Reddit/Chicago Tribune Archives/Rob Scott/Non Stop Against Apartheid
When a Corbyn meme and a Sanders meme combine, the political left can't help but share it.
Two images, of the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the US Senator Bernie Sanders respectively, have been shared again on recently on reddit.
Each has been shared individually in the past, but their combined strength is something to behold.
In the 11 hours since the images have been on reddit, they've received near 40,000 up votes from other users.
Take first the image of Corbyn, being held by two police officers, while wearing a sign that reads:
Defence to right to demonstrate against apartheid.
Join the picket.
The caption states the image was taken in 1984, at an anti-apartheid demonstration.
The original image was taken by photographer Rob Scott, and was published in 2012 by Dr Gavin Brown, as part of an academic research project Non-Stop against Apartheid.
Once Corbyn ran for the Labour leadership in 2015, the image went viral, has since been copied and shared, often without proper citation.
In 2016, an article was published on Mediumwhich sought to put the meme and original photo into context.
The protest in question was held ahead of the visit of South Africa’s foreign minister PW Botha to the United Kingdom.
It was a non-stop picket line outside of the South African embassy (later High Commission). The picket was run by the City of London branch of the official Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM).
The AAM was set up in the early 1960s by among others the Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell. Their main achievement was a popular boycott of South African goods, and South Africa’s expulsion from the Commonwealth.
The debunker claims that the City of London branch of the AAM was dominated by the Revolutionary Communist Group and the Workers Revolutionary Party. Both were fringe groups on the left.
In 1983, the police Metropolitan Police banned pickets outside of the South African embassy. The main AAM, attempted to resolve this through the courts and entered into negotiations with the police. The City of London branch decided instead to launch the ‘South African Embassy Picket Campaign (SAEPC) and hold a demonstration in support of the right to hold the non-stop picket. Over 130 persons were arrested as a result, among them the Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn.
The City of London branch was expelled from the AAM a year later in 1985, and the Workers Revolutionary Party expelled their own leader Gerry Healy over allegations of financial ties to the dictatorships in Libya and Iraq.
The branch was officially disaffiliated for conducting activities outside of the boundaries of the City of London and for recruiting members outside of the boundaries.
In 29 April 2017, during the general election campaign, Corbyn made reference to the incident in a speech about his personal beliefs.
Being an MP helped bring attention to that ban and the wider cause of South Africa’s liberation, and got a group of us arrested.
But the space for people in Britain to organise in support of freedom in South Africa was defended and strengthened.
And I realised then that political leaders can, if they want to, create and preserve the space for others to organise and transform countries.
He did not make reference the rift between the main AAM and the City of London Branch.
The ban on protesting outside of the embassy was later lifted.
Corbyn's support of the anti-apartheid struggle is commendable, yet he was by no means a lone voice, nor was he associating with the main movement when he was arrested.
The image of Bernie Sanders was unearthed in the archives of the Chicago Tribune. The arrest took place at a Civil Rights protest in South Side, Chicago 1963.
Sanders, aged 21 and at the time as student at the University of Chicago, is seen struggling against police officers.
When it was found in the archives, the paper sent a digital scan to Sanders who reportedly identified himself.
The protest was about the use of ‘Willis Wagons’, named after the school superintendent for South Side Benjamin Willis.
The wagons were trailers used as overflow space for African Americans in overcrowded segregated schools. Civil rights campaigners claimed the shabby wagons were being used as overthrow classrooms to avoid sending black children to under-populated white schools. Black parents boycotted the schools in protests, keeping almost 60,000 children home.
The specific protest at which Sanders was arrested related to a proposal by one school board to place black children in a windowless warehouse, or else place several Willis Wagons together as a makeshift school. When the school board attempted to clear land for the wagons, parents would come to lie down in front of bulldozers.
According to the archive of the Chicago Tribune Sanders was arrested on 12 August 1963 for resisting arrest. He was one of four protestors to be charged.
Footage of an arrest was put out by Kartemquin Films in February 2016, asking if this was Sanders in the footage.
Like for Like?
While the meme of the two men does demonstrate their credentials as political outsiders they are both very different kinds of outsiders. Corbyn is shown as part of a fringe of the anti-apartheid movement, later disaffiliated from the main movement.
The Sanders photo countered claims by his then opponent Hillary Clinton, and veteran civil rights activists, that he had never been part of the movement. The photo, the video, and this article unearthed by Mother Jones appear to counter that claim.
As such, the side by side meme is a bit of a false equivalence, and is more proof that people will share anything that backs up what they already think, regardless of the messier details.
As it happens the reddit conversation devolved into a discussion of this viral video, of possibly the greatest impromptu speech ever made against the authorities while being arrested: Democracy, manifest.