In the wake of the far-right BNP winning its first seats in the European Parliament, artists have joined politicians, trade unions and local residents in calling for London Mayor Boris Johnson to rethink his decision to cancel the festival.
Last month London Assembly Member Jennette Arnold presented a petition of more than 2,000 signatures to Boris Johnson at Mayor’s Question Time. It called for Rise to return with its anti-racism message intact, following its removal before 2008’s event.
Now beatboxer and 2008 Rise Festival host Beardyman together with the Asian Dub Foundation, Ty, Trojan Sound System, Ashley Beedle and the Dub Pistols have given their support to UpRise, a grassroots campaign that has been spearheading the calls for the festival’s return.
Backing the campaign, Beardyman said: “There is a paucity of festivals which cater to multiracial audiences, and Rise addressed this with the most inclusive, musically and culturally diverse festival I have ever seen. Racism is unfortunately a natural human impulse that can only be countered by anti-racist affirmations and the promotion of tolerance and empathy. Shared emotional experiences that bind communities are the only way to achieve this. Rise was the only festival which actively sought to do this and which spoke out proudly and unashamedly against racism. We are all worse off for the fact that it is not taking place.”
Ty added: “This festival is absolutely important… eliminating the original strap line was 20 steps backwards as far as I am concerned; as an artist and community member I fully recognise its importance and have performed there countless times!”
The results of the European elections have revealed a worrying trend with the far-right British National Party gaining a foothold in UK politics, having won a seat on the London Assembly last year. Many of the artists backing UpRise have told of how they feel Rise Festival can help resist the far-right’s attempts to win seats in Westminster.
Trojan Sound System said: “Rise is a vital festival. It had the potential to be one of the most important festivals in Europe, as demonstrated by its growth in popularity: people had travelled from all over the UK and from abroad at the last one. With the BNP having seats in London and competing more regionally for seats, a festival with a strong anti-racist message is incredibly important and needed.”
The Dub Pistols commented: “Rise is an amazing event with a serious message, BNP are on the rise and have to be stopped now.”
Adding to the pressure on Boris Johnson to reinstate Rise Festival, UpRise campaign organisers Freya Van Lessen, Mike Barnard and Bieneosa Ebite have written an open letter to the Mayor addressing his previous concerns there was a lack of sponsorship to fund an event in 2009.
The letter reveals trade unions Unite the Union and UNSION, both former backers of the festival, were not approached to help with costs this summer and would be willing to step in with the cash needed next year. The letter also highlights the need for the anti-racism message to return.
UpRise spokesperson Mike Barnard said: “We’re thrilled to have had such a positive response from the talented individuals who have performed at Rise Festival in the past and know how vitally important it is to ensure it stays on the London calendar. Events such as Rise show what an openly multi-cultural society we live in, and what better place to have it than our nation’s capital watched by the rest of the world.
“The UpRise Team is angered by the BNP getting a louder voice in British politics, now having a say in the European Parliament. Now, more than ever, Rise Festival is needed to show Britain is a tolerant and welcoming country, not far-right fascists.”
Help save Rise Festival: sign the petition at www.uprise.org.uk.