PREACH: Reverend Al Sharpton speaks to the New Testament Church of God congregation in Brixton during his recent UK tour
BLACK BRITONS were ordered by US civil rights leader Al Sharpton to "stop being sell-outs and stand up to racism" at a rally kickstarting Operation Black Vote's election campaign.
Sharpton slammed UK activists for being "international revolutionaries and domestic sell-outs" who were more angry about what’s going on in the United States than at home.
Speaking to an audience of more than 400 people on the last leg of his UK visit, Sharpton ran through a long list of issues, such as austerity and immigration, which he said black people should be up in arms about.
His comments follow UK protests in solidarity with African Americans over the acquittal of Missouri cop Darren Wilson over the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.
In his fourth visit to Britain as a guest of campaign group OBV, Sharpton said the Immigration Act, passed last year, was "one of the worst profiling laws I’ve seen in civilisation".
It introduced new checks and fines for migrants before they can access housing and slashed appeal rights.
Activists like the Movement Against Xenophobia mounted a campaign against the Bill but protests were small, in stark contrast to large-scale demonstrations against a similar proposed law that was going through US Congress at the same time.
And while Capitol Hill made several changes to the legislation, the British version passed into law virtually unamended.
Sharpton also criticised swingeing austerity cuts in public services which have had a disproportionate impact on black communities.
"They want you to cut back now when you weren’t cut in in the first place," he said.
Referring to the movie Selma, which chronicles Dr Martin Luther King’s fight for voting rights in the Deep South, Sharpton added: "Some fought and gave their lives to give you the right to vote. Yet some of us are just too lazy and ungrateful to use the right that others paid the price for.
"You’re telling me that after people went to their graves and put it all on the line to give you the right to vote someone’s got to come and beg you to use your vote?"
OBV, which traditionally holds held pre-election rallies ahead of general elections, points to its research that shows there are 168 marginal seats where black and ethnic minority (BME) voters are larger than the majority held by the sitting MP.
It means if black voters turn out, they can determine who gets the keys to Downing Street in May.
Simon Woolley, head of OBV, said that opinion polls showing the forthcoming election may be the closest in living memory.
The group also launched an ambitious worldwide project to connect Black political activists of all parties across Britain, Europe and America so that the party faithful gain strength from each other.
Guest speaker Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney and Stoke Newington, highlighted policing as key issue in the forthcoming election.
Marcia Rigg-Samuel, the sister of Sean Rigg who died in Brixton police station in 2008, told the rally that deaths in custody should also feature more highly on the political agenda.
Other speakers included veteran activist Lee Jasper of the Respect Party and Zita Holbourne from Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, an anti-austerity group.
OBV, which is non-partisan, plan to campaign in marginal seats in the last 100 days, to help persuade black voters to turn out at the polls.
They also welcomed the decision of the independent peer Lord Matthew Oakeshott to donate to the campaigns of several BME MP hopefuls.
The number of new prospective parliamentary candidates from a BME background selected by all parties to fight safe or winnable seats appears to have slowed in comparison to the 2010 election.
But Conservative hopeful Bim Afolami, who is running in the safe Labour seat of Lewisham Deptford, believed barriers were still breaking down and he was hopeful British politics would continue to become more diverse.
Last week Labour MP Jon Cruddas, who is in charge of writing his party’s manifesto, told BEN Television the pledge by his colleague Sadiq Khan to “put race equality at the heart of decision-making” would make it to the final version.
Meanwhile Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg told a meeting of his BME members he had appointed a new race equality advisor.
The Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats welcomed Ibrahim Taguri, an election candidate in the held seat of Brent Central, to his new role.