Q&A with Zoë Garbett

Zoë Garbett spoke with student journalist Jacob Collett about greenwashing, Copwatch and the right to protest

Trust is important in all relationships. For Zoë Garbett, it’s how she wins elections.

From leading the Green party to victory in Hackney’s Dalston ward for the first time in 16 years to running for Mayor of London, “it comes down to really deep trust” says Zoë.

“One of my proudest moments was when people from marginalised communities in Dalston, who have huge distrust for authority, told me they were really happy I was their representative - I felt so privileged and overwhelmed!”

It’s this same trust that Zoë hopes will propel her to victory if she is selected as the Green party candidate for Mayor of London in 2024.

With the party vote looming on 3 February, Zoë joins me over zoom from her flat in Dalston to talk about what she is up to in the meantime.

Recently she has been campaigning with her Green colleague Alastair Binnie-Lubbock to hold the council to account for their failure to divest from fossil fuel companies.

“From a young age I realised many policies on the national level are not in our best interests,” she says. “For example, our drug policy laws do not make any sense from an evidence-based perspective.”

When Zoë joined the Green party in 2014, she volunteered on campaigns on the local level until she realised that standing as a candidate would make the most difference to address inequalities.

“I’m deeply terrified by the climate emergency – I’ve been vegetarian since I was 10 because of animal rights and the planet.”

“What I love about the Green party is its deep understanding of the interconnectedness of issues. We’re deeply embedded in social and racial justice, which is integral to environmental justice.”

While the Mayor is making positive strides to improve air quality through low-traffic neighbourhoods and introducing more sustainable building practices such as retrofitting homes, climate action “needs to be embedded in all decision making,” says Garbett.

“The council promised a biodiversity officer ages ago who was then never recruited. That’s the kind of voice we really need to scrutinise these decisions.”

My first brush with Zoë was when I spotted her at a Hackney Copwatch meeting in November last year, following the death of a person inside Stoke Newington Police Station.

“I really wanted to hear what people were saying, how they were feeling and offer my support.”

“I’ve transitioned from being an activist at heart to being seen as part of the establishment, but I always try to respect that balance and check with people about how I use their voice - I feel that consent and how you represent people is really important.”

I ask Zoë if she would take her ethos of amplifying the voices of local groups and communities from the council to the London Assembly.

“Absolutely!” she says, “I would love to do more on a London level, have access to the commissioner and Mayor and to question them on key issues such as transport, policing etc.”

If she is selected as the Green candidate for Mayor it will not entirely be her first rodeo either – she worked on drug policy for former Green party leader Sian Berry’s manifesto during the London mayoral elections in 2021 and ran her own campaign for Mayor of Hackney in 2022.

But she fears these are treacherous times for climate activists: “The continued assault on our rights, bringing in voter IDs and changing the right to protest, I think it’s absolutely terrifying.”

However, Zoë says she embraces the responsibility, the opportunity to question and challenge the policing of protest and hold the Mayor of London to account.

She praises Caroline Russell’s push, as leader of the Greens in the London Assembly, to ensure all Met police officers have completed National Union of Journalists training - “It is such a good example of someone using their position to support people.”

Before we run out of time and Zoë has to rush off to her councillor commitments, I can’t stop myself from asking where the best place to go out in Dalston is. She gives me three answers:

“If you want a cup of tea, sit in the Dalston curve garden – it’s just a magical outdoor place. If you’re after dinner, go to Kaffa in Gillett Square for wonderful Ethiopian food; and finally, I’m going to have to say Dalston Superstore – it’s an absolutely wonderful place!”

Next time you are on a night out in Dalston, look out for a pink quiff bouncing on the dancefloor… it might just be your future Mayor.