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26 March 2009
The words 'community activist' can sum up a wide variety of roles and people, and two of the latest nominees for a Southwark Blue Plaque perfectly illustrate the individuals who are encompassed by this catch all term, writes John Prendergast...
Peter Tatchell is probably still best known for what he describes as the '… dirtiest, most violent election in Britain for 100 years.' He is referring to the election of the long standing MP for North Southwark and Bermondsey Simon Hughes. Tatchell stated that during that campaign arson attempts were made on his home, he was attacked in the street and had a bullet put thought the door.
The campaign was also notorious as Tatchell was openly gay, and some of the campaigning methods used by other parties have since been criticised as playing strongly on this element of his personal life.
However, controversy alone is not what has led him to his nomination, as since that by-election in 1983, and prior to it, he has fought for the rights of working class people whom he feels are squeezed out by developers and regeneration programmes.
Speaking to the 'News' he said: "They [developers] have grabbed prime riverside sites, like Hay's Wharf, and forced out long-standing working class inhabitants. Over 95 per cent of the redevelopment of the last 30 years has been offices and luxury flats for the rich.
"Local people have benefited very little. That's what I was fighting against when I stood for parliament in the 1983 Bermondsey by-election. I wanted a better deal for the people of Southwark and Bermondsey."
His work has continued since that day both on a local level, including Southwark where he has lived since 1978, and all over the country. But he has also hit the headlines with his international campaigning.
He has been particularly outspoken against the Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, whose reign has contributed to mass poverty and riots in Africa as well as appalling human rights atrocities.
In fact when asked what his proudest moments are as an activist, it is Mugabe who looms large in his mind. He added: "My proudest achievements as a human rights campaigner have been my two attempted citizen's arrests of the Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe. It helped draw international attention to the human rights abuses perpetrated by his murderous regime."
But his work has once again turned full circle, as he has turned his glare back onto Southwark, and the large scale regeneration taking place across the borough.
He recently gave a talk to people living on the Heygate at the Elephant and Castle, and he believes sadly that history is repeating itself again. He said: "As with the redevelopments of 30 years ago, the current plans for the redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle are selling local people short.
The proportion of council and social housing for rent to low-income families is very small. The developers will make billions, while the local community will get relatively little. With a development of this size, not only should the existing council housing stock be fully replaced, but the developers should provide an additional 500 council houses for needy families in the surrounding areas."
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