not isolated. But, more widely than that, it was not simply an attack on our shop but on ideas generally and reading, as well as on the labour and trade union movement which we as a socialist bookshop serve. We feel it has alerted people to the dangers of what’s happening around Trump’s ideas becoming more prevalent, Steven Bannon coming over and talking to Boris Johnson and then we get the burqa thing, the shift to the right in that respect. We can say we can respond to all that - people are willing to push back."
The incident led to the suspension of three members of UKIP while the political party investigated their possible involvement. One member has since been reinstated into the party after allegations she had visited the bookshop were found to be false.
Bookmarks: "Last Saturday we had been attacked. This Saturday we felt the strong arms of solidarity around us."