Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Brixton Hill Clinic Defence Campaign - defeating anti-abortionists in 1990

The anti-abortion movement in the UK will no doubt be emboldened by recent events in the United States, and while the scope for them to challenge current laws seems to be limited there is a risk that they may step up direct action against health services. In recent years anti-abortionists have picketed St John's Medical Centre in Loampit Vale SE13 (including in 2015 and 2018) and sporadically protest in Brixton and Streatham.

These documents are from an earlier campaign that successfully stopped similar protests, at least for a while. Back in 1990, a Brixton Hill Clinic Defence Campaign was set up in response to anti-abortionists picketing the local clinic.  The Campaign was set up at a meeting at Lambeth Town Hall in July 1990. As the invite issued by the socialist group Workers Power explained:

'As you may know, anti-abortionists have been regularly picketing the Raleigh Clinic in Brixton Hill and the Leigham clinic in Leigham Court Road. Streatham. The pickets have included supporters of Operation Rescue, a US derived organisation noted for its militant and often violent tactics. The pickets take place every Saturday at Brixton Hill between 8am and 12 noon, and as far as is possible to tell, between 10am and 12 noon at Streatham on the last Saturday of the month only.

The anti-abortionists tactics have so far included leafletting and harrasing women going into the clinic.  It is vital that all those who support choice and the right of women to control their own bodies get organised against the anti- abortionists. While there are not very many of them at present, if they are left unchallenged, they will attract support and their tactics will become more and more militant. Informal counter-pickets have been happening every Saturday at Brixton Hill. Such counter-pickets need to be organised properly and built for in the Labour movement.

It has also been argued that there is a need them to be carried out with sensitivity - there is a danger that large unruly counter-picket outside a clinic would have the same deterrent effect on women seeking abortions as the anti-abortionists themselves. 

We have taken the initiative of booking a room in Lambeth Town Hall on Monday 9th July in room 121, in order to hold a meeting to discuss the way forward to defeating the anti-abortionists. We need to discuss what tactics to use and how to mobilise people against Operation Rescue. We would hope that some sort of organising committee could be constituted to organise the counter-pickets, and any other action deemed necessary. We hope everyone who is concerned about the threat that the anti-abortionists represent and wishes to organise against them will either attend or, if an organisation, send a representative'.

Invite to a meeting to 'Organise Against Operation Rescue' at Lambeth Town Hall, July 1990

In the early protests the police did not seem to have been interested and when an anti-abortionist had run towards the clinic and been stopped by a counter-demonstrator it was the latter who was arrested (though later released without charge).  

At the meeting at Lambeth Town Hall the main political difference was on how to respond - representatives attending from the alphabet soup of left/anarchist groups active in Brixton at the time. Broadly speaking the Socialist Workers Party wished to mobilise counter protestors at the clinic. Others present - the majority at the meeting - felt that having a crowd there, even a sympathetic one, would be very uncomfortable for women attending. It was agreed to have enough of a presence at the Clinic to challenge the anti-abortionists and if necessary escort women past them, but not to seek to mobilise large numbers directly outside it. Instead, efforts would be put into preventing Operation Rescue getting to the Clinic in the first place

A leaflet given out at the clinic declared 'A Woman's Right to Choose... Raleigh Nursing Home is one of the few places in Lambeth that performs abortions. We are here today outside it because we believe that every woman should have the right to control over her own body. That means she should have the right to an abortion if she wants one.

Unfortunately there are some people who seek to prevent women from exercising that right- by force, by threats and by terror. You may have seen them here too. As often as not they are the ones on their knees. You may have been given one of their glossy horror pamphlets full of photographs of "dead
babies". If we had the same vast wealth behind us as they do - and the same twisted logic - you could be reading an equally glossy pamphlet full of pictures of dead women; just some of the hundreds of thousands who die every year throughout the world whilst attempting backstreet abortion. Because that is the reality in countries without even Britain's limited legal abortion facilities.

[...] we aren't trying to frighten anybody away. We don't even want to be here ourselves. It can be traumatic enough for women to come for an abortion without a crowd of people on the gate as they go in. We are only here because if we weren't the militant anti-abortionists - who in the United States have resorted to fire bombing clinics - will count it as a victory'

Meanwhile a crew drawn from Workers Power, Red Action, South London Direct Action Movement and other local anarchists, all of whom had a presence in the area, put in place the plan to stop Operation Rescue in their tracks. These people were in effect the backbone of Anti Fascist Action in South London and weren't mucking around. As the anti-abortionists made their way up from Brixton station they were ambushed, and as they used to say 'acquainted with the pavement'. It was a long time before they returned to Brixton Hill.

A report on the campaign from Workers Power, July 1990

A letter from the campaign from City Limits magazine, 2 September 1990

The following account, 'Bouncing the Bigots',  comes from Direct Action, October 1990:

'[...] In Brixton a group was formed to oppose Rescue by mounting a counter picket. Over the weeks, our tactics evolved and developed. Members of a variety of groups and organisations  (DAM, Red Action and others) formed the Clinics Defence Campaign.

Our main concern is not to add to the intimidation of women going into the clinic. A vast crowd clustered round the entrance is inherently frightening. We use what we call "them plus two": if they have five people, then we have seven and we surround them with our banners supporting a woman's right to choose. We also have back up in case of any trouble and also relief pickets for when the constant singing and praying gets too much!

Week after the were they have appeared and been met with a hostile reception. Slowly their numbers decreased as weaker souls got too scared to face up to vigorous local opposition. On one appearance due to a certain incident they left en masse (well, there were only 3 of them) in an ambulance. For almost 2 months now, they've been happily absent from Brixton'

[The address given for the Clinic Defence Campaign in this article is 121 Railton Road - the squatted anarchist centre that was used by many local groups in this period]

(updated February 2024 with addition of Direct Action article)

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Save South London Buses (12, 45, 78, 521)

Transport for London is currently consulting on major cuts to London bus routes, including in South London scrapping the 12, 45, 78 and 521. 

A 'Save Southwark Buses' petition has been launched which argues:

'The 12, 45, 78 and 521 provide essential routes for Southwark residents without access to the tube or overground. It is vital that the most vulnerable passengers and those on the lowest incomes can get to work, school or access key services across the borough and beyond. An efficient public transport system is also vital to cleaning up the borough’s air, ensuring that residents have a viable alternative to car use.

It is disgraceful that the Government has cut TfL’s funding by £600m and has demanded that TfL makes service cuts and increase prices for the funding to survive the Covid pandemic. These cuts to services have been forced on TfL and will only serve to level London down, ensuring that those without a car will struggle to get around the capital. Hard pressed families will have to make more difficult and costly journeys...

It will have a devastating impact on areas such as Camberwell, Peckham and Dulwich on the number 12 route. The loss of the 45 route will impact on areas of Walworth with the lowest levels of car ownership in Southwark. On the 78 route it will impact and isolate areas of Nunhead, South Bermondsey and .along the Old Kent Road. For the most vulnerable living and visiting London Bridge and St George’s that rely on the 521 route, the cuts will be badly felt'.

I frequently get the 78, which goes from Nunhead to Shoreditch via Peckham and Tower Bridge and it is pretty obvious that what is being proposed as an alternative is going to be a significantly poorer service. Without the 78 you would have to get at least two buses, relying on the often overcrowded P12 to get from Nunhead to Peckham and then change. What's more the P12 is less frequent than the 78, it starts later, finishes earlier and doesn't serve the last stop of the 78 in St Mary's Road.

You can respond to the TfL consultation here until 12 July 2022, but the real power to prevent these cuts sits with the Government.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Nouveau Quiche - a co-operative restaurant in 1980s New Cross

Nouveau Quiche was apparently a co-operative restaurant at 301 New Cross Road, this advert is from Marxism Today, 1986 and promises 'Cordon Rouge catering for all occasions'.  A 'TGWU recognised workers co-op' no less (the Transport and General Workers Union was one of the largest trade unions at the time, it later became part of Unite).

I asked on twitter and facebook for memories of this place and got a few interesting comments:

'My memory is a bit hazy but they must have been doing vegetarian food, otherwise we wouldn't have gone, and the decor was fashionable for the mid-80s, lots of matt black etc. I think they did actually serve quiche. In those days the area was a culinary mix of the well-established Indian, Chinese, Turkish etc, but if you wanted something different there was nowhere local to go'.

'I was an education development worker at a homelessness project in New Cross Road during the mid 80s, and some of my colleagues used to go there. I think we had meetings there as well'.

There were other radical food places in this period including Brockley Bean, the vegetarian/wholefood co-op in  Coulgate Street. Nice to see that the daughter of one of those involved has opened a cafe of the same name in Wrexham. 

In the 1990s there was the great Heathers vegan restaurant in Deptford, home of anti-apartheid benefits and fantastic food which I must return to another time. With the widespread availability of vegetarian/vegan food today it is hard to remember the days when you had to make your own humous or do without. Hard to remember too perhaps how much these alternative food spaces overlapped with radical political movements, in the case of Nouveau Quiche perhaps late period Communist Party of Great Britain in its Marxism Today phase with its designer socialist aesthetic and its questioning of Stalinist certainties

Interestingly in the 2000s there was a really good Indian restaurant a few doors down in New Cross Road called Nouveau Spice - inspired by a memory of the radical quiche-ists?

Update, December 2022:

From Greenwich Lesbian and Gay Centre Newsletter 1986 - 'Nouveau Quiche opened late '85 in New Cross Road.... With lovely decor and good vegetarian food, it offers a warm welcome to lesbians and gay men. Noueau Quihce are also sponsoring our benefit night on 1st March, offering a meal for two with a bottle of wine as one of the draw prizes'

I also found a review in the book 'Sarah Brown's Vegetarian London'(1988) though strangely the text mislocates it in Dartford! (assume they meant Deptford). Seems it wasn't exclusively vegetarian but veggie positive

The restaurant also features in 'Egon Ronay's Bird's Eye guide to healthy eating out' (1987). Seemingly its 'healthy, hearty and highly imaginative' menu included Ghanain nut stew and walnut-stuffed aubergines.

Thursday, June 09, 2022

'You and Me' - TV drama filming at Skehans

 Lots of filming going on this week around Telegraph Hill locations for new ITV drama series 'You and Me', including at Skehans pub SE14 where one of the characters is seen getting into a black cab and heading off down Gellatly Road. The Hill Station Cafe has also been used. The series, with Russell T Davies as Executive Producer, is due to be broadcast in 2023.

[2023 update - the series is now out, more about its locations here]

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Echoes of Ukraine invasion at Peter the Great statue

Anti Putin graffiti and Ukrainian flag stickers on the Peter the Great statue at Millennium Quay in Deptford. The statue was built with the support of the Russian embassy in, shall we say, different times.

Friday, June 03, 2022

Lewisham Sound Systems Trail

Big crowds last Sunday (29/5/2022) at the Lewisham Sound Systems Trail, with dub reggae and other sounds across the Deptford area. All free as part of the We are Lewisham borough of culture programme

Dennis Bovell and Friends in the Albany garden.

Lemon Lounge at Creekside artworks

Unit 137 at Deptford Market Yard

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

Nunhead Cemetery Open Day 2022

Nunhead Cemetery Open Day was busy on 21st May 2022 with its usual idiosyncratic mixture of local history, wildlife and cemetery enthusiast stalls, morris dancers and goths.

There was a 'hearse and horses promenade' courtesy of South London undertakers Francis Chappell & Sons. I posted this picture on twitter and a friend asked what was going on with the tiny people in the hearse - a trick of perspective or something spookier?!