Last Saturday I attended a very small gathering to commemorate one aspect of Hackney's rich tradition of radicalism. Dignitaries including Diane Abbott MP and Hackney Council Speaker Councillor Muttalip Ünlüer were on Stoke Newington Common to unveil a plaque in memory of all those who campaigned to end enslavement in the 19th century. A cedar tree was planted in March and the plaque stands in front of it. A small crowd listened as people spoke about Stoke Newington notables who campaigned against slavery but it took Arthur Torrington of the Equiano Society (Equiano was enslaved but eventually freed himself and wrote a famous account of his experience) to point out it was those who were themselves enslaved who were the true agents of change. Riots and rebellions in the plantations of the Caribbean made the inhuman trade less profitable, creating the opportunity for legislative reform. The informative and worthy commemoration organised by Hackney Museum was sadly poorly advertised and poorly attended. There followed a walk to Abney Park Cemetery to visit the grave of Equiano's daughter, Joanna Vassa. The reason for recording the event here is to illustrate how still today the 'Great' depend upon, but do not see, those who really make things happen. The commemorative tree, a fine cedar of Lebanon, was planted rather late in the season and though (unlike many others) it has received some aftercare by way of watering from the Council it would have looked rather sorry were it not for Mike Trier of the Tree Musketeers who has tended it regularly. Without the efforts of this senior TM hauling 50kg plus of water to it every week or so the cedar would not have had fresh green shoots (it might even have died!). Fortunately I arrived in time to ensure Mike got a mention. Even more fortuitous was the fact that I had rung Michael Dixon the park manager an hour earlier to enquire why the gates to Abney were locked on a Saturday afternoon. He sent a ranger to, no not open the gate, but to lock the Church Street gate! Again by luck someone told me the Church Street gate was being locked and I spoke to the ranger. He agreed a more sensible solution to the problem of a damaged lock at Stamford Hill was to open the other gate there but he had his instructions. Only when I pointed to the poster advertising the Abolitionist ceremony did he decide to seek further orders. Had he not done so, or I not asked, or etc, etc, the Great and the Good celebrating Abolition would have marched to an embarrassingly symbolic locked Abney Park Cemetery. So, though they do not know it, Diane Abbott, councillors and park management narrowly avoided a commemoration in front of a dead tree and a walk to a locked gate! I cannot help feeling I wish I had not intervened. Not because I have anything against the commemoration but because, as so many of us know, many current problems do not change because invisible people who care enough to act prevent disaster and unwittingly permit our 'leaders' to believe everything is OK. Consequently I felt at least I should record the narrowly avoided fiasco.
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