Lots of people have asked me how they can get a petition together to call on Parliament to be recalled to debate the crisis in Gaza. This is what we did it in Oldham.
1. Agree Petition content
On Thursday, 24th July, the Council (cabinet leader for community cohesion) convened a meeting for Sunday, 27th July to discuss how Oldham could respond immediately to the violence in Gaza and Israel but also to identify a longer term strategy to support sustainable peace in Israel and Palestine. The meeting included Councillors, MPs, representatives from the inter-faith forum (Muslim, Christian, Jewish were represented), and key voluntary organisations (including Voluntary Action Oldham, Oldham Race Equality Partnership, Saddleworth Peace Group, Saddleworth Palestinian Women’s Education Scholarship Group). At the meeting the wording of a draft petition was discussed and amended (the original wording didn’t included a request for a recall of Parliament, but I suggested that we should include this). We agreed the petition should be made available across the borough at civic, faith and voluntary agency facilities as well as on line. We also agreed to hold a Peace conference to identify how the people of Oldham can support and contribute to sustainable peace in Palestine and Israel, as well as their elected representatives. This is scheduled for September. During August we are holding small workshops for people to engage with, exploring their ideas for the conference.
2. Disseminate the Petition
On Monday 28th July, once the wording of the petition had been checked for its legality, this was placed on line on the Council’s website. The Council and my office also issued a press released to promote the petition. I also promoted this via social media with links to the online petition. The closing date for the petition was included one week later (4th August). The wording for the petition was as follows:
“We, the people of Oldham, call upon the United Kingdom government and the European Union to act now to protect civilians on all sides and stop the longstanding suffering in Gaza.
We call for a recall of Parliament, to give consideration to how it can use all its influence to:
1. Stop the killing – by achieving an immediate, and sustained, ceasefire;
2. Save lives – by ensuring access for the humanitarian aid needed by the people of Gaza; and
3. Deliver peace and prosperity for the peoples of Palestine and Israel – by securing commitment”
3. Organise presentation of the Petition
I’m delighted to say that in the space of a week 8,303 Oldhamers signed the petition! I know many more that had been away and missed the deadline who wanted to sign it. My office organised the presentation of the petition with the Metropolitan Police at Downing Street, who require at least a week’s notice. The names of those delivering the petition were sent to the Met for security purposes. Our petitioners included the MPs for Oldham, 2 councillors, representatives from the inter-faith forum & Race Equality Partnership and a member of my Summer School, representing young people from Oldham. We were given a specific date and time for the petition delivery and presented the petition at 1.15pm on Wednesday, 6th August. So from start to finish, the petition was conceived and delivered in less than 2 weeks!
I hope as many communities as possible will do a petition to recall Parliament to debate this. Current atrocities in Iraq on the Yazidis have led some to suggest recalling Parliament to debate this as well, in the context of a regional peace settlement.