Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Tyneside Stop the War: reviewing 2009

At the start of January there's a Tyneside Stop the War meeting to plan the way ahead for the movement locally. I've written a review of what's happened in 2009, to inform the discussion. As we head towards the end of a busy year - which began with the Israeli assualt on Gaza and the inauguration of President Obama - it is useful to step back and take stock of what's been achieved. Hopefully this is relevant to Stop the War supporters everywhere, especially those involved actively in local groups.

Early in 2009 we saw major local protests against the assault on Gaza, as well as sending two full coaches down to the great 10 January London demo for Gaza (one of the most militant, lively and radical mass protests I've ever taken part in). In addition to a series of protests in Newcastle city centre, organised with Palestine Solidarity Campaign, we had two separate pickets of the BBC's Newcastle HQ, first over pro-Israel bias and then in protest at the BBC's refusal to broadcast a humanitarian appeal. 100 people turned up, on a cold Friday evening in South Shields, to protest at David Miliband, Foreign Secretary and local MP.

We were involved in the Cage Prisoners event with Moazzam Begg, attended by 250 people, then in March hosted a public meeting, 'Solidarity with Gaza - End the War on Terror', with speakers including Jeremy Corbyn MP and Stop the War's John Rees. 140 people turned up to this event at Newcastle University - it is no coincidence that some students started an occupation (for Gaza) the following day.

We have campaigned to bring the troops home from Afghanistan, including Naming the Dead events at the Monument in August and December (August's event was covered on Tyne Tees TV). We've had stalls in Elswick, Newcastle city centre, Gateshead, South Shields, Sunderland and at events ranging from Tony Benn at the Sage to the Durham Miners' Gala to a performance of 'The Children of Shatila' to the Mela festival.

Over 40 people turned up to October's Newcastle public meeting on Afghanistan, with a similar number hearing Clare Glenton speak in Sunderland a few weeks later. The latter meeting was the springboard for a dynamic new group in Sunderland, the first time there's been a Sunderland Stop the War Coalition since 2003. A couple of weeks ago 60 people, including many students, attended a Stop the War meeting at Northumbria University. Of course, our supporters were involved in the inspiring occupation at neighbouring Newcastle University in the spring.

There were contingents to London on 24 October and Edinburgh on 14 November, on both occasions to demonstrate for troops to be brought home from Afghanistan. Earlier in the year, Tyneside Stop the War helped mobilise for the Put People First demonstration and a march for Gaza to commemorate the anniversary of the Nakba. There was also a protest in South Shields, at an appearance by David Miliband and Peter Mandelson, on the eve of the 24 Oct demo.

There's still more: the superb 'Call Mr Robeson' as a Stop the War fundraiser, a minibus to the G20 protests on 1 April, a Newcastle protest of 30 people at extremely short notice to protest at the police killing of Ian Tomlinson, co-operation with Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Campaign Against Arms Trade on a number of events, and so on...

This all bodes well for 2010. There are areas to be strengthened: we are crying out for student activists (there's now a strong Friends of Palestine Society at Newcastle Uni, but still no Stop the War group) and greater participation of local Muslims, which might be helped by mobilising around Islamophobia and linking it with the 'war on terror'. But there are strong foundations on which to build.

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