Redbridge activist and campaigner Diana has ‘fighting racism in her DNA’
- Credit: Archant
Friends describe her as a “committed fighter against discrimination” and a “community champion”, yet as I sit in Diana Neslen’s living room, she humbly brushes off these accolades.
The former Redbridge Equalities and Community Council (RECC) chairman’s passion for human rights is evident, and her eyes twinkle as she eloquently comments on the subject, but when it comes to herself she is much more reserved.
“I saw a quote as a child and it went something like ‘this is my only life, any good I can do let me do it’ – it was a big influence on me,” she said.
“I believe in the capacity of all human beings, and to value them you have to stand against oppression from heads of state and individuals.”
Diana was raised in South Africa and witnessed first hand the devastating effects of racism.
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In the 1960s she moved to Ilford and has been a community activist on issues ranging from Seven Kings swimming pool and dementia rights to campaigning for refugees and migrants.
On the eve of her stepping down from her role as chairman to take a more back seat role, her RECC colleague David Landau said “fighting against racism is in her DNA”.
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Alongside the Epping Forest Together group she helped oust BNP candidates from Redbridge and Epping Forest councils.
“We worked with local people and political parties to undermine their election chances,” added Diana.
“I don’t know if people change, but if you stand up for principles,
hopefully, eventually, they get accepted.”
She is of Jewish descent and is also passionate about Palestinian human rights.
“Palestinians are treated unequally and Jewish people are privileged,” she said.
“I am a Jew and I have a responsibilty to challenge that.”
The EU referendum result upset her and she was dismayed by the diverse tactics used by politicians, which have had a “damaging effect”.
“There has been a spike in
hate crime, but there has been a much bigger one in surrounding boroughs, she said. “Redbridge is diverse, but we still have a long way to go.”
How campaigners went behind enemy lines
Diana’s fight against racism became especially personal when her son, Arthur Neslen, was attacked for removing racist stickers from Gants Hill Underground Station.
A member of the BNP, who was on his way to a rally in Chigwell in 1990, viciously punched and kicked the 22-year-old.
Diana’s colleague infiltrated a BNP meeting to take pictures so the thug could be identified.
He was prosecuted and made to serve time in prison.