Greenwich Palestine Action is one of the growing number of local groups that are springing up around the country as part of the movement for a free Palestine. One of their members describes how they have been active recently.
Despite not previously acknowledging the ongoing occupation of Palestine, the Royal Borough of Greenwich in South East London declared in October, ‘We have lit Woolwich Town Hall white and blue in solidarity with the people of Israel.’
A small group of local Palestine supporters called a protest, and the council issued a more ‘even-handed’ statement.
From that beginning, Greenwich Palestine Action formed and launched on Facebook and Instagram. Organising on WhatsApp, the group established a weekly protest and leafleting in Woolwich town centre, busy with commuters. People met to go together to the big London marches.
When the local MP failed to vote for a ceasefire in Parliament (he abstained) the group called a lobby at the local Labour Party meeting where he was speaking. This was a chance to talk to some local Labour members, and we found they didn’t support Labour policy of backing Israel’s attack on Gaza. Though they were cross at the MPs action, he wasn’t censured in any way.
We then focused on the local council and their next full council meeting. We submitted written questions calling for the council to back the growing calls for a ceasefire, and a question about twinning with Bethlehem in the West Bank. People observed that the council had responded to the Ukraine war with far more supporting words and actions than they had the invasion of Gaza.
We began to publicise a lobby of the council by creating and printing 2,500 leaflets, and posts on social media like Facebook and Instagram. We gave out these fliers alongside the national ones for the weekend demonstrations. We had established a weekly leafleting rally in the busiest commuter part of town on Friday evening as people travel home from work.
Over three weeks people handed them out at the local mosque and put them in shops nearby with the shopkeepers who were happy to display them. We also leafleted the University of Greenwich and council workplaces.
It was crucial that we leafleted widely to the public, but also that we invited target groups like those at the mosque, in the Labour Party, and people who had liked our social media pages. We also began to assemble an email list of supporters.
In the neighbouring Borough of Lewisham, the council had a meeting a week before ours was due, and they refused to address the issue of Gaza, let alone vote for a ceasefire. Some of the Lewisham Palestine supporters went into the council meeting and disrupted it by chanting and protesting. The councillors walked out. This was shown on social media.
Some of our Greenwich activists went to the marches that were organised in Lewisham. Lewisham have long existing Stop the War and CND groups. Their marches were also officially supported by Lewisham Islamic centre. A couple of the Lewisham activists offered to come to the lobby of our council.
On the night of the lobby, up to 40 people gathered outside the town hall to support Gaza. There was chat and chanting and our new banner was on display. Supporters came from Lewisham and neighbouring Bexley to support the lobby, and they were building for their own lobby of their MP.
As the councillors arrived, people attempted to ask them why there hadn’t been a vote for ceasefire. Some just walked past or went in through the back door, but even the councillors who stopped to explain that they were supporters of a ceasefire seemed to think it was acceptable that there would “probably be a motion to discuss this in the council meeting in January”. There seemed to be no sense of urgency despite the horrific daily death toll in Gaza.
We invited everyone at the lobby to join us in the public gallery of the council meeting. The council had ruled out all our questions which mentioned ceasefire and had written answers to our remaining question about twinning with Bethlehem (they rejected the proposal).
Within council rules, we were allowed a supplementary verbal question. There was quite a long wait during other council business. It sometimes feels like this bureaucracy is designed to make the meetings unattractive to the public and keep all the decision-making behind closed doors. But we were keen to exercise our limited democratic rights.
We began our question by asking why the council hadn’t called for a ceasefire and listed all the official bodies and local councils that had called for a ceasefire (everyone from UNICEF to the Mayor of London). The mayor tried to stop us speaking and soon turned off the microphone. With the security guards approaching, others stood in their way and activists started chanting to distract the guards. Chanting broke out around the gallery and people raised their placards and the banner.
The mayor, under instruction, hammered on his gavel, closed the meeting and told the councillors to leave and the security guards to remove us.
There were more security guards than previous council meetings. They were heavy-handed, pushing people and grabbing signs. Most people believed the guards wouldn’t have been like that without prior agreement from the council.
Still chanting, and proudly holding placards, we were bundled out.
It was heartening how everyone acted together and connected so quickly, even though we hadn’t met the Lewisham people before it all happened. The short video included in this report gives a good record of what happened.
Within a week, we heard that a majority of Labour councillors had signed a statement in favour of a ceasefire.
Greenwich Palestine Action is continuing public protests and spreading of information towards building the movement for a permanent ceasefire and against the occupation of Palestine. Further actions are being debated and planned.
As the children chant on our weekly rally and leafleting session, “We won’t stop until they stop!”