Op/Ed: A Movement for Palestine Solidarity Grows in Surrey

Mar 16, 2024

Op/Ed: A Movement for Palestine Solidarity Grows in Surrey

Protest outside restaurant.

As I reported recently, the mayor and council for the City of Surrey have been so desperate to keep Palestine solidarity voices from speaking at council meetings in an effort to get the city to vote on a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, that they have taken to locking all residents out of council meetings. They have recently gone so far as setting up new riot fencing to keep the public from even coming within several meters of city hall. Following protests at the most recent council meeting (March 11) the city government has taken the extraordinary step of moving all council meetings online for the remainder of their term.

This has raised questions of accessibility and participation as well as raising serious questions about civic democracy and local government authoritarianism. As well, of course, of questioning local government’s connections with and commitment to genocide. It also makes us ask why a city council would be so averse even to consider an admittedly limited call for a ceasefire.

At the same time, the heavy-handed approach of the local government has served, much to their dismay, to galvanize pro-Palestine residents in the city. It has done nothing less than give rise to a growing movement in Surrey.


Panic at City Hall

On Monday, March 11, people turned out again despite a heavy, cold rain. The reinforced riot fencing, and numerous police were again present. This time several people managed to sign up to enter city hall individually to speak. What they found was an absurd arrangement in which they were ushered into a tiny waiting space by police before moving to a hastily set up curtained area from which they could speak by video link to mayor and council who were ensconced in the otherwise empty council chambers.

Each speaker succeeded in making statements critical of the city government and their refusal to hear the requests of residents regarding a ceasefire motion. Speaker after speaker was met by loud cheers and applause from folks assembled outside. Chants of “Ceasefire Now” and “Free Palestine” became extremely loud at the moments when city hall doors were opened to let out the expelled speakers. Council members have said they find this deeply unsettling, even frightening.

The speeches, in particular, caused something of a freak out, both among city politicians and local media. They were scandalized by one speaker calling out the “racist dogshit security response.” They were aghast that another speaker “essentially addressed the mayor as though she were a simpleton,” by asking, “Do you need some help?” A Muslim speaker told them, “the Muslim community does not accept any well-wishes from this council regarding Ramadan” and ended with “don’t come to our mosques.”

Another view of the situation at Surrey city council over calls for a ceasefire in Gaza is that the mayor and council could actually listen to constituents and bring forward a resolution for discussion and vote. Given the ruling slate’s majority on council they do not even have to approve it if they do not wat to. Though they probably realize what that would look like.

Neither have the corporate media recognized that residents have sent letters and emails to mayor and council simply asking for a resolution to come forward. It is not a lot to ask.

Many say, “this is not a local issue.” For those who say this is not a local issue, this disregards the presence of Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab people in our community who have been impacted by the assault on Gaza. It also overlooks the fact that councils in nearby Burnaby and New Westminster have passed resolutions.

There are lingering concerns about accessibility and transparency with this mayor and council in relation to another contentious issue—the police transition. Putting up riot fencing and excluding residents from council meetings only deepens these concerns. It should be troubling for anyone worried about local democracy and participation.

If people are disempowered by formal procedures, they will find alternative means to be heard. Protest is central to any democracy. But democracy has been a sham in Surrey for a while.


A Movement Grows

As is so often the case in community organizing, the over-the-top blundering of council and their ham-fisted response to the city council mobilizations have actually helped with organizing. It has reinforced the resolve of participants. At the same time, the outrageousness of council shutting residents out of meetings and wasting public money on riot fencing and overtime pay for police and security has drawn new people in. As well, with each panicked response by mayor and council media coverage of the protests has spread, making more people aware of the situation at council and the issues more broadly.

A new, active coalition North Surrey for Palestine has formed largely through the coming together of people showing up to express Palestine solidarity at city hall. In a span of mere weeks, the group has gone on to organize several rallies and information sharing events in different neighborhoods in Surrey.

On Sunday, March 10, they were involved in an action to shut down a Liberal Party fundraiser, featuring Anita Anand, at a popular restaurant in Delta, BC. Anand is the president of the Treasury Board and signs off on funding to the Israeli war and occupation machine.

The Surrey Palestine solidarity group also participated in the National Day of Action against Scotiabank, the leading investor in Elbit Systems an arms company that provides guidance systems to Israeli forces. Folks did some leafletting and postering at a Scotiabank in the busy Guildford Mall. Many productive conversations were held, and several people said that they would change to a credit union and stop using Scotiabank. Scotiabank took the decision to partially close the branch in response. Afterwards the Surrey crew went to downtown Vancouver to participate in the rallies and marches on Scotiabank branches there.

Interest in the movement in Surrey is growing. At every event people ask about getting involved and how they can contribute. In a relatively short period of time a vibrant Palestine solidarity core has galvanized. People of quite diverse backgrounds and experiences have come together to stand for Palestine, but also to push for justice in Surrey more broadly.


Jeff Shantz is a long-time anti-authoritarian organizer, researcher, and writer who lives and works on Kwantlen, Katzie, and Semiahmoo territories (Surrey, British Columbia).

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