THEY braved the heavy rain and huddled under trees with their banners.
A few of the posters may have been soggy, but the message was loud and clear from the 200-strong crowd that gathered in Guildhall Square on Saturday.
People of all ages and from all walks of life gathered to say no to racism, fascism and prejudice.
Many were members of the group Unite Against Fascism, while others were Unison members, students, pensioners and Muslims. Some demonstrators were just Portsmouth citizens – normally out shopping on a Saturday morning – who decided to stand up for the city’s long heritage as a multicultural area.
By 11am every corner of the square was marked by police officers – with very few demonstrators in sight.
The war memorial was fenced off and three security guards were standing watch. Within the hour the crowd had rapidly grown and speeches and chants began to blare out from the megaphone.
Drums were beaten and men, women and children cried out at the top of their voice to say no to prejudice, whether it be about colour, religion, sexuality or gender. Banners carried the words ‘We believe that diversity enriches Portsmouth’ and ‘Say no to Islamophobia’.
Pauline Scutt, 75, travelled over from Hayling Island to take part.
She said: ‘There are so many ethnic groups in Portsmouth and we are here to support them.’
Rachel Lloyd, 39, a university worker from Gosport, said: ‘I want to be part of a peaceful protest and show the EDL they are not welcome. It’s an area that does not have a lot of racial tension.
‘You get the odd incident, but it’s never been an issue in Portsmouth. We don’t want the likes of the EDL making it into an issue.’
Ciara Squires, 18, a student from Portsmouth, said: ‘I live in Portsmouth and I just want to show that the EDL are not welcome here. They can’t come here and intimidate our Muslim community.’
As the protest got into full swing, there were up to 50 officers in Guildhall Square, but there was no sign of any tension between officers and protesters.
Simon Magorian, 52, local organiser for United Against Fascism, said: ‘We don’t want the EDL getting a foothold here. It’s important people come together and say they do not represent Portsmouth.’
Lucy Howard, 45, from Portsmouth, said: ‘Considering the weather it’s a good turnout. I want to say that the EDL are not welcome in my city. They should not be allowed near the war memorial. The war memorial is for people who fought against fascism and they are fascists.’
Julie Filer, 25, who is studying in London but from Portsmouth, travelled down as she said she had to make a stand. She said: ‘They want to spread hatred through our community and we want to say that’s not acceptable. It’s multi-cultural and we love it.’
Mandy Webb, an artist from Fratton, said: ‘It’s good to see the number of people who have come out today. Education is the cure at the end of the day. If they were educated they would not support something like that.’
By 2pm police had to barricade off the square as EDL protesters tried to barge in. Mr Magorian said: ‘They were trying to get in round the back and the sides, but they did not get through the police lines. People were anxious, but we were resolute. We were there to maintain the sovereignty and integrity of Guildhall Square.
‘We would not budge no matter what.’