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[Boycott - Cultural]

London picket asks Alicia Keys to boycott apartheid and stand with the oppressed

2 June 2013

On friday 31st May 2013 activists picketed the performance of Alicia Keys in London at the O2 Arena in West Greenwich, asking her to respect the call of the oppressed Palestinians who have asked artists to boycott apartheid Israel and cancel her scheduled show in Tel Aviv on July 4th.

The O2 Arena in the background

Alicia Keys poster design

Just a couple of days before the protest, Musician Roger Waters of Pink Floyd and acclaimed writer Alice Walker had both appealed directly to Alicia Keys to cancel her concert in apartheid Israel and in reply she had announced on the morning of the protest that she was still going to Israel.

Letter from Alice Walker

Alice Walker letter (condensed form)

Dear Alicia Keys,

I have learned today that you are due to perform in Israel very soon. We have never met, though I believe we are mutually respectful of each other’s path and work. It would grieve me to know you are putting yourself in danger (soul danger) by performing in an apartheid country that is being boycotted by many global conscious artists. You were not born when we, your elders who love you, boycotted institutions in the US South to end an American apartheid less lethal than Israel’s against the Palestinian people. Google Montgomery Bus Boycott, if you don’t know about this civil rights history already. We changed our country fundamentally, and the various boycotts of Israeli institutions and products will do the same there. It is our only nonviolent option and, as we learned from our own struggle in America, nonviolence is the only path to a peaceful future.

If you go to my website and blog alicewalkersgarden.com you can quickly find many articles I have written over the years that explain why a cultural boycott of Israel and Israeli institutions (not individuals) is the only option left to artists who cannot bear the unconscionable harm Israel inflicts every day on the people of Palestine, whose major “crime” is that they exist in their own land, land that Israel wants to control as its own. Under a campaign named ‘Brand Israel’, Israeli officials have stated specifically their intent to downplay the Palestinian conflict by using culture and arts to showcase Israel as a modern, welcoming place.

This is actually a wonderful opportunity for you to learn about something sorrowful, and amazing: that our government (Obama in particular) supports a system that is cruel, unjust, and unbelievably evil. You can spend months, and years, as I have, pondering this situation. Layer upon layer of lies, misinformation, fear, cowardice and complicity. Greed. It is a vast eye-opener into the causes of much of the affliction in our suffering world.

I have kept you in my awareness as someone of conscience and caring, especially about the children of the world. Please, if you can manage it, go to visit the children in Gaza, and sing to them of our mutual love of all children, and of their right not to be harmed simply because they exist.

With love, younger sister, beloved daughter and friend,
Alice Walker

Letter from Roger Walters

Dear Alicia Keys

I read today Alice Walker's eloquent and moving entreaty to you in her open letter.

It is hard to add anything except to implore you to follow all the links she has directed you to.

To introduce myself to you, I am a fellow musician, my name is Roger Waters, I used to be in a band called Pink Floyd, and, believe it or not, I still work.

I had reason last December to write a letter to Stevie Wonder to encourage him to withdraw from an engagement in LA. It was a Gala to raise funds for the Israeli Defense Force. I wasn't the only one to write, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the great advocate of peace and reconciliation, was among many, many others who wrote as well. To Stevie's great credit he withdrew.

We are all part of the same old story, nothing has changed since the bad old days of apartheid South Africa and Segregated America. We must stand united with all our brothers and sisters against racism, colonialism, segregation and apartheid.

Please, Alicia, do not lend your name to give legitimacy to the Israeli government policies of illegal, apartheid, occupation of the homelands of the indigenous people of Palestine.

Others may try to persuade you that by playing in Israel you may magically effect some change; we know that this is not true, appeasement didn't work with South Africa and it has not worked in Israel. I know I tried it ten years ago, things have only got worse.

I appeal to you to join the rising tide of resistance. Join the many millions of us in global civil society who stand together on the side of justice and peace for all humanity. "We shall overcome one day."

With love and respect,

Roger Waters

The Protest

Map showing every inch of land between a person leaving the tube station
to entering the O2 Area (green arrows showing path)
is private land owned by AEG or TfL

It was a very difficult venue to picket as the police pointed out later that literally every inch of land between West Greenwich underground station (where 78% of visitors to the O2 travel from) and the O2 Arena where Alicia Keys was performing is private land owned by Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) (see map below). The moment we stepped out of the tube station the private security contractors for O2 were on to us. They had been expecting our presence and where waiting. The moment we started unpacking our placards and unfolding our posters they pounced on us demanding we not display any placards and not protest. We asked for proof that it was private land as we couldn't understand how a public tube station could be built to exit straight on to private land and asked for the police to be called to clarify the matter.

Having bought some time, whilst we waited for the police to arrive, we began our protest. The private security weren't pleased with this and in particular the 'event security', presumably tasked specifically to ensure the Alicia Keys concert goes smoothly without any protest, were quite brutish. They started knocking our posters over and folding them away, and blocking them from view. They would block people wishing to take photos of our protest and getting in the way of a journalist who wished to interview us. When that didn't work they stole the bulldog clips holding the giant A0 posters up on the backing board in the hope that would be the end of the poster! Luckily we had come prepared with duct tape.

With the posters and placards now on display, we began leafleting. This infuriated the security who started physically pushing leafleters from behind and in once incident tried to pull the camera bag from one the leafleters and then tried to grab the leaflets making it impossible to leaflet.

translation: every inch private property.. to breathe here you must have permission..

O2 private security surround activist as soon as she displays her placard

Setting up props for the protest, O2 private security trying to prevent us..

three O2 private security personnel blocking one A0 poster to prevent people finding out that Alicia Keys is going to apartheid Israel..

Alicia Keys fans shocked to learn that she would consider performing for apartheid

We decided to move the leafleting to the entrance of the underground station. This proved very effective as 78% of the people attending the concert come via the tube and have to squeeze through the small entrance so with couple of us strategically positioned near the doors on the tube station side of the entrance (outside of O2 land and O2 security jurisdiction) we were giving out one leaflet every couple of seconds with the only constraint being the time taken to separate a leaflet from the pile in order to hand it out. Within a few minutes we had given out hundreds of leaflets! The O2 event security seeing this rushed in to the station to ask Transport for London (who own the tube station) to demand us to stop distributing the leaflets. This was a clear indication that they were more than just security but rather as 'event security' were tasked with preventing any protest of Alicia Keys concert irrespective of where it was being held - even if it was outside of O2/AEG land. Within minutes there was an announcement in the tube station asking people to stop leafleting, and that cctv was watching them. Without the presence of Transport for London staff telling us the announcement for aimed specifically at us we continued leafleting to the annoyance of the O2 security. After another 5 minutes without any TfL staff appearing the O2 security decided to take matters in their own hands and grabbed the remaining leaflets (around 50 leaflets) from one of the leafleters and refused to hand them back! By now TfL staff had arrived and at the behest of O2 security asked us to stop leafleting in the station.

Leafleting in the tube station entrance

Leafleting in the tube station entrance

Leafleting in the tube station entrance

Leafleting in the tube station entrance

Leafleting in the tube station entrance

Leafleting in the tube station entrance

Leafleting in the tube station entrance

Leafleting in the tube station entrance

Leafleting in the tube station entrance

Leafleting in the tube station entrance

O2 security steal leaflets

O2 security steal leaflets

The police finally arrived after having given us nearly an hour to protest. As most of the audience had by now entered the dome which houses the O2 Arena it was no loss to us. They clarified that every inch of land from the tube station to the dome was AEG property and that the taxi roads (and the paths) feeding the tube station were private roads all belonging to TfL, to protest we would have to go across the road to the otherside of the tube station away from the O2 entrance. The police managed to get the O2 security to return the bulldog clips but not the leaflets which legally O2 are obliged to return back to us but apparently not right away..

Police return stolen bulldog clips..

but police fail to return stolen leaflets..

Since we still had some leaflets left we decided to set up outside the other entrance of the tube station and started leafleting, again very successfully. But unfortunately within 5 minutes the police along with TfL were asking us to move across the road as this side of the road apparently belonged to TfL!

All in all it was a very successful protest. Yes we could have done with more people attending and it would have been nice to have more tolerant security but we did the best with what we had.

Video courtesy Mr Alex Seymour


Leaflet design

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