Local Heroes: Focus E15 Mothers and the East London Suffragettes
by Sarah Jackson
The women of Focus E15 are the latest chapter in a long story of East End women standing up for their rights, families, homes and communities against sexism and class prejudice.
“The shooting of pop-guns, the throwing of bags of flour, blue powder and more solid missiles began the fray. The barrier between the public and the Councillors was broken down by a rush of women. The Councillors engaged in hand-to-hand conflict to force them back. Whilst missiles still fell from the gallery, wild women dashed round the room, overturning ink-pots and tearing agenda papers, seizing the Councillors’ chairs as weapons of defence… The police were sent for, but refused to enter the building.” 
This meeting of Poplar Council in 1914 was so unusually exciting that it even made it into the New York Times. The reason for the fracas was the Council’s decision to ban the East London Federation of the Suffragettes from using public halls for their meetings. The account above was written by their leader, Sylvia Pankhurst. She goes on to record that the meeting was briefly adjourned, and, when it resumed, the council voted to exclude the public from council meetings for three months.
Over the last ten months I’ve had one foot in 2014 and the other in 1914. While researching and writing a book about the East London Federation of the Suffragettes (ELFS) I have been looking on with awe and admiration as the Focus E15 campaign has gone from strength to strength. After watching a video of a rather more peaceful Focus E15 protest at an open meeting of Newham Council in February, I began to see some parallels between the groups. In Newham the protestors, including journalist Kate Belgrave, were barred from attending the supposedly public meeting, and then the Councillors walked out in response to the protest.
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