Kentish Town shoppers who thought that the lanky, baseball capped figure quietly arriving at a local community centre last week bore an uncanny resemblance to Hollywood A-lister Danny Glover were more than right.
For it was the Lethal Weapons star himself stepping into his real life role as political activist to attend a fundraising meeting for the earthquake-hit island of Haiti on Saturday.
He had flown in overnight from San Francisco at the invitation of the event’s organisers, Crossroads Women’s Centre, with whom he has been working to support grassroots self-help groups in the wake of the disaster of two years ago.
It is part of his lifelong love affair with Haiti that began after reading, Black Jacobins, CLR James’ classic account of the slave uprising that gave birth to the world’s first independent black republic in 1804, he told a packed meeting later that day.
“Who would have thunk it that when I first visited the island in 1974 that it would become an essential part of my world, an essential part of how I look at the world,” he said.
Haiti, which 200 years earlier had managed to defeat the imperial armies of France, Britain and Spain, was now the poorest country in the western hemisphere thanks to sustained outside political interference.
“Haitians have never been forgiven for seeking their freedom – they did something that was unthinkable, something that was unfathomable,” Glover declared.
“These extraordinary people” were still fighting for their freedom, “a dynamic process” that had begun two centuries earlier. “Like Paul Robeson, I knew then that an artist has to make choice – to fight for freedom or slavery.”
In 2004 Haiti’s democratically elected socialist president, Jean Bertrand Aristide was ousted following his demand that the French return the $21.7 billion it had forced the new nation to pay the slave holders in compensation.
Accusing the US of backing the coup, Glover described how his involvement in the country took centre stage last year after he dramatically flew to South Africa where Aristide had been living in exile to bring him back to Haiti despite the opposition of the US authorities.
“I had the privilege and honour to escort Aristide home in March last year. It was a great moment for me.”
Both the UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon and President Obama had said “don’t let him come” and the South African government appeared to prevaricate, he revealed.
“But they must have experienced a flashback as everyone of them had been in exile too… and we were to allowed to bring Aristide home with his wife, two daughters – and the dog.”
Glover, who said he had spent the last 30 years trying to put together a film about Toussaint L’Ouverture, leader of the slave revolt, spoke of how thousands of Aristide’s supporters turned out to welcome him. Lavalas the name of Aristide’s party means flash flood, and that is what it was like that day, he stated.
“We are here because of all those heroes, all those sacrifices – our struggle is their struggle,” he concluded to rousing applaud.
Other speakers were Rea Dol, who runs a free school for more than 500 children in Haitian capital Port au Prince, and women’s rights campaigner Margaret Prescod who pointed out that there were more NGOs in Haiti than in any other country yet the island remained impoverished. Among those in the audience was the Cuban ambassador Esther Armenteros Cardenas. The more than £3,000 raised on the night will go to the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund.
Priding itself as being the oldest women’s centre in London, Crossroads Women’s Centre has generated plenty of headlines over the years.
It began as a squat in Drummond Street near Euston Station in 1975 as headquarters for the recently set up Wages for Housework campaign.
After being evicted, the group launched a vociferous campaign for new premises, at one point marching into Camden Town Hall where a woman chained herself to the first floor balcony and dramatically unfurled a lengthy petition with thousands of signatures demanding a base.
In 1979 the borough’s housing chief, Ken Livingstone, offered the women a disused shop on the rundown Hillview Estate in the heart of King’s Cross red light district.
As part of its work, the King’s Cross Women’s Centre as it was then known, campaigned on behalf of prostitutes and earned nationwide publicity when a group of masked women occupied Holy Cross church in Cromer St for 12 days in 1982 in protest at police harassment of sex workers.
In 1996 it was forced to move on after Hillview was sold to Community Housing Association – this time to Kentish Town Road. Last month, it moved into its latest home, a former dolls factory that it had bought and renovated in nearby Wolsey Mews.
The new centre’s first event was held last weekend, a two-day international conference, Invest in Caring not Capitalism, and Haiti benefit night organised by Global Women’s Strike, one of 15 groups operating under the Crossroads banner. Others include Women Against Rape and Legal Action for Women
As testament to their dedication, many of those running Crossroads today are the same volunteers that started out with it 37 years ago.