Festival ‘n Trav’ ‘n Party ‘n Protest Stories 3
Fairmile camp Eviction – at long last!
At 9.30 p.m. on Thursday 23rd January the long awaited eviction of the Fairmile camp, the longest running road protest site in the country, began with a cordon being put around the site, and climbers going up to cut the access walkways.
The Under Sheriff of Devon, Trevor Coleman, had hoped to find the camp virtually empty, but despite the surprise of the timing of the attack, there were 20-25 people in the trees and five people in the tunnels. This was not going to be a one day eviction! No work was done overnight, merely a serious cordon,
including razor wire coils, placed around the site and police dogs being used. Despite this at least 15 people breached the police lines and joined their colleagues up the trees. Due to Richard Turner’s bunch worrying at the prospect of no more expensive climbing holidays funded by tree evictions, and also the fact that those in the trees kept their cool, the first people were not removed from the trees for quite a while.
During this time, five masked up pot holers and two ‘safety officers’ began to shore up the first ten feet of the Big Mama tunnel network. Following the request published in the last Action Update about tracking down the cavers that have been used in recent tunnel evictions, a tip off has been received that they are hired from Peter Faulding at Specialist Rescue International, 128 Station Road, Redhill, RH1 1ET. Apparently it trades from PO Box 266, Redhill, tel: 01737 244652. Check out the accuracy of this information before acting on it. It took until 1pm on Sunday 26th before climbers had removed the last of the tree defenders, (that must have funded a climbing trip to the Andes) who just happened to be someone who had been previously employed as a Newbury security guard! At this stage the underground bailiffs had failed to breach even the first door in the Labyrinth. The tunnelers decided to issue demands which, if met, would mean that they would leave of their own accord. Unfortunately early morning radio news alerted the Sheriff to a sneak preview of these demands and he responded by evicting the communications rig at 7am. Despite this the demands were issued on behalf of the tunnelers at 9am, and the media circus, that we are sure everyone witnessed, began in earnest. The demands did to some extent force the press to look at the issues relating to the building of this road and so all was not lost. Unsurprisingly Trevor Coleman the Under Sheriff turned them down.
In London, around this time, work was stopped for the day on a Balfour Beatty site when five people from London Reclaim The Streets climbed a crane and hung a banner reading ‘Privatised Vandalism – stop building DBFO’s. We love you Fairmile’. (Balfour Beatty are involved in the construction of the A30). Back in Fairmile, through a mixture of trickery on behalf of the ‘safety officers’ and frantic digging, the bailiffs slowly removed the residents. As each one came out they entered into the clutches of an increasingly more rabid and sensationalised media machine. They finally removed Swampy after six days and twenty-three hours, making this the longest and most closely watched eviction ever. The frightening extent of the media’s monopoly on the public’s consciousness has been demonstrated in their ability to put public opinion on our side! This has happened to such an extent that recuperation – as the specialist jargon goes, has become a real threat!
Although all of the people that were down the tunnels had their heads screwed on, the intense pressure from the media for ‘human interest’ stories has resulted in articles like the one in The Express – (3rd February), in which they dressed Swampy up in a variety of expensive suits and then reassured their readers that underneath the scruffy exterior and veneer of anti-state ideas, there beats a respectable suburban middle-class heart! In all fairness to Swampy, he did do it with his tongue firmly in his cheek and the money went straight to paying off his #500 fine for damaging surveying equipment at Newbury last year. To further illustrate the point, Animal, on emerging from her stint in the tunnels, has been offered a column in The Mirror – entitled (you’ll like this) ‘Animal Writes’! Very funny…not. She has yet to make a decision, but has said that if she does do it, she will use the column to expose multinationals and to galvanise people into taking action! We have yet to see whether or not any radical ideas she may try to get across will be censored out of existence! We will not even go into the offer from a very large record company to record a song!
P.S Wasn’t the Fairmile eviction just so fluffy? Don’t you think that all those climbers and tunnelers were so nice and friendly? Seems like something might have changed in the past five years or so…or perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the media were allowed to witness an eviction? For an alternative viewpoint on the A30 evictions, ask people involved in the Trollheim eviction where the media were kept out. Amor Y Rabia, A30 Action! We now have a huge phone bill after the last few months of sustained resistance to the road and the recent evictions. Any donations towards paying this off would help otherwise they may have to send Swampy out to do some more modelling.
Newbury camp evictions
April ’96 saw the evictions of all the remaining camps along the route of the proposed Newbury Bypass, and what follows is one persons account of that month.
March in Newbury was an intense month. In an attempt to carry out environmental destruction within the European Environmental Law on bird nesting season, the DoT have made the ‘conscientious’
gesture of trying to destroy bird nesting sites before they build their homes in them. They announced that work would stop on April 5th, and employed a determined eviction team to blunder through the series of 29ish camps along the 9 mile route (no one ever seemed sure just how many camps there were). Bailiffs, tree surgeons, chainsaw men, ‘climbers’ and mechanical dinosaurs with
hoards of wage slaves, snooping detectives and blind upholders of ‘justice’ were all employed by the State to evict a determined and innovative force of tree defenders.
The pro-active actions of the early days, where the destroyers were penned in their compounds and hindered in their early morning convoys, gave way to a more defensive mentality as the daily uncertainty of where the eviction posse was going to strike caused rising levels of insanity. They adopted tactics of chaos, dotting around the route, evicting whole camps, half camps, having night time cordons, sending the police on in advance, making ambushes and varying their times of arrival. Every eviction was different.
We developed various tactics and innovative defenses where, as well as the basic walkways and treehouse networks, there were tripods, platforms, tunnels, scaffolding poles extending from the
tops of trees and various lock on techniques; and each of these worked with various degrees of effectiveness. Ground lock-ons at the base of trees and barrel lock-ons in the branches were
particularly successful, with one tree lock-on lasting for six hours.
Last week a protestor was locked onto a platform attached to surrounding trees with one length of steel cable. Bailiffs scratched their heads a lot and eventually erected a scaffolding tower to get the person down. New ideas are often the best.
Richard Turner’s ‘climbers’ are now all stinking rich, hated by more people than ever and banned from various climbing centres. Meanwhile some of the climbing community have been politicised with many of them having come down to the evictions in Newbury and confronted their soul-selling counterparts in the treetops. In Snelsmore particularly, the battles between climbers on both sides were intense and at least one of Richard Turners employees resigned that day. In general though, most of them seem to be hardening to their job and they are using increasingly unsafe practices and violence.
Despite the decline in media interest, wide support continued, with food , money, materials and visiting activists arriving from all over of the country.
Newbury businessmen declared that a high proportion of them opposed the bypass, and an interfaith gathering at Middle Oak brought people together from all beliefs to pay their respects to nature under attack.
Badgers resisted eviction in their Snelsmore setts and Vertigo Moulinsiana, a very small and rare snail managed to get Rickety Bridge a ten day stay of execution in the High Court. Thousands of baked beans also made their own protest against the bypass with many of them flinging themselves voluntarily out of the treetops and onto the heads of invading climbers.
There have been over 700 arrests during the the last 3 months, and excessive bail conditions have been used against us in an attempt to try and keep people away from the route.
By the last week in March large numbers of people were gathering at Rickety Bridge and what had been one of the last camps to be established became the site for the last big eviction lasting 3 days, with well over 150 people in the trees. This eviction was a little different, as it was no surprise when they arrived, and we
welcomed them with the seven dwarves singing “hi ho, hi ho it’s off to work we go” blaring over the sound system!
Camelot and King Arthur were evicted on April fools day, followed by the trees at Castlewood and Tot Hill. Mary Hare was saved (actually it turned out that it was off route) and the beautiful Middle Oak has been ‘spared’ and is now destined to live in the middle of a monster road junction.
All the camps are now evicted, trees lie fallen and funeral fires burn. But off route camps have been set up, sculptures are appearing in the wreckage and people are recuperating their energies. Ding Ding round 2.
So the route is cleared, but strangely none of the contractors are very keen to win the next phase of the contract. Are the DoT being realistic about actually building the road as we hear that they’re not doing so well with the M11?
On April 3rd Blandy went to Middle Oak to announce that all the cleared areas were now the property of the DoT, but millions of news viewers across the nation were to see his humiliating retreat from a group of protesters, with his police escort having to run alongside his Landrover to keep up!
Fairmile A30 Underground Resistance – Update
Jan ’97 – Unless you have been with your head in the sand, a group of extremely determined eco-campaigners have been engaged in what must be one of the most talked about evictions in recent road related history.
D.O.T. intend to widen the A30 trunk road around Exeter and Honiton to create a Euro route designed to increase the volume of traffic from France to Northern Ireland. The decision to build was made a long time before
environmental considerations were allowed to take precedence over profit potential.
Now with a high level of egg on their face, the contractors are obliged to clear the remaining rural encampments. Many under hand tactics have been used, however, thanks to a high media profile including THE TABLOIDS reporting breaches of civil liberties, headlines have been made of the ardent protesters.
Still holding out in the tunnels the main core of the campaign have issued an all points bulletin stating the following objectives. we are only to happy to pass on the word and hope that others reading will do the same. Candle lit vigils are needed every night across the country, outside D.o.T. Headquarters, Police Stations, and offices of Philip Holman Construction, WS Atkins cons. Engrs. & British Conglomerates BICC. The aim is to CELEBRATE at 10pm. each new night that the tunnelers are down there.
1. To ask for reinstatement of communications with the tunnel protesters for
their safety and sanity.
2. To demand the release of details of DBFO contracts so the public knows
exactly how they are being sold down the river.
3. And call for new public enquiries into all DBFO schemes based on the
details of DBFO contracts. DBFO’s are roads that are built now and paid for in 30 YEARS time, by our children. Hire Purchase on a grand scale!!!
So get your candles out at 10pm where ever you may be..More details to follow, thanks for reading
Report From The Earth First! Forum At The Big Green Gathering
JULY 1996 – At the Big Green Gathering in Wiltshire there was an Earth First! space that had various workshops, activities and discussions going on over the week. On the Friday during the Gathering there was an Earth First! Forum for open discussion among activists on some aspects of the movement and the way people feel things should or could progress from the current situation. Approximately forty people from all over the country attended the forum and in this insert some of the things that were talked about will be briefly outlined for further debate in the wider Earth First! movement.
NATIONAL ACTION – After the success of the National Earth First! Action at Whatley Quarry last December the possibility of having another National Action again this year was discussed. It was generally thought that this was a good idea for a number of reasons, which, aside from the actual effectiveness of the action on the target, included the importance of the action as an outreach tool to both get new people involved and also to re-inspire the hardened cynics amongst us. No firm date or target has been decided on at the moment but it is most likely to be around October or November with the actual target one that is related to the new campaigns on Genetic Engineering and Toxics. There will be more details about this in next months Action Update.
NATIONAL GATHERING – For the past couple of years there have been two Earth First! Gatherings a year. These have been on a much smaller scale than the recent one in Wales and it is generally agreed that it would not be practical to have two a year on the scale of the one this year.
Instead of this, people suggested that we keep a large International Gathering to once a year, in the summer, and in the Autumn we try and have Regional Gatherings in every area of the country where we have an active group. This is very important to help build up regional networks of people who are already active, and it also links in to how we get more local people involved in actions and campaigns. In addition to this it will also enable people that are unable to travel far to the large gatherings, or take a whole week off from other commitments, to attend a Earth First! Gathering and find out more about Earth First! and how to become involved.
Having said this the International Gatherings are of vital importance to the development of the ‘movement’ and it is of great importance that the one next year builds on the huge success of this year’s one in Wales. A group of people who are willing to take on the co-ordination and organisation of it need to start talking about it now. Next summer may seem like a long time away but it will be easier and more effective to plan the Gathering over a long period of time at a more relaxed pace than to have a mad last minute rush to get it done. As before, watch the Action Update for more details on this.
REGIONAL NETWORKS AND GATHERINGS – One of the strengths of Earth First! is that it operates as a network of autonomous local groups rather than a centralised organization. It was agreed by all who expressed themselves at the Forum that one of the ways we can expand the size and effectiveness of the radical ecology movement is to involve more local communities in struggles in their own area.
As mentioned in last months Action Update during the phone around it transpired that there are many groups that have ceased to exist or have no plans to do anything in the future.The Earth First! movement needs to build up the effectiveness of its local groups and the support for them. As well as this having strong Regional Networks enables us to work at a local level more effectively, both for actions and campaigns, as well as having effective support for people imprisoned or facing harassment.
This is one reason why it has been decided to have Regional Gatherings in the Autumn this year, in place of an International Gathering, to help build up these networks. Active groups, or those that want to be more active, should get on the case and organise a gathering for their region. So far there is to be a South East Regional Gathering, a South West Regional Gathering and possibly a Welsh Gathering as well. Contact your local group for more details.
TACTICS – There was discussion of the effectiveness of different tactics that are used in defence of the natural world. Some people questioned the worth of having the tactical emphasis of a campaign on tree defence. The reasons for this were mainly that having the focus on this alienates many people that are unable, or unwilling, to climb trees or are not able to devote the time to building tree houses.
As well as this there is the point that the state seems to have pretty much worked out how to deal with tree evictions and because of this, we should be moving the focus of our resistance to an area where we have the largest advantage over them.
To do this some people thought that the emphasis should be shifted to actions on the ground that more people can participate in, and a possible focus on stopping them actually getting to the site of work, rather than adopting a defensive form of tactics. It was observed that the people we come up against work within a rigidly enforced hierarchy, that relies on the passage of orders and information in order to operate effectively and it was suggested that we should therefore be looking at the communication systems that they use. In addition to this, a number of people felt that there needs to be a increase in monkeywrenching. They agreed that if contemplating this, that it is not only safer but more efficient to do actions that only require one, or at the most a handful of trusted friends. Of course Earth First! neither condemns nor condones damage to industrial machinery but we do condemn industrial machinery as well as the Industrial Machine!
Riot at Euston Station
At around the same time as the first reports of police violence in Seattle arrived to London, part of the crowd that had been previously attending the rally at Euston station made an attempt to break away towards one of the main traffic arteries in the capital. Although the whole area was surrounded by police, protesters were directly met by a small number of police officers and a confrontation erupted. Police were initially driven back but a line of officers in riot gear rapidly formed and a series of charges and skirmishes on both directions ensued. There were diverse opinions among the protesters about the right course to follow, many openly calling to pro-activelly confront the authorities while others opted for passive resistance and some for withdrawal.
A small group of protesters switched their attention to an unmarked police van and proceeded to turn it over, to a mixture of booing and cheering from fellow protesters. In the following half hour there were several attempts to set the van on fire which on some occasions were thwarted by other demonstrators. Finally, the van caught fire and was surrounded by around 30 photographers, at which moment police decided to clear the station parade, advancing in perfectly structured lines. The van had been left isolated and unattended near the crowd for several hours, with 12ft metal poles attached to its top, in a remarkable flaw of police organisation.
Most of the protestors left the area by 8pm while around 500 people, now roughly divided into three groups, continued to clash with police. The first group was driven towards King’s Cross, with several unsuccessful attempts to blockade the road by sitting down. They were finally dispersed after 9pm. A second, smaller, group stayed dancing in front of police lines in Eversholt street and gradually dispersed. The third group was less fortunate and, after some heated physical confrontation, was completely surrounded by a triple line of riot police who identified and photographed all of them before their release. The area was completely clear between 12 and 1am.
The latest reports speak of 38 arrests, 4 of them in connection with the carnival in the City of London on J18, and 7 casualties with different injuries (including a policeman with spinal injuries) none of them life-threatening. Road traffic and public transport were severely disrupted by the events.
Liverpool Reclaim The Future
Sept 1996: 200 activists took up the invitation of the Liverpool Dockers to help them mark the first anniversary of the sacking of 500 dockers for refusing to cross a picket line. Saturday saw a march through the city centre, before a free party livened up a rainy night in the old Customs House squatted for the weekend. Sunday was a day for planning and workshops. And Monday saw actions! Pickets arrived to see 15 activists with a Sack the Bosses Not the Workers’ banner already dancing on the roof of the bosses offices (The `Rathouse’) inside the docks. As striking tug boat drivers closed the port, drums encouraged the picket line to swarm onto the street and make incursions into the docks. Further activists made it onto crane gantries, and a delighted docker was hoisted up onto the Rathouse roof. After nine hours the port-occupiers were negotiated down without arrest. Merseyside Police later had the cheek to tell the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company to resolve the dispute as they could not afford to go on policing it at such levels. Several coach-loads of Trade Unionists were stopped and turned back before reaching Liverpool. Body-armoured riot police made 24 picket line arrests including two Shop Stewards. That night there was a roaring party at the dockers pub. A newly-forged solidarity between workers and the direct action movement was born.
Trafalgar Square Reclaiming
Hi Tash – Nice to “meet” you. You were at on Saturday. Me and me mates (and everyone else) had a great day both on the march and at the square. There was a great atmosphere with everyone dancing, drinking and just generally having a good time.
Highlights included the Reclaim the Environment banner unfurled from the top of the Canadian Embassy as well as the RTS banner on the flagpole of same building. Of course things started to get a bit shitty at about 4 – 4.30pm when the police decided that they were going to have a go. I was around the Charing X Rd. end of the Square when the cops decided they were going to charge seemingly just because they just felt like it.
Any violence on the part of the protestors/party goers I believe was provoked by the cops getting into their riot gear and telling everyone “we going to come and sort you lot out later” and “you lot just want a fight – well we’ll give you one” at least an hour before any trouble started (not including Downing St. where I only saw the smoke canister go off – I was catching up with some people already at the Square). I also witnessed the press get charged standing on the steps of St. Martins.
Afterwards I spoke to the Sunday Times (!) photographer whose nose had been mashed by a baton – he had blood all over him and was clearly in a state of extreme surprise, if not mild shock. Needless to say this wasn’t reported in the paper the next day despite the fact that this guy told me he wanted it to be (no real surpise there I suppose). After this the day degenerated into a series of police charges against mostly passive resistance and self defence. Forget the Sound System lorry charging the police, the cops were doing plenty of that in their vans on Charing X Rd.
I witnessed plenty of unprovoked assaults on people all around the area including two of my own mates but as usual the cops involved got out of the area before anyone could get their numbers. One notable instance was a woman trying to leave the Square by climbing over the railings at the side of the Nat. Gallery. The cops would not let her over then one of them said it would be alright if she went over. She climbed over and as she came down they pulled her down the rest of the way, pinned her arms behind her back and slammed her head into the railings before throwing her back towards the crowd.
The “hero” responsible? Police Officer Z214 of the Met – what a guy….
At about 9pm everything started to quieten down and I left to get some food.
I hope you found all that interesting – feel free to post this anywhere you like if you feel others will be interested. Nice website by the way.
Dave23 Friend of Tribe of the Spoon
Kennington Park Onwards ……
After a mad dash to london, we (a small posse of five) arrived at just before 1pm, to find a mixed crowd with banners and flags aloft. Looked like your standard political march, apart from the odd flags with the lightning strike across them. These turned out to be the Reclaim the Streets markers, follow them the leaflets advised. So we did, as the march, proceeded out of the park towards the river.
Round the roads we went, past policemen, photographers, waving supporters, hooting trains, low flying helicopters, and London ClassWar. Ulp. Across Lambeth bridge, and up towards Westminster. The sound of drums in the distance. The drums get louder. They’re kinda funky, in a tribal way, and people begin to dance a bit. We get stuck outside the Houses of Parliament (at this point a bit of a ruckus occurs outside Downing St. but I don’t find out until I get home).
So there we are, standing, dancing, chatting. It’s pretty relaxed. So I decide to increase my protest power, and skin up outside westminster. Still smoking the doob as we finally pass Downing St. That’s not something I’m going to forget in a hurry.
Trafalgar square appears over the horizon, and the drummers are still going, as are we. The sounds of something a bit more electronic appear. Can’t quite see what it is, but it’s acid techno time. We bop a bit more.
Eventuallly we reach the square, where the crowd has a bit more space to breathe. The source of the sound appears, it’s a techno-trolley! Can’t see what’s under the blankets, but there’s a bloke twiddling his heart away at one end. We go and have a closer look, is it a pair of decks (yeah, right), a CD mixer, or some sort of tape thing. Fuck me, it’s a 303! This nutter is playing live techno in the middle of trafalgar square. What a star.
So we hang around captain acid for a bit, sit down, and skin up again. Wave at the occasional busload of tourists driving along the north edge of the square. Wait a minute, what’s that? It’s a van with a load of people sitting on top, the sound system has arrived!
Mr Acid start moving the techno-trolley north, towards the sound system and we follow. After another doob, we decide to check out the sound system. It’s going for it, as are the thousands of attendant dancers. The music’s pumping acid techno, which isn’t normally my cup of tea, but it fits the vibe perfectly, and soon, we’re all dancing away.
People climb street lamps to hang banners, fire breathers breathe fire, jugglers juggle, a nutter stands on top of the National Gallery, loons fall through the bus shelter they were dancing on, and an incredible feeling of unity and joy surrounds us all.
A few hours, and a couple more doobs later I wander off in search of refreshments to discover (surprise surprise) the old bill has cordoned the whole square off. Mostly with vans, and yer standard old bill, but at the north east exit there’s riot police, and the cavalry. I’ve seen the miners strike footage that escaped the news, and our old friend paranioa makes his second appearance of the day. To me, Class War + Mounted Police = Riot, so I return to the posse, with drinks and news. We decide to leave at six (it was about 5:40).
We leave, no problem, meet up with a friend who couldn’t get in (“If I let you in in, I’d have to let all of them in”), and head off our respective ways.
The news lead with the incident outside Downing St, and an incident at Trafalgar Square, protestors hurling debris at the police, and a quick snippet of the party going on with no-ones permission. Radio news had a quick interview with a photographer who claimed the police started it, whatever.
All I really know, is that a few thousand poeple walked to Trafalgar Square, and had a party. Some people took drugs (beer and spliffs mainly, although I saw a couple of pills being necked), most didn’t, and a bangin’ time was had by all.
PS Respect and shouts to all the organisers, and where can I get a Public Nuisance t-shirt?
Thanks for rapid response. Hope your ankle’s not too bad. I got a scaffold clamp on the knee at Poll Tax (among other injuries). It’s always your comrades that smash you up in the end……
You say “I told the london police monitoring group that some might be useful for defence.” – do you have a contact number?
The shots you took from the truck are fine – thanks. There is one in the final set – looking south showing the massive number of people. I’ll email you a jpeg or two if you can use them. Got a couple dozen good shots in the files but not sold much as yet. My sales tend to be long term to books & mags rather than daily press.
I have a small portion of fame on both BBC & ITN news, also a pic of my bleeding head in Press Gazette.
Not decided as to whether it’ll be worth bringing a case against PC Plod, I’m short of evidence at present, no pic no number. But the cops will have it on THEIR film! Traf Sq is heavily covered by TV cameras and there would have been plenty extras for Saturday’s bash. The cops had more film crews out than at any time since Welling. Trouble is I can only get access to their film if I have a case and I need the film to make the case…..
I’m hoping that we can come up with someone else with a stronger case to start opening up the evidence. Slim chance but we’ll see.
All the best
Fuck the Election – Reclaim the streets
We arrived at trafalgar square at 8ish. The atmosphere was charged with a tense energy, like so many mind-years of repressed anger and disenchantment had started to surface, and be released, yet only to be quelled frusatratingly, in mid-flow, by some spongy, indirect, annoyingly intangible, yet inescapable force.
Through… the building ranks of riot police, silently shifting with unknown strategies, as one loosely coupled organism, faces hidden, bodies armoured, the anonymous muscle of the system, showing its teeth, not to be so suddenly overturned by such a ragtag fleet of fucked crusties, enthralled students and confused tourists …we moved.
We entered the square, to be confronted by the sight of twisted railings, strewn debris, smashed glass, dented cars, broken things, broken people, distant helicopters, the feeling of the zoom lens, the rising of the neck hairs. Fuck me its like a war zone. “It is a war zone!”
Trampled horse shit. Reminds me of ‘Kill the Bill’ days.
Something has happened here. We have missed *something*
‘FUCK THE ELECTION’, scrawled on the national gallery, provoked a chuckle. Yesss. This is it. Here is the inner sanctum, where the fighters, the free, the enlightened and the mad come together. Here is where the system starts to cack itself like a frightened police horse, the only animal with a cunt half-way along its back.
Baaad vibes. Normally chill people looking lost and angry, colourful energy replaced by tired apathy. The remaining nutters wonder what they can still do, the rest wandering, someone bring me an ioniser.
Cia’s mates go home.
As the last dregs of the sound systems winds down, and the last rays of the sun dwindle across the sooty grey buildings, pitted and scarred by battles more ancient, a chill wind picks up, this is the wind of change. Yet only on a microscopic scale. Nothing has changed. Or will it? Maybe, *this* time…?
Cia wants to leave.
No. This is important. We must see.
With military precision, the police mobilise, with a steady sweep, they walk, in ranks, slowly, surely, not giving anyone a reason to get lairy, a silent force, convincing us to leave before its all too late.
People flow surely through the cracks out into the real world, herded out, like the goverment’s livestock, yet no animal farm to be found here.
The last side of the square is left. Here lie the trouble makers. Anyone who was going to do anything will have to do it now. The police breath deeply. They walk slowly, surely, but how their shields shake. I bet they had a shit first.
What sort of cunt becomes a riot pig?
The worst sort of cunt, I find out, as a girl trying to tie herself to some railings is suddenly beaten about the face with shields and the body with sticks, just for screaming and flailing about. A man jumps off a wall into the path of the pigs. He disappears under a mass of them, as they surge over him. Dull thuds and screaming are heard. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I see a girl riding a bike.
Too close to the pigs, the pigs decide. Or rather, one flinches, and 7 of them pile in on top of her, just like a bundle at school, except here there is no penny, just soft defenseless flash, making a sucession of ‘crump’ sounds, under the impacts.
One pig squeezes her face onto the pavement with his head. Is he biting her? It certainly looks like it.
“What is he doing?”
“What are you doing?”
Cia bursts into tears. Its time to go. We’ve seen enough. If only I had a camera.
We drift back into soho. Tourists, diners, students, theatre goers, taxis continue as normal. There’s a war on round the corner, do you know? If only I had a camera.
In the news, no mention, except of ‘some violence’ at ‘a protest’ in trafalgar square. ‘However, the police coped with it’. In the newspaper, no mention, except for ‘someone arrested’ in ‘a protest in london yesterday’.
Went to trafalgar square yesterday. No ‘FUCK THE ELECTION’ on the national gallery anymore. Still people dying due to health service cuts. Still people fucking up due to education cuts. Still people on the streets. Still whisky quaffing lords making laws criminalising our lifestyles. Nothing has changed. Use your vote wisely. Or shit in the booth and wipe your arse with the ballot paper.
Two Day Festival of resistance
The Two Day Festival of resistance had been called by ‘Reclaim the Streets’ to coincide with the ‘March for Social Justice’, which in turn had been called by the 500 sacked Liverpool Dockers.
Friday 11th April 1997
20,000 copies of a newspaper called ‘Evading Standards’ (a spoof of the ‘Evening Standard’) were to be handed out free at tube stations across London during the evening rush hour. With the headline “General Election Cancelled”, the paper contained alternative views on the party political system and the vested interests and influence of big business. It also contained information on DIY politics and the weekend’s coming events. However, all 20,000 copies were confiscated by the police before being distributed and three people ludicrously arrested for ‘incitement to affray’ and ‘incitement to obstruct the public highway’. These people were released about five hours later but bailed to reappear on Saturday at 12:30pm. [interestingly the exact start time of the march & rally]
When they attended the police station the following day, they were held until 6pm (when the march and the street party had all but finished) and additional charges were made. The new charges were for copyright theft of the ‘Evening Standard’ logo (a drawing of the statue of Eros) and the logo of the Metropolitan Police.
Saturday 12th April 1997
Approx 20,000 people took part in the March for Social Justice, called by the 500 sacked Liverpool Dockers and their families, jointly with the Hillingdon Hospital and Magnet strikers. There was a wonderful, joyous atmosphere throughout the march – which brought together a wide range of trade unionists, ravers, left-wing parties, reclaim the streets people, anarchists and thousands of others. There were hundreds of colourful and imaginative protest banners and flags, and much drumming, whistles and chants. The march started at Kennington Park, and wound its way in bright sunshine over Lambeth Bridge, past the Houses of Parliament and Whitehall to Trafalgar Square where there was a rally. All through the march people handed out many different leaflets on upcoming events and protests, and alternative views (especially about the irrelevance of parliamentary politics, and about real change being made by people getting organised and trying to reclaim our lives, our streets and environment from those in power).
There must have been several thousand police officers on duty in the area. The riot cops were generally kept out of view of the general public and march itself. Even the Houses of Parliament were guarded by ordinary uniformed police only. However, there were riot police hidden in the building and backstreets and they were to be seen in force by the party-goers later.
The route was well covered by cameras, especially Downing Street (where the Prime Minister resides) which had a camera on a crane overlooking the gates. Downing Street had riot cops and mounted police opposite. There was the predictable anger at the gates and after most of the march had passed the police reacted, giving the media just what they wanted – violence and riot.
Apparently, someone managed to get into the Foreign Office and was seen throwing papers out of an open window. Further up the road a crowd gathered outside a McDonald’s store to protest against the company. The management locked the doors and a window was broken.
The gathering at Trafalgar Square was big (maybe 20,000 at peak) but most of the Dockers, other strikers and their families left soon after the rally (mainly because of their long journeys home). The numbers were beginning to drop when a van containing the sound system managed to enter the square. In the process of getting through the police lines, the van apparently knocked over a police motorbike. People flocked round the van which parked outside of the National Gallery (Britain’s most prestigious public art gallery). The tarpaulins on the side of the van were lifted to reveal the soundsystem behind. The music and the huge street party then began. The McSpotlight banner was quickly attached to the van, treating the entire 10,000 strong crowd to the McSpotlight URL. The dancing went on for hours.
Many other banners were erected around the square, including one in front of the National Gallery which read “Never mind the ballots…Reclaim the Streets” and one on the top of Canada House saying “Reclaim your Environment”. Also, the Canadian flag on the embassy was replaced by a colourful RTS flag. Climbers took a ‘Support The Dockers’ banner up Nelson’s Column itself and it was still there on Sunday evening.
A painted slogan across the road read “END THE CARNAGE”. The ‘N’ of ‘CARNAGE’ was not completely painted in, so it also read: “END THE CAR AGE”.
A second sound system was stopped around the corner and never made it into the square. Many people who didn’t attend the march and turned up for the party were also prevented from entering. As soon as the march had reached the square, the police blockaded the roads leading into the square and closed the underground station, letting people out, but not in (after lying to many people that they could get back in).
Having a street party in Trafalgar Square was not the first plan of Reclaim the Streets. The intended target of Plan A had been the [partially empty] offices of the Department of the Environment. The plan had been for a section of the march to make a diversion and occupy the offices for the entire weekend. But the DoE offices (and the road leading to it) were protected by armed police!
Plan B – Trafalgar Square – was a great venue. Lovely sunshine, good vibe. The police were obviously powerless to prevent the 6-hour long occupation of the square and surrounding streets – but tried to spoil the atmosphere. As the numbers reduced the police lines advanced slowly throughout the day. There were some minor physical confrontations over this. The ITN and BBC film crews hardly bothered to remove their equipment from their bags until the police riot at the end of the day. Hardly any footage was taken of the street party, even though it was an unusually powerful show of what demonstrations can become.
When the sound system left the square the main mass of the party followed the RTS flags to the squatted venue for the all night party. However, when the numbers had reduced enough, the riot police rioted. Mounted charges panicked those trying to leave the square and many people were injured. These scenes were taken by the mass media and predictably used to taint reporting of the entire day and try to alienate the public from the strong, radical message of the event.
Fortunately perhaps, the police pre-occupation with being violent towards the remaining crowds meant that the rest of the demonstrators made their way almost unhindered (and doing a great job of reclaiming the streets) to the venues for the subsequent parties.
The driver and passenger of the sound system were not so lucky. They were arrested for attempted murder (based on the incident with the police motorbike)! This was reported in the traditional media as a murder plot against the police. To my knowledge, only the Guardian bothered to follow up the story a little by reporting the following day that the charges had been dropped. If you think there was anything of substance to the so-called ‘attempted murder’ arrests, ask yourself why the only charge to come from the arrests was suspicion of possesion of drugs in relation to one of the van’s passengers.
This event was one of the most annoying for me. It seems a clear indication of a deliberate attempt to feed the media with juicy, negative, fabricated stories. Another was the arrest of a man with a three foot broad sword. The truth (well known by the media) was that this man was the eccentric ‘King Arthur’ and his ceremonial sword ‘Excalibur’.
Anyway… I can’t report on the events at both squat parties – I only attended one. The one I attended was at an empty office block with 500 people. The riot police came and went, apparently powerless. I departed a couple of hours later to get some sleep and prepare for Sunday’s conference and workshops.
Sunday 14th April 1997
A conference and workshops took place in the same venue as the party, a squatted empty office block. The building was looking slightly worse for wear after the party. Somehow the [RTS] phone line that was to inform people about the venue had been [suspiciously] shut down so many groups failed to attend. The mass media were told to leave (everyone was very unhappy with the reports of Saturday’s events and didn’t fancy allowing the press to make up more rubbish). The conference was small but very positive as were the workshops- on how to stand up to multinationls, on reclaiming the streets etc.
More than ever before, I realise that whenever I witness events first
hand, what is reported in the mainstream media bears little or no
resemblence to what I saw. This means that I obviously can’t trust anything that I see in the mainstream media (what a surprise!). The attempted censorship of the ‘Evading Standards’ (due to be updated and reprinted) is a clear indication that efforts to redress the balance and provide alternative views will be opposed by the State. For this reason, I am certain that we should collectively look for ways to combat this censorship and the vested interests in the mainstream media. The message from the weekend is just how much potential there is when people get together, organise themselves, unite with others from many groups and campaigns, take to the streets, protest and party, and aim for things worth fighting for – a world run by people ourselves, with respect for each other and for the environment.
Docker & Hippy alliance
When the dockers’ march ended in violence the police blamed Reclaim the Streets. Strangely, the press agreed.
Did you hear about the huge March for Social Justice, the one where thousands of people turned out to support the sacked Liverpool dockers and had a party? No? Then you must have been relying on your newspaper to report the news.
Anyone who wasn’t on the April 12 march from London’s Kennington Park to Trafalgar Square could be forgiven for thinking the entire afternoon was devoted to pitched battles between police and a bunch of dreadlocked anarchists who had spoilt the poor striking dockers’ day.
Scotland Yard’s press office put out a statement and, it seems, the mainstream media swallowed it whole. Three ‘rioters’ were charged with attempted murder, they said (these charges had been dropped by the time the papers hit the stands). A bus was ‘hijacked’ in the fray, apparently (other witnesses claim the bus was actually boarded by petrified marchers chased by police). Most disturbing, though, were the reports of a ‘rift’ between dockers and Reclaim the Streets (RTS).
The dockers were upset, police and press agreed, that this unruly mob had hijacked their day. This was immediately rubbished by the direct action group and the dockers themselves, who decried “irresponsible journalism”. No one reported that.
So how did the March for Social Justice go down in history as a Reclaim the Streets riot? Sacked Liverpool docker Jim Davies said the march was being billed as another Poll Tax riot by press and police before he and his family even arrived in London: “What happened was an absolute disgrace. We’ve built up good links with Reclaim the Streets. The trade unionists may have abandoned us but RTS never have, and the dockers are disgusted with the attempt to totally undermine it.”
What struck some who were actually there, rather than pounding telephones in distant newsrooms, was an absence in the press coverage of any discussion of what the march really represented.
“There was a misrepresentation of the relationship between the Liverpool dockers and RTS, along with a misrepresentation of the importance of the day as a social justice march, which included pensioners, the unemployed, the homeless, a lot of groups in society who feel they’ve had a raw deal,” says Big Issue editor-inchief A. John Bird, who spoke on the day. “It did represent something positive and none of the media wanted to talk about that, they lazily wanted to talk about a few incidents involving the police. “The reason I spoke,” continues Bird, “is because the way forward is an alliance of groups that take responsibility for their own actions rather than leaving it to the politicians.”
The dockers complain of a media blackout in their 18-month struggle for reinstatement, after 329 were sacked for refusing to cross a picket line in a dispute involving overtime. They were replaced by a casual work force.
Mainstream media disinterest stems, perhaps, from a view that the dockers’ struggle is an outmoded one, a dinosaur, ‘workers against bosses’ fight. What has been missed is a recognition of the joint concerns bonding older trade unionists with young green activists, and the fact that their experiences affect us all.
“If this alliance is about the past it’s also about the future,” says Bird. “There is a widespread sense of unease about the future, the sense that there is no security, no ability to build anything firm. We’re in this ever-changing world with signs of social collapse are all around. This community-based alliance counters that sense of not belonging anywhere, having no job, no community, no home.”
Many column inches have been devoted to agonising about youth voter apathy. But those who marginalise the dockers and their supporters underestimate the discontent of a generation growing up in an era in which employees” rights have been whittled away to the extent that many people live in the shadow of redundancy.
Desert Storm System
Desert Storm the sound system took techno to the front-line in Bosnia in Summer ’96
Sound systems do not have to seek trouble these days. Under attack from a parliament which considers them criminals, they work with the constant risk of arrest and seizure of equipment. Most party crews have sought a quieter life on the more hospitable Euro scene, Glasgow’s ‘Desert Storm’ have found welcoming crowds in the unlikeliest venues of all; the war-torn cities of Bosnia.
On a recent ‘legit’ tour of British venues to raise money for their forth trip in eighteen months, in Manchester’s New Ardri club they shared with me a little of the World according to Desert Storm. Although their home base is still in Glasgow, the five crew members I met each come from different cites.
“Desert Storm isn’t really a crew,” explains rob from Sheffield “it’s more of a …thing.” “A bubbling blob.” offers Danny. “Yeah people drift in and out.”
At the centre of the blob is Keith, the only remaining founder member. He talks enthusiastically about the origins of Desert Storm throwing ‘afterparties’ in Glasgow in early ’91 against the backdrop of the Gulf War.. The name was his idea, representing not only their ‘beats not bullets’ message, but also their desire to be seen as part of an army: ‘It’s an anti-estabishment thing, we want to show them we’re organised, but for our own ends not for theirs’. Desert Storm decor does not follow the usual style of techno nights, all trippy fractals and tie-dye wall hangings. Instead they prefer a mass of camouflage netting with khaki and black the dominant colours. The effect is powerful, Desert Storm gigs feel like they are taking place in a bunker with a civil war going on outside. The visual impact of a Desert Storm gig drives home the concept of a revolutionary culture boiling under the surface of modern Britain. In the beginning the parties had an entrance fee, but this was attracting problems.
“We were getting some really dodgy people hanging around, we has to hire our own shady security and it was all getting out of hand, so we just knocked it on the head for six months. We went to London and met Mark from Spiral Tribe, and he persuaded us that free parties were the way forward. So we went back and built our first RDV [Rapid Deployment Vehicle] which was a camouflage transit with a 1.5 K rig in it. We could just drive in anywhere and start playing, and that’s basically how we’ve operated ever since.”
By 1994 the campaign against the Criminal Justice Bill was politicising ravers everywhere. Desert Storm were the only soundsystem to apply for permission in time to play on the July march, and consequently entertained an audience of 70,000 in Trafalger Square on a glorious summer’s day. One of them, James from Nottingham was so impressed that he tracked them down in Glasgow and has been a regular DJ ever since.
Three months later this celebration of youthful freedom was overshadowed in Hyde Park by possibly the only riot in history to have been started by police determination to stop people from dancing. Keith recalls: “Amid all the mayhem we’d broken down but we were still playing. There were riot cops everywhere and this crazy Glaswegian called Paddy stuck his head through the van window and said ‘I’ve got to have your phone number’. A week later we were at home in Glasgow and I got a phone call from the same guy asking if we wanted to go to Bosnia in three weeks. I mean, what could I say? It was defiantly fated, we just had to go.”
The resulting trip took them to Tusla with a Workers’ Aid Convoy fo the most exciting New Year of their lives. James describes the events of the evening: “We started playing on the move and we had thousands of people following us through the streets in two foot snow and minus ten degrees. We played one techno record with a chorus that went ‘Get going to the beat of a Drum BANG!’ and all the soldiers fired their AK-47’s in the air ‘kakakakaka’ and it was such a fucking buzz it was incredible. We played the same record about ten times. At one point a policeman came up to tell us to turn the volume up , but to turn off some of our lights as we were attracting shellfire. The frontline was only ten kilometres away.’
Three trips later and the desire to take techno to the front line is as strong as ever. The ethics of taking a party to the most miserable man made hell in Europe is an on-going source of debate, and not only among themselves. Danny admits.
“It’s something that comes up repeatedly when we’re collection money, how can we justify taking a large van all the way to Bosnia with only ourselves and a sound system. We sometimes have doubts ourselves, but them I think back to that first New Year in Tusla and I know we’re doing the right thing. The reality out there now is that most people have food and bare essentials. Everyone from UNHCR to Workers’s Aid are sending conveys of lorries, and the main thing people are crying out for is any kind of entertainment at all. There’s also a youth element. Most of our money is raised among young people here in the UK and most of he people who go to the parties there are young. What we do is a cultural gift from the youth of Britain to the youth of Bosnia.”
While the Bosnia trips rightly dominate the legend of Desert Storm, stories abound along the way. There was the Teknival in France, where a gigantic convoy from Paris lead to a farm in a little town called Bresle where the farmer was overjoyed to see the ravers trampling down his field. It turned out to be a peat field and normally he has to employ people once a year to tramp down the grass before could cut it. Shortly after the Mayor arrived atop a lorry full of water. Local bylaws required the townspeople to show hospitality to and gathering of more than a thousand people whether invited or not. Last October the RDV went RTS as the Storm entertained 600 party-goers at a Reclaim the Streets in Manchester, eventually leading a dancing parade through the heart of the city to the steps of the Town Hall.
“That was fucking amazing,” recalls Danny. “We never thought we’d get away with playing on Deansgate. When I went to play the first record my hand was shaking so much that I couldn’t put the needle down. But when we started playing this tingle came up through everybodies fingers and suddenly it was like there was an electric energy pulsing up from the crowd, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Desert’s Storm’s willingness to take their chances with the CJA, the TSG or the AK-47’s may seem to verge on the foolhardy, but the whole crew have the confidence that comes from knowing what they do is the right thing to do. Keith talks easily of ‘fate’ a suitable theme for Desert Storm would be a hardcore mix of ‘Que Sera, Sera’. He becomes at once animated and angry when reminiscing about visiting Mostar , where a glorious medieval city has been devastated by the war.
“Just about the only building that hasn’t been hit by mortars or rockets is the Ganja cafe. In amongst all the misery and destruction you can still score, have a coffee and look out over the ruins. Is that fate or what?” So what’s next for Desert Storm, I ask Rob. “Well I don’t know about anyone else, but I fancy Chechnya myself!”
A Criminal Justice Fact:
The people are growing stronger, in truth it is a fact.
That the power of the people’s from the criminal in-justice act
They thought that they could put us down,
then right before their eyes.
All oppressed united join hands and swiftly rise.
The act it seems was drafted for a chosen few’s convenience,
So what’s left for the rest of us,
Down right disobedience
All Systems Go!!
One Saturday night in May, in a quarry near Matlock, Derbyshire, 500 people are dancing under a full moon and clear sky. The free party scene is alive and kicking all over Britain with particular determination in the East Midlands: the spirit of the free festival lives on. Smokescreen are the posse hosting this specific bash. easy techno, trance and solid house sounds bounce off the sides of the quarry, filling all space.
Smokescreen, from Sheffield, are currently hosting a free party most weekends, usually in Derbyshire. They are also part of All Systems Go! – a collective of sound systems from Nottingham, Leicester, Sheffield and Lincoln.
All System individual components are a name check of the most popular East Midlands dance posses: DiY, Smokescreen, Pulse, Babble, Floatation, Breeze, Rogue and Go-Tropo. The latest addition to the collective is Spoof (Sheffield people on one forever). Together they form a loose community alliance that is mutually supportive but flexible enough to allow each posse its own individual identity and set of priorities. The result is an eclectic, organic scene where community and co-operation are highly valued as fundamental to the free party ethic.
All Systems sprang to life in 1992 in response to particular clauses encompassed in the Criminal Justice Bill affecting the rights of party-goers, squatters, protesters and travellers. A meeting was initiated by members of DiY, Smokescreen and Breeze.
Rick, (DJ Digs) of DiY explains:
“We met in a club, about 30 – 40 people. We just talked about this new law. Awareness raising seemed to be the one and it was initially a big information campaign”.
All System began organising benefit gigs to raise money to put into information.
“Because we had a PA and knew other people who were doing what we were doing, and had access to DJ’s, we paid minimum expenses, paid for the venue and flyers, fivers in and it was a highly efficient way of making money. That crystallised the whole All Systems thing cos it was literally all systems in one room!”.
One member of DiY who took the information bit between his teeth was Tash. Tash is a veteran of the ‘70’s and 80’s free festival community. His photographic work has documented the rise and fall of that community and he was one of only three independent photographers at the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985.
He sees what All Systems are doing as an attempt to hold on to a vision of DIY community and celebration:
“After I heard about the Bill, I realised that they meant festivals, protesters, raves and everything else I was about. It was a big thing, the authorities have been trying to write the `Hippy Act’ for years, but they’d never been that specific before. At the meeting I showed people clippings from the papers and told them that it meant them as well. A lot of people don’t think they’re anywhere near important or dangerous enough to warrant this attention. They might not but the establishment does. I was concerned that what we should primarily be about was publication to tell the public at large that there’s something off”.
A free booklet entitled `Right to Party’ was produced as well as a cartoon poster depicting Peanut Pete’s explanation of the main clauses of part five of the Bill, all happening on a Union Jack. The booklet contains warnings of legislation to come, its affect on the current scene, historic references and affirmations of dance culture.
By June 1995 the fifth edition of the booklet had been produced and became a well-known respected and effective tool for informing the underground dance and festival scene of exactly what they were up against.
“We spent money on five editions of Right to Party. And each copy, because of its nature, was probably read by four or five people. We were mainly concerned with raising awareness. It’s my contention that should be our priority”.
Meanwhile, money from benefit gigs was also being put into buying a communal rig. Primarily called the Party or Community Rig it soon earned the nick name `Kamikaze’. This rig is owned by All Systems and “borrowed” by individual systems for specific free parties, usually outdoors.
This way if equipment is confiscated by police then no single outfit would suffer. One reason some members of All Systems don’t like the term kamikaze is that implies disposability.
“Kamikaze rig is quite a catchy name. You can put it in situations where you are prepared to lose it but it would be nice to hang on to it and the community at large can use it. If the police were confronted by a set of boxes that they knew were called kamikaze it might imply that after confiscation the court would treat it disposobaly”.
The All Systems ethic is of communication and co-operation to facilitate free parties and mutual support. A benefit gig in April raised money for Buxton-based Black Moon Sound System, the first outfit to have their rig confiscated under the CJA.
Another benefit in Sheffield on May 31st was also successful. Money raised from that event has yet to be allocated but options include fixing the kamikaze rig, more informative publications and starting a bust fund for systems.
Harry, an original member of DiY, is clear about what All Systems priorities should be post-CJA:
“It’s hard to have any direct resistance to the CJA now that it’s law. National resistance seems to have petered out. So, basically we’ve got our own organisation here, we’ll maintain links, keep the fund-raising going, maybe set up a bust fund to support anyone who might get nicked in the future”.
There is a strong belief within All Systems in community and the strength that community offers. When people feel part of a larger, similarly-minded group then there is courage to deal with unfriendly authority or potential imprisonment. Tash:
It’s all about intimidation and the vested interests’ game plan to lower people’s resistance to intimidation. Our plan is to support people so they can continue”.
All Systems’ gigs are specifically designed to raise funds to support party-goers and systems doing free parties. Otherwise all the individual systems involved in the project are dance entities who do weekly club nights to finance the production of records and keep them doing free parties at the weekends.
Laurence, DJ and founder member of Smokescreen explains:
“We always leave Saturday nights as free party nights. Maybe two or more nights during the week we do clubs and try to support ourselves day to day. Free parties we do at weekends.
We recently had a meeting with SHED, a local drug advice agency. There was a guy there from the entertainment’s and licensing committee, part of Sheffield Council. He was implying we could get a venue, find who owns it, hire it, get fire and safety, get a licence and do a party. I said we already do events and to do it that way would cost quite a bit of money. I asked why the council couldn’t give us some unused land or property, then we’d get a licence and do free parties; we could pay for the licence through donations.
It’s summer now and we primarily want to do free parties outdoors, but the ideas being floated at that meeting would mean we could do free parties in the winter without threat of police harassment. The guy from the licensing committee thought we were going to charge people. We had to explain to him that we were essentially a free-outfit, we didn’t want to worry about money, dress-sense and security; it’s free party ethics. It took him a while to get his head round”.
Police and official attitudes to the free party elements of All Systems have been varied. At Smokescreen’s Quarry gig in May, Derbyshire’s Constabulary were notably playing a low profile game, acting more as traffic wardens and parking attendants than potential obstructers.
“All we’re really worried about is ambulance and fire engines being able to get up to the village”, said one sergeant, as his colleague directed a reversing Mercedes van into a tight space.
“Mostly police pressure is words in ears and such, nothing too heavy, just intimidation. On New Year’s Eve we were doing a party and by a complete coincidence it was the same weekend as someone else was trying to organise a massive party – Castlemorton-revisited style. The police took loads of information on vehicles all over but they didn’t follow it up until the May Bank Holiday, four months later. They traced our truck and came to the DiY office and seriously bent our ears, `we know who you are… what you up to this weekend’ sort of thing.
I know what pressure the Exodus Collective have been under but it’s a question of scale, they’re much more in the authorities’ faces. They’re dealing with thousands of kids from a small area whereas we’re dealing with a much wider area. There’s quite a substantial following for Smokescreen gigs at the moment and people come down from Leeds, Sheffield and Leicester for gigs in Derbyshire”.
Smokescreen had similar attention from the police after they did a free party in Sheffield.
“We did a party at an old abandoned school just a couple of hundred yards up from Sheffield’s central police station. We knew we were taking the piss a bit but it was cold and we wanted to be indoors. The police turned up and just sat outside. I went to talk to a couple of them, they said there was no problem, they were just there to watch. During the night fire officers turned up to check safety but there were plenty of fire exits and stuff so after we walked them round the building they went away.
During the next week we heard from several people, not part of the system, who had been contacted by police asking who were the organisers, was there beer on sale, where do these people come from, how did they hear about it….. just someone in the police force saying to others I want you to devote time to finding out about who these people are”.
Smokescreen, Pulse and the other free party components of All Systems have respect. Respect not only for each other but for the wider community; local towns and villages. Party venues are carefully selected for noise minimisation and care is taken to ensure adequate and safe vehicle access; no excuse is given to the police to close them down. Maybe this is another factor in their success.
“Quarries are perfect for parties – one system is good enough for it. You can’t beat a good quarry for the ultimate party and Derbyshire is the best place for quarries – perfect”.
All Systems are not interested in direct confrontation, they’re interested in the spirit and community that they are increasingly generating; a free-festival style celebration through dance.
Members of All Systems also know what they want: to continue to put on free parties and get away with it.
“We did one party in Sherwood Forest, in April, that got a bit more attention from the police than usual. We talked with them and negotiated a time to close the party down. When that time came and we hadn’t, they got a bit heavier. We then gave everyone an hour’s notice that we were closing down. Anyway, an hour later we started packing up. We had a few punters come up and started giving us a hard time for giving in. I asked them what they wanted: to dance another couple of hours ‘til the police come wading in, we lose our rig and that’s it – or do you want another party next weekend?
Just as we were pulling off site we were confronted with maybe 25 wagons of police, they pulled to one side and let us drive off. Just one more record and we’d have blown it”.
All Systems are under no illusions and Laurence certainly doesn’t view what they are doing as `hard-core’. But they do provide an example of how to just get on with the business at hand; offering a much needed alternative to the machinations of mainstream club culture.
Tash, also, is realistic about what is needed to effect a shift in society’s perceptions of celebration:
“When ranged against the vested interests and the Home Secretary, All Systems aren’t going to crack the planet and despite the heroic efforts of a few people, what difference is it going to make unless we can get the word out that what we’re doing here can be done all over the country?
There’s nothing special about the East Midlands. On a local level we have to get involved. As in most smaller towns and cities, we’re privileged to be small enough so that communication is good. That closeness is what’s needed to make a dent”.
The way the police are implementing the Criminal Justice Act with respect to raves is not uniform across the country. In many places, as soon as a police officer says those three words to an assembly of more than 50 people, someone is likely to get upset. Until the CJA is more solidly set in the minds of British culture, many constabularies will be reticent about using it and will, instead, rely on the provisions of the Public Order Act 1986. This legislation has been around for 10 years and when used, means the temperature stays lower.
“When the outrage over the CJA dissipates the police will get on with implementing it. Things become accepted in the framework of things. I remember when the Public Order Act came out 10 years ago, now it’s accepted that you can’t do this but you can get away with that”.
The introduction of the CJA was never entirely meant to deal immediately with supposed problems it was intended for; knee-jerk reactions are simply devices to appease constituency members and win extra votes. The motivation for the introduction of the CJA may be much more insidious. In the way the Public Order Act 1986 didn’t effectively destroy Britain’s travelling community until the mid-nineties, the full effects of the CJA may not be realised until after the millennium, when forces across the country will have the confidence and legal precedents to implement it.
Perhaps the future of festivals and parties lies in the persistence, determination and vision of small free party posse. For sound systems to effectively continue in the face of the CJA small well thought-out parties, with locals in mind, would seem to be essential; but imagine a future: hundreds of small systems up and down the country doing free gigs regularly. Each has a loyal following of 500 people and they’re getting away with it. Then, one day, they all come together.
Maybe that day will be the Summer Solstice and maybe the venue will be Stonehenge.
Jez Tucker, Squall 13, July 1996.
Bristol New years
Bristol police were decidedly lacking in festive spirit this Xmas, when they tried to squash and stop the seasonal celebrations of the local free party folks.
First, on Boxing Day, 12 people were arrested and their equipment seized when the police stopped them holding a party in a disused bingo hall. Details are sketchy as yet, witnesses are required. Come New Years Eve, a free party was organised to take place in a large, multi-roomed empty warehouse. Care had been taken to ensure it wasn’t near any residential properties (even though everyone stays up on New Years Eve!), and wouldn’t be problem to the locals.
Despite this, the police turned up in force and told us we wouldn’t be having a party. When questioned on what laws or powers they were using to shut us down (much to their dismay, the criminal Justice Act and the licensing laws do not cover free warehouse party’s). The policeman in charge replied: “What are you, a fucking Barrister now…? You’re not having a party because I SAY SO..!”
Numerous policemen then lined up in an attempt at preventing people getting into the warehouse. But when it became apparent that we weren’t going to be intimidated into not having a party, they waded in and began indiscriminately beating party people with their truncheons. As a result of this action, alot of people received injuries, some of them quite serious. One woman was on the floor being beaten by at least 3 or 4 policemen and one man was held down over a railway line by two policemen who repeatedly smashed his face into a sleeper until his nose caved in.
Thankfully, there is photographic evidence of some of these attacks. However the police attacked another photographer and `stole’ his camera. (editors note: These sort of stories will often be dis-believed without people making the effort to gather evidence. We never need to lie, but sometimes we do need to prove what goes on).
Needless to say, all this behaviour didn’t stop a lot of the people who wanted in, so a big shout and massive respect to all the party people who went for it and made the rave!! Police disappeared just after midnight to get to the pubs and clubs where they knew they were needed to deal with all the violence and drunkenness and crime that goes hand in hand with town centres, but is virtually non-existent at free party’s.
It goes without saying that despite the police operation against us numerous systems rocked until 8.30am, making sure that we had a wicked night anyway!!
In the morning, the police turned up again in force and started seizing equipment and arresting people. Though we managed to smuggle most of our gear out, the police succeed in seizing 2 soundsystems, 5 generators and arresting 11 people (that we know of). The police later claimed they were “hunting for the organisers” when they were making arrests. Oh! well, that all right then!! We will not be taking this lying down – but we need your support.
It’s Burning Man
Every year a dry lake-bed in the middle of the Nevada Desert hosts one of the most extraordinary festivals on the planet. With temperatures soaring well over 100 degrees, twenty eight thousand people create a temporary city and spend a week as co-participants of the Burning Man. Roger Lewis frolicked with the freaks and freedoms at this year”s event and found himself well and truly fired up.
In 1986 eight people attended a party in California, burnt an effigy and decided to make their gathering an annual event. This year 28,000 people came along. The Burning Man Festival is described as an experiment in radical self-expression, a temporary autonomous zone where anything goes. Anything except money that is. For a period of one week no commercial activity is allowed. With the one exception of coffee and ice sold at the Centre Cafe, you cannot buy or sell goods or services for money. Anything you need must be bartered for. A song or a pair of socks will get you a beer at the bar. A condom for a cocktail. A kiss is good currency. In line with this non-commercial principle, prominent logos on the sides of hire trucks are either covered or amended in an imaginative way. “Truck Rental” is adjusted to become “Fuck Gentle”.
One of the few rules in a place where rules are remarkably few is that no spectators are allowed. Everyone must be a participant. Of course in the middle of a hot desert, there are also a few basic rules of survival. You must, for instance, bring all the water you need for a week. But by and large the Burning Man festival is art anarchy in action.
IT THEN DROVE OVER TO A GIANT SCULPTURE OF ELVIS (BEING USED AS A CONFESSIONAL), RIPPED IT OUT OF THE GROUND AND TORCHED IT.
On a dry lake-bed known as the ‘playa’, Black Rock City springs up with a population of 28,000 people creating geometrically arranged camps which cover five square miles. A bike is more or less essential and, even though I had one, I don’t reckon I saw a fraction of what was going on here.
Like most American cities built to the Roman orthogonal design, Black Rock City has a grid system of streets. Uniquely, however, the city forms the shape of a three quarter clock-face with roads from two o’clock to ten o’clock. The streets of concentric circles are named after the Seven Ages of Man, from Infant through to Oblivion. I was staying at 6:30 and Lover.
The constellation of inter-active theme camps which make up the city are both beautiful and bizarre, bearing names like ‘Inner Demon Rodeo’, the ‘Temple of Atonement’, and the’ Fornication Station’. To enter the camp called ‘Flight to Mars’ you had to go through a maze of texture and colour representing an alien landscape. At the end you crawled through a giant vagina before emerging into an open-air nightclub.
Meanwhile Dr.Megavolts had built a 15-foot high Tesla coil that shot streaks of lightening into the black night. In his specially adapted suit he walked around the site catching bolts of lightening on his head! Then the Subjugator made its appearance. This is a radio-controlled robot-claw on a tracked vehicle. As we stood around looking at this monster the cowboy in charge told us he barely had control of it. He wasn’t kidding either. Seconds later a jet of flame shot out from the front sending everyone diving for cover. It then drove over to a giant sculpture of Elvis (being used as a confessional), ripped it out of the ground and torched it. A stricken voice behind me shouted: “Oh my god y’all, look what they’ve done to the King!” Another night I came across the ‘Bliss Abyss’. I climbed the steps up the side of a large geodesic dome and lifted a flap to see an entangled group of bodies in what is best described as an orgy. In front of you a fireman’s pole offered you the opportunity to slide down and join them. Then there was ‘SpectatorCamp.com’, a stand of seats where people would sit and cajole freaks walking by to perform for them. It completely subverted the “participants not spectators” idea.
SO MANY PEOPLE WALK AROUND NAKED AND PAINTED THAT PUBLIC NUDITY IS UNREMARKABLE, ALTHOUGH I WAS SURPRISED BY THE AMOUNT OF IRONMONGERY WHICH SOME PEOPLE HAVE PIERCED IN THEIR GENITALS.
You could “Discover a New Soul-Mate” – have your photo taken and fill out the questionnaire. By the following day you are matched to someone on-site and given their name and camp. A different person has also been matched to you and likewise they have been given your address so they can track you down. Unfortunately, I never got to meet either soul mate!
There are some extraordinary art installations built for the duration of the festival before being burned; not least is the Man itself, the 70 foot high neon lit figure at the centre of the city. More on him later.
The ‘Temple of Tears’ was a giant construction made of filigreed wood that represented a mausoleum. As the week went on, people began to write on the walls the names of loved-ones who had died. Then photos and poetry were added which gave the place an incredibly solemn mood. At the end of the week the temple was due for incineration.
THE CITY EVEN HAS ITS OWN LANDING STRIP, AS WELL AS A COUPLE OF DAILY NEWSPAPERS AND ABOUT 50 RADIO STATIONS.
One character I came across was ‘Waterboy’; occupying a transparent plastic suit full of water held up by a large frame. Submerged in the suit was a naked man breathing via the oxygen tanks on top of the construction. Passers-by would hug him or poke him. So many people walk around naked and painted that public nudity is unremarkable, although I was surprised by the amount of ironmongery which some people have pierced in their genitals. ‘Critical Tits’ was a popular event – hundreds of women with painted breasts touring the festival city on bikes!
Most citizens of Black Rock City carry a face-mask and goggles, not a fashion accessory but essential, for when a dust storm starts to blow there can be a complete white-out, and you can’t see your hand in front of your face. The ‘Human Car Wash’ was useful after one of these dust storms. Basically you walk through two lines of naked people some squirting water on you, others rubbing different parts of your body down. When you get to the end you join the line to help wash the next person through. Like a car wash you can get different levels of service vaguely related to the amount of intrusion you can take. I heard one guy emerge saying that someone had stuck a finger up his ass!
ON THE TICKET FOR THE FESTIVAL ARE THE WORDS “YOU VOLUNTARILY ASSUME THE RISK OF SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH BY ATTENDING” ….AND THIS WARNING IS NOT HYPE.
There were whole villages of communal camps, like ‘Disturbia’, where you could get mummified in an ‘Ancient Kaos Funerary’ or play with the naughty but fun animals in the ‘Heavy Petting Zoo’.
Numerous art-cars transport people around the playa and overhead you see home-made flying machines which give the place a Mad Max feel (you can also engage in combat at the ‘Thunderdome’). Yes and the city even has its own landing strip, as well as a couple of daily newspapers and about 50 radio stations. Silicon Valley’s cyber-community ensure you can still get your e-mails on site, by setting up not one but two wireless networks with an up-link to satellite. The dust gets into every nook, cranny and orifice and I was surprised by the number of people with high-tech computer, video and audio equipment prepared to have their gear destroyed during the event.
FETISHISM ABOUNDS AT BURNING MAN BUT NOT COMMODITY FETISHISM. THE FESTIVAL IS A RADICAL ALTERNATIVE BECAUSE MONEY HERE DOES NOT CONFER STATUS.
On Saturday night the Man burns. Well explodes more like. On the ticket for the Festival are the words “You voluntarily assume the risk of serious injury or death by attending” ….and this warning is not hype. As we stood around waiting for the Man to burn, giant jets of flame shot 250 feet into the air, the heat so intense that I was on the verge of running away when the fire cannons stopped. Giant dust-devils swirled like tornadoes around the Burning Man and the atmosphere in the crowd was electric. When the Man finally collapsed everyone rushed forward to dance around the fire. Those at the front, realising it was hotter than they thought turned back but ran straight into the people at the back of the crowd who were still rushing forward. One enduring image was seeing someone in one of those silver suits that you see used by airport fire-fighters. He was right in the middle of the fire while silhouetted against the flames I could pick out people in devil costumes, horns and all! The symbolism of ‘the Burn’ means many things to many people, pagan ritual or primal regeneration, you can take from it whatever esoteric significance you want. For me it was just a massive party. The following night the ‘Temple of Tears’ mausoleum went up in smoke. The mood was markedly different from the previous night; very sombre but no less powerful as people remembered their dearly departed.
The Burning Man is so American in many ways; the ‘frontier’ feeling and wide-open spaces, the fire and explosions, the mutant vehicles, and the air-conditioned RVs. But on the other hand there’s also the anti-consumerism; no promotions, no logos. Capitalist society needs people to consume and we are constantly persuaded to define ourselves through what we buy, what labels we wear. Fetishism abounds at Burning Man but not commodity fetishism. The festival is a radical alternative because money here does not confer status, it is what you give to the community that is important not what you spend. In a culture where TV mediates our immediate experience of life, Burning Man is radical because the emphasis is on collective effort and participation. The event challenges the alienation that our society generates. Which I guess sounds quite strange for a place where you can propagate your talents at the Alien Love Nest!
ALL VIDEO CAMERAS MUST BE REGISTERED AND ARE TAGGED WITH A NUMBER. IF SOMEONE IS INTERFERING WITH YOUR EXPERIENCE AND THEY CONTINUE TO IGNORE YOUR REQUEST TO STOP TAKING PICTURES, YOU CAN REPORT THEM TO THE BLACK ROCK RANGERS – BURNING MAN’S OWN COMMUNITY MEDIATORS.
But the “anything goes” atmosphere is also tempered by the fact that the Law does take an interest. In fact, there are four law-enforcement agencies with jurisdiction in the area including the Bureau of Land Management. Most of the time the Bureau look after the empty desert landscape but they carry guns and hand-out citations at the festival for things like having sex in public and possession of marijuana! One night I saw the County Sheriffs’ men searching a group of young people for drugs whilst everyone else just carried on dancing as if nothing was happening. I told my American friends that if this were in England the police would be harangued by other partygoers and that in the UK it was not unknown for people to be de-arrested by a crowd. I was told that the fact that law-enforcers in the US carry firearms makes it totally different and anyone intervening in an arrest is likely to be taken in as well. However, besides the arrests mentioned above I hardly saw any police officers throughout the whole week of the festival.
The way the festival tries to maintain its integrity is interesting as parallels can be drawn with events and movements in Europe. Pragmatism and idealism co-exist. For instance, how do you deal with the media who are notorious for their sensationalism and shallow analysis? Well Burning Man knows it is useless to ignore them so they actually co-opt the media. Journalists are given costumes (and who knows what else) and encouraged to participate in the communal experience. By also giving them ideas about the themes of this community it is hoped that they will file copy which will explore and respect the unique ethos of Burning Man. All video cameras must be registered and are tagged with a number. If someone is interfering with your experience and they continue to ignore your request to stop taking pictures, you can report them to the Black Rock Rangers – Burning Man’s own community mediators.
Toilets, always an issue for festival-goers, are known as porta-potties here. Now you could expect that with the heat alone these would be pretty disgusting but I was astounded that they were kept so clean. Everyone here is exhorted to only put into the potties what comes out of your body. Black Rock City depends on people sticking to this and a crisis loomed early in the week when beer bottles were found in some of the potties. The contractor (who had come 140 miles from Reno to empty them) was threatening to pull out which would have meant the end of the Festival. Black Rock Rangers quickly spread the word and the problem did not happen again. One bar had a sign saying, “Latrine abusers not welcome here”.
“Leave no trace” is the parting ethic of Burning Man. If you pack it in, you pack it out. No bins are provided and you see no litter on the ground. Everyone takes their own rubbish home and there aren’t even any discarded cigarette butts left on the desert floor. Once Black Rock City is dismantled, there is no evidence left of the community that existed there. The slate is wiped clean so that next year another incredible City can be reborn anew.
During the chaotic summer of 1994, protests against the criminal justice bill kicked the whole party spiral into action, a definite energy was present – the restrictions of this bill were considered fucking ludicrous by any stretch of the imagination and just as it seemed like masses of people could accomplish something by our mere existence and rallying, we got ignored. We got the usual bout of biased, bad press, a few court cases and then…. nothing. What happened?
Winter time, the cja had been passed the police didn’t seem to be giving anyone too hard a time, and everyone sort of got on with everyday life. Everything was so quiet I think it was sort of easy to forget that there were any laws against repetitive beats. Well, someone must of forgotten as the next thing I know is I`m reading details about the Mother rave, the second Castlemorton, in MIXMAG – what is going on?? City Life also had details of where to find the location of the 7/7 “Mother” party. Very strange as I`m sure that information like this divulged in such major publications is not really doing the free parties or its organisers any favours, key words like `Castlemorton` cause the authorities to have spasmodic fits and drool at the mouth – they don`t like large gatherings, and any pre-publicity indicating that one is about to occur causes upset all round.
In true party spirit, despite MUCH police intervention, parties still kicked off, and judging from all reports a wicked time was had by all who attended. I spent most of the night running around cornfields avoiding patrol cars, meeting other people who had dodged the police and generally being clueless.
Found a sound systemless site at dawn and despite there being no party as such and plenty of police aggro, I still had a larf, and that`s what counts. So there.
And a brief note to the policeman who thought up the idea of playing rave music from his riot van to attract wayward party-goers into his clutches. Well done. I hope you got a promotion.
‘Most of the charges brought against individuals involved in July ’94s Mother Festival have finally been dropped. ‘The crown prosecution Service now says there is insufficient evidence to press charges of “conspiracy to cause a public nuisance” – Criminal Law Act. 1977.’
Black Moon the Buxton based sound system, however were not so lucky, and were prosecuted. The reason, they ‘were unable to dismantle their rig on time and were even told by some members of the police force that they “might not have to move”. Some tape recordings of police advice were used to aid their evidence. Black Moon’s defence solicitors also challenged the charges on the basis of the “reasonable time required to be given when Section 63 is invoked by police. They claim that one hour was not enough time to dismantle and remove a whole sound system.
The magistrates, however, weren’t interested and they were each fined £250 and the rig worth £6,000 was ordered to be destroyed.
The rig was taken on the Corby site which had been scouted by the Tribe of Twat early summer. By Glastonbury time it seemed everybody they were telling already knew about 7/7 plan. For Black Moon it was the first sizable party that the system was involved in and they were more on for small parties as a rule.
Unfortunately the Police won the case and as such the penalties were kinda severe. All members of the crew were given a fine of £200 each and the system was confiscated.
The lawyer recommended to them for his work in getting the Spirals off the hook in the Castlemorton case seems not to be giving his full effort, the appeal is pending but as to getting details and progress, your guess is as good as theirs. The fines were bad enough but the real damage was the confiscation of the sound system. 6000 quid on HP down the drain, which is a bit of a uneven punishment to the person whose rig it was! One irony was that the site where in fact one individual tuft of party spawned from the original [7/7] Mother’s enormous bush was at a site in Lincoln that Black Moon had used for a party earlier in the year. Undeterred the Black moon DJ’s have been out and about this summer, doing free warehouse parties in Sheffield, and getting sets outdoors. Bruno played at an early summer Insonik and was well into it. That’s INSONIK kids! The TransPennine night in Sheffield that’s going from strength to strength. It’s good to see as although several benefits nights have been put about to raise money for the primary party victims of the CJA. The 500 quid donated so far doesn’t cover much of the costs needed to put together a new rig.
On asking if there were any words of advice to pass on to party people the response was. ‘Well you’re better off asking someone else, someone who hasn’t had their rig taken.’ Point taken but the main lesson learnt and one that came into effect at a recent party was that once you get served a Section 63 then It’s definitely time to get out of there, unless you’re keen to donate your PA to the police. A legal loophole that is definitely worth looking into is that hired PA equipment will find it’s way back to the owners, so When asked the question is this equipment yours, let pride take the back seat and have some paperwork to back it up. They’ll take it anyway but if you can get someone who’s stayed at home to say that they rented it to you then you should be OK. [maybe]. Black Moon weren’t the only people to suffer from excitable Police forces, whose hackles had been raised by the Widespread media preview of the happenings. Tribe of Twat managed to get themselves banned from Two counties [which is a pisser in you live in one of them] and someone I know with a lot of PA kit he was taking along to hook up with Virus got stopped at the end of his parents suburban road and told not to bother if he knew what was good for him.
There have been quite a few free site parties kicking off around Buxton Way this summer though, with about a 50% bust rate, which ain’t great but it’s better than nowt! These ones have been more on a techno and trance side of tings rather than the deep deep house sound that you would associate with free parties in Derbyshire, [Respect for the longevity of Smokescreen and the actions of All Systems GO!]. And the future? Both Rob and Bruno are up for playing wherever they can so get in contact if you know of free things that are going on around and about.
That all takes me back:-) I was living in a bus in 1990,and before that had done abit of travelling about for the odd weekend etc.I actually hated the bus,well,the company I should say.My then partner was just so different to myself and we ended up living how he chose and not “The compromise”(As I’m sure there was one.)I was,and still am,the quieter type,he was always the “I have to party and drink” type(not that I dont mind a bit of a party myself mind)My aim was to go horse drawn but most’s opinion was “too slow” Mine was “Whats the rush”.
Been thinking of those times alot lately, ha ha what I don’t miss is the hassle of the police and the fear that gets into people when a few travellers move into a field, and the time’s when you didn’t cook the chick peas right and the shit pit was a fair trudge away….in the rain:-) (With ref to Pucklechurch lay-by)
Sometimes I think I’d give it a go, but it was a hard life.
Well, shall go read up some more on your site, I’d like to know where travellers stand now when parking up,as I know a while back the whole law changed didn’t it, where I think you could get moved on immediately. Just before I sold my VDUB camper I went to Hay on Wye and on the way(I went thru Hergest as I saw on the map there was a Hergest Ridge there and thought” Isnt that a Mike Oldfield record??” saw a wagon and horse parked in a field, should have stopped and chatted but was in a rush. Was really good to see it tho.
Love the site anyway, have book marked it and will have another read tomorrow. I found you by accident by the way, typed in “Cantlin stone” in Yahoo. I live nr it and have been there years ago, but nobody here seems to have heard of it…funny!!
A very scary internal SWP document
Me thinks Cuckoos in the nest, you know, they don’t build their own, they move in on someone elses…..
Did you see this very scary internal SWP document which was leaked onto the Indymedia site a couple of days ago by a pissed-off recent recruit? It is definitely genuine, as a couple of SWP members posted up comments complaining about it being made public and trying weakly to defend its contents.
I hate to admit naivety, but even I was shocked at the arrogance and blatant parasitism which this memo reveals – also by the extent to which they are already taking over and mis-using the anti-war movement.
Although it is depressing reading, I think that this memo should be widely circulated, especially to people who still believe that the SWP can be ‘worked with’. [snip]
Best wishes & pass the garlic,
This is the document as posted: After Brighton – All Out – 13 October
Sunday’s demonstration in Brighton was fantastic! Despite the torrential rain, the media scare about violence & the attempts by the police to effectively criminalise it some 7000 people demonstrated in what was the first national demonstration in the war.
Added to this were the 1200 people who attended Saturday’s Globalise Resistance conference This provides a magnificent launch pad for the 13 October demonstrations called by CND in London & Glasgow.
Across the country we need to be working with CND locally to book & fill coaches for 13 October.
The 13 October can be absolutely massive.
Every SWP member must be in London on the day. Recruit, Sell!
The SWP was central to building Sunday’s demo and was very important to the big SA turn out. The Greens pulled back under pressure from the media & the police. What passes for the rest of the left turned up in small numbers to sell papers but did not mobilise.
38 people joined through the central recruitment team on Sunday & 12 on Saturday.
At the University of Hertfordshire we sold 94 SWs & recruited 24 to the SWP. 23 students joined at Northampton University with 43 SWs sold. At Luton University we recruited 19 students. This story is being repeated across the country. Across Leeds last week we recruited 89 students last week. At Sheffield University 47 joined & we sold 220 SWs! We can grow in every & any university, FE or school. Set up a Stop the War meeting, debate or teach in or get a discussion at a school assembly. But there are also older activists who are being pulled towards us. We should take time to sit down with such people & talk to them about joining.
At the ICL factory Stop the War meeting in Manchester last week I person joined.
People can see the role we are playing in mobilising. We need to combine that with a high stress on our ideas – we will not grow simply by being the best activists.
4 people joined at the 350 strong Manchester Stop the War rally. In Birmingham on Saturday we sold 184 SWs & recruited 8 people.11 joined on the Leeds Saturday sale.
70 were sold at University of Central London, 58 at Atlantic College in Cardiff, 53 at Leeds University, 36 at Leeds Metropolitan University. As we write we will have recruited between 250 & 300 people in the last week!
Things Are Shifting Big Time
When 250 people demonstrate against the war in Whitstable you know things are shifting!
The mood over the war is changing. It’s clear that the US ruling class is divided about where & who to attack & about becoming embroiled in Afghanistan.
The Arab states, Iran & Pakistan are all terrified of the domestic reaction to any attack on Afghanistan. Silvio Berlusconi’s attack on Islam, boasting of the ‘superiority’& ‘supremacy’ of Western civilisation [sic], will increase tensions in the US led coalition.
In Rome on Saturday 50,000 demonstrated at a march against the war called by Rifondazione. Two days before 20,000 gathered in Naples in what was effectively a local demo against the Nato summit which was switched to Brussels.
The anti-war message is getting across.
Build for the 13 October London & Glasgow CND demonstrations. We want the maximum number of people there. In addition to trade union banners we want school students, pensioners & whoever making home made banners they can march behind.
In every town & city we need to ensure there are united front Stop the War Coalition public meetings with big name speakers. These should include an SWP speaker (see below) – ring the National Office, CND, Labour MP, trade unionists, Asian or Middle Eastern speaker etc. We should propose that these meetings should agree/vote to affiliate to the national Stop the War Coalition. Set up a representative Steering Committee. These should not be dominated by sectarians/idiots.
We need to give people activity. We should be building local workplace, college, school, community based Stop the War Coalitions. Get people out doing petitioning, postering, graffiting, doing street theatre, die ins etc. Be imaginative.
In the colleges we need to be organising teach ins & debates between pro & anti war academics. These can pull big numbers – over 100 came to a Stop the War meeting addressed by Rae Street from CND, a Green councillor & Michael Bradley of the SWP at University of Central Lancashire in Preston last Wednesday.
In schools push for debates in school assemblies, through debating societies etc. If we can’t get that organise a brief Stop the War meeting after school.
Don’t wait till Bush starts bombing to get activity underway. It is quite possible things could drag on while the US ruling class decide what to do. This gives us valuable time to build.
Build SWP Groups
SWP Groups need to meet weekly.
We will not build a mass anti-war movement unless we are systematically
building in a particular workplace, college, school or wherever else a Group is centred on.
We will not involve our members & supporters unless we are getting SW to them immediately it arrives on Wednesday.
Each Group should have someone who organises SW sales/distribution and someone who is the convenor. This comrade should be part of a District phone tree (email too but don’t rely on people opening their mail immediately) so that we can mobilise people quickly in response to events – particularly the start of US bombing.
Let the National Office/Circulation know details of the Group Convenor & SW Sales Organiser (name, address, home & work tel. number, email & mobile). «We should be having regular SW District meetings on Imperialism, Islamic Fundamentalism etc. We need to arm our comrades plus we need to discuss our work in the anti-war movement. Don’t drop these – regular SW meetings will pull comrades in & increase their involvement in the anti-war movement. In the colleges we need to meet as the SWP Group at the start of the week to discuss SW sales, our intervention & recruitment plus we need the weekly SW Discussion Group.
At every anti-war movement we need a recruitment operation. We should have a District wide recruitment team for rallies, public meetings, demos etc. At the 300 plus Manchester Stop the War Coalition rally last Thursday 6 people joined – including an anti-racist from Oldham, a student at Bolton Institute who wants to start a Stop the War Coalition & 2 school students who are involved in the debating society & want to set up a debate on the war. On the 300 strong peace vigil in Manchester on Saturday 61 people joined.
Build the Stop The War Coalition. Over 100 students came to the first Stop the War meeting at University of Central Lancashire in Preston; 80 came at Kent University. 90 attended the first Stop the War meeting in Aberdeen where Mike Gonzalez was the keynote speaker; 250 came in Oxford where Yuri Prasad spoke for the SWP; 40 came in Nelson.
We need to push for local Stop the War groups to affiliate to the national Stop the War Coalition. Don’t fudge on this. It will create difficulties later. Tuesday’s 400 strong meeting in London called from the 2000 strong Friday meeting was addressed by Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn & Tariq Ali. Present were representatives of Aslef, the Greater London Association of Trades Councils, Trade Union CND, Nigel Chamberlain CND’s national press & publicity officer, 2 NUS executive members & many more. In a couple of places – Oxford & Newcastle – various anarchists & sectarians have argued against having a SWP speaker at the anti-war meetings. In Oxford it was non-party members who argued for a SWP speaker. We should not be defensive about this. We should argue on the basis of our record in initiating the 2000 strong meeting in Friends Meeting House in London & the other activities. Secondly, we should have comrades there representing trade union bodies etc. & comrades who have done things against the war. The sectarians talk a lot but do nothing. Lastly, we should win people in advance to our concept of the Stop the War Coalition.
Report From North London
9 people joined the SWP at Middlesex University Tottenham site on Monday. On Wednesday an anti war meeting of 16 people including the union president planned a debate.
On Tuesday 3 people joined the SWP at the Enfield site 10 people joined the SWP at UNL with 105 papers sold. An anti war meeting is planned in UNL.
On Wednesday 90 – 100 people attended the anti war meeting in Haringey with Bruce Kent and others. The Hornsey Socialist Alliance turned out 30 people. At the end of the meeting people broke into local areas to plan activities.
55 SWs were sold at the meeting.
On Thursday 150 people attended the anti war meeting in Islington with Jeremy Corbyn. The meeting included refugees and people from the Turkish community. 45 papers were sold and one person joined the SWP. Islington North Labour Party GC voted overwhelmingly against the war at a meeting attended by 25 delegates Middlesex University NATFHE voted to support 13 October demo and send the banner.
Islington NUT committee voted to affiliate to the Stop the War Coalition unanimously
We are The Anti-Imperialists
We want to forge a broad Stop the War Coalition but within that we need to form a clear anti-imperialist pole of attraction.
We have a Leninist attitude to imperialist war. For us the main enemy is at home in the shape of the UK state & its New Labour government. We want to connect opposition to New Labour’s war on the working class with opposition to its war drive. We also need to become the voice of the oppressed masses across the globe who will be the victims of Bush & Blair’s war. That is why we are against blanket condemnation of ‘terrorism’. It’s not so long ago Tory students were calling Nelson Mandela a terrorist & demanding he was hung. The Daily Telegraph & Mail are calling for Blair to break with Sinn Fein & the Irish peace process as part of the ‘war’ on terrorism. Israel is demanding strikes against Hizbollah in Southern Lebanon & Hamas in the occupied terrorities.
Report from Italy
The comrades of Comunismo del Basso sold over 100 copies of their magazine on the Rome demo. 40 people came to Marxism in Rome, from the Centre & the South, with 10 people joining (from Rome, Bologna, Sardinia & Pesaro). This has laid the basis for an effective group in the country. There were a good group of young comrades who are coming forward. Plans are now under way to hold a similar event in Milan. The money we raised after Genoa helped produce a pamphlet on the Italian left from the 1969 Hot Autumn to the Red Brigades. It also paid for a French comrade who speaks Italian to go to Rome for a week to help build the event & an Italian comrade in London to go for 5 days.
The comrades said the Rome demonstration was brilliant with loads of young people on it.
Party Notes By Email: To make sure that comrades can get and distribute party notes and leaflets as rapidly as possible, every group should send in details of an email address. This should be a comrade who can print off leaflets and distribute or forward the email on to other members in their group. Please send details
Monopolise Resistance? How Globalise Resistance Would Hijack Revolt
“The protesters are winning. They are winning on the streets. Before too long they will be winning the argument. Globalisation is fast becoming a cause without credible champions.”
Financial Times, 17th August 2001
For the first time in decades, millions of people are actively questioning the existence of capitalism. From the Mexican jungle to the streets of London, from the summits of Seattle and Genoa to the factories of Indonesia, a broad alliance of groups, networks and campaigns is mobilising people to take part in action directly challenging capitalism and its destruction of communities and ecologies. Millions are beginning to see that another world is possible.
But there is no guarantee that capitalism will fade away as people see through it. The rich and powerful would rather lay waste to the world than lose their control over it. They’ve already made quite a start. Our job is to stop them.
The anti-capitalist movement is at a key point in its development. Three years ago it hardly existed. The next three years will be crucial. This is why we’ve decided to make public our fears that all this good work could be undone by people who have nothing to do with this resistance but instead want to take it over for their own ends.
This pamphlet is an attempt to show why the Socialist Workers Party and Globalise Resistance are trying to do just that. While working closely with ‘respectable’ anti-globalisation groups, the SWP/GR increasingly attack those involved in direct action, describing us – just as the gutter press does – as disorganised, mindless hoodlums obsessed with violence. They are willing to make these attacks so they can portray themselves as more ‘organised’ and, therefore, the best bet if you think capitalism stinks and want to do something about it.
They are nothing of the sort. They want to kill the vitality of our movement – with the best of intentions, of course – and we need to organise better in the face of this threat.
Which is the other reason that we’ve written this pamphlet. Direct action has achieved great things over the years but – let’s face it – sometimes the way we organise things is just crap. We need to change that.
This isn’t some stupid slagging match. As regular readers will know, SchNEWS is not in the habit of attacking other groups. We just think these things need saying.
The opportunity for winning mass support for anti-capitalist ideas has never been greater. Let’s not blow it.
The Tweedledee Tendency
As the anti-capitalist movement grows across the world, some people are beginning to tell us that we need closer links with social democratic parties – the tweedledee of electoral politics and often the very people organising the state’s attacks on us – in the name of ‘unity’. We believe in unity – but watering down anti-capitalist politics to gain a spurious ‘unity’ with supporters of capitalism is a betrayal that history rarely forgives.
In-yer-face, on the streets anti-capitalism is what gives our movement its vitality and attracts support for our activities – it’s not something to be played down, disguised or get embarrassed about.
Over the last year the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and its front organisation Globalise Resistance (GR) have been attempting to fundamentally change the nature of the anti-capitalist movement in Britain. The SWP have got involved in the anti-capitalist movement for very different reasons to the rest of us. Their main aim is to take control of the anti-capitalist movement and turn it into an ineffective, pro-Labour pressure group so as to increase the influence and membership of the SWP. They’re not mainly interested in working with others they completely disagree with the politics of just about everyone else involved. As they put it in Genoa, “Remember, we’re the only people here with an overall strategy for the anti-capitalist movement. So I want five people to go out with membership cards, five to sell papers and five to sell bandanas.”
They see the anti-capitalist movement as made up of well-meaning but muddled people who will not be able to achieve anything significant until they are led by the SWP. They want to lead us for our own good: “Mass movements don’t get the political representation that they deserve unless a minority of activists within the movement seek to create a political leadership, which means a political party that shares their vision of political power from below”.
But the SWP do not share the views of the movement they now claim to be a part of and want to ‘lead’. They vote for the government. They oppose ‘confrontational’ direct action. They vastly overestimate the extent to which the Labour Party and trade unions represent ordinary people, consistently arguing for anti-capitalists to moderate their activities to suit the prejudices of ‘Labour Party activists’. They want to take us back to the days of ineffective walk-to-Hyde-Park-and-listen-to-a-Labour-MP politics that the direct action movement in this country was born as a reaction against.
There is a world of difference between winning people to anti-capitalism and watering down anti-capitalism so as not to upset people in the Labour Party. If it was just a matter of the SWP having pointless marches and shouting themselves hoarse inside police pens it wouldn’t be a problem – they’ve been doing that for years and nobody’s noticed. The problem is that they are actively conning people attracted to anti-capitalism away from direct action and into compromising with the Labour Party. All their activities are geared towards making our movement less confrontational and less effective. And their way into our movement is Globalise Resistance.
What A Front!
Globalise Resistance exists mainly to increase the influence of the SWP within the anti-capitalist movement. It is only interested in activities to the extent that its brand recognition increases. For instance, commenting on Gothenburg GR’s full-time organiser and SWP member Guy Taylor said “GR has gone down brilliantly, the words on the GR banner ‘People before Profit, Our World is Not for Sale’ were taken up and chanted by the whole protest!”
Globalise Resistance would no more take part in an action without prominently displaying its banners and placards than an oil company would give money to an environmental project without telling anyone.
In all important respects GR is run by, and in the interests of, the SWP – it is a front organisation. This does not mean that all its supporters are SWP members far from it. the whole point of a successful front organisation is that it involves people who wouldn’t otherwise join the party while at the same time being dominated by the party and existing to fulfill the aims of the party. A really successful front organisation will have lots of non-party people involved in running it while remaining politically dominated by the party controlling it. As a speaker put it at the SWP’s Marxism 2001 conference, “The united front is a way for a tiny minority to win over lots of people… Globalise Resistance is a united front.”
Soon after he attacked Reclaim the Streets in the press for being “part of the problem, not part of the solution” George Monbiot was invited by the SWP to be a main speaker at a number of GR rallies. This allowed the SWP to promote Globalise Resistance as a ‘broad-based’ movement involving well known figures like Monbiot. The important business of that tour was reported in Socialist Worker: “On the Globalise Resistance tour 18 people joined the SWP in Manchester, 10 in Birmingham, 9 in Sheffield, 8 in Leeds and 4 in Liverpool”.
Brighton 2001 – Seattle In Reverse
A clear illustration of the difference between the SWP/GR and anti-capitalists was their opposition to any form of direct action against the 2001 Labour Party conference in Brighton. Soon after returning from Genoa, Chris Nineham of the SWP/GR told a meeting in Brighton that “it would be wrong to close down the Labour conference”, arguing that attempting to blockade the conference would “give the media an excuse to call us mad extremists” and “isolate us from potentially massive support”. Instead he called on activists to “give encouragement to those in the Labour Party fighting Blair”.(6)
Two years earlier in Seattle, hundreds of workers left a union march to join activists blockading the World Trade Organisation. They waded through tear gas, pepper spray and police tanks to join an illegal blockade that stopped the WTO in its tracks. It was a major victory for our movement. What the SWP argued for at the 2001 Labour conference was a sort of Seattle in reverse – instead of trying to get unions and workers to join the direct action they wanted the direct action to stop so as not to upset the union leaders. in the face of calls for a blockade of the conference they organised a ‘non-confrontational’ demonstration aimed at “unit[ing] everyone who hates privatisation and wants to push for real resistance from the union leaders”. Forget taking action ourselves, they tell us – our job is to “place pressure on our leaders to fight”.
Thanks, But No Thanks
The instinct for unity in our movement is very strong, even amongst people with very different political outlooks. Some people see no problem with the SWP’s involvement in our movement, viewing criticism of their politics as splitting the unity we need to be successful. But this is to misunderstand what the SWP are up to – if the SWP’s aggressive selling of their sect’s politics is successful our movement will be significantly weakened. As an anonymous posting on the uk indymedia site recently put it, “Many have heard of the recent British history of direct action protest, and it was particularly clear in Prague and Genoa how many have been inspired by it. How many are inspired by non-confrontational protest marches to nowhere? I can tell you, only the equivalents of SWP in all those other countries. So let’s please keep up the momentum for creativity and change, and not give it up to people who advocate going back to old, stale and useless tactics! This is no call for disunity, it’s a call for a movement not to commit suicide by default!”
But if we’re gonna stop the SWP/GR from blunting the impact of anti-capitalist politics, we need to examine what we’re up to. Globalise Resistance advertised and organised transport for hundreds of new people to Genoa – we did not. They organised dozens of public meetings within days of coming back from Genoa – we failed to. Globalise Resistance have organised large conferences designed to raise their profile within the movement – we have organised direct action conferences in the past but nowadays, while rightly concentrating on actions, seem to act as if these conferences don’t matter. They do.
We want to kickstart a debate about how we grow. How do we meaningfully involve new people in activities? How do we learn from our mistakes and pass on our experiences? How do we get our message across faced with a hostile and manipulative media? In short, how do we expand from a handful of relatively small autonomous groups into a mass movement organically linked to everyone at the sharp end of capitalist exploitation and state repression?
What Is Anti-Capitalism?
The anti-capitalist movement involves a wide range of groups and diverse styles of campaigns. But there are common principles that run through all our activities.
1 A Determination To Resist Capitalism Practically
Our movement is firmly based on the principle that direct action is central to opposing capitalism. Capitalism is a very practical thing, you don’t overthrow it by proving that it’s not very nice – you take actions to prevent its destruction of communities and ecologies. This means occupying offices, destroying jet fighters, shutting down docks and blockading summits. It means creating social centres out of derelict buildings, holding parties on motorways, defending picket lines and trashing GM crops. It means going beyond words and making resistance part of everyday life.
2 Taking A Lead From Movements In The South
Capitalism is responsible for enormous, and growing, inequality in the world and it is the peoples of the world’s south that suffer most. The income of the richest 20% of the world’s population is at least 75 times greater than the income of the poorest 20% (it was 30 times greater forty years ago). Third world debt, enforced by the military might of the United States, Britain and other rich countries, is simply a racket to keep this inequality entrenched. Every day, £128m flows from the poorest countries in the world to the banks of the rich countries.
Our movement has always been inspired by the struggles of peoples in the south, the majority of humanity, against capitalism. Massive social movements such as the Zapatistas in Mexico, Narmada Andolen Bachoa in India and Movimento Sem Terra in Brazil are fighting life and death battles to defend their communities from capital’s never ending quest for profit. In recent years strike waves and popular protests have been seen from Argentina to Korea, Nigeria to Indonsia. We support and learn from these movements. We see our struggle and theirs as one and the same.
3 Building Practical Alliances With Others
Our movement encompasses a wide range of groups and campaigns with overlapping activities and ideas. We are a movement of one no and many yeses. While there are constant discussions and disagreements amongst people, our organic, decentralised way of organising minimise the extent to which abstract ideological debates prevent us from working together. New ideas are tested in practice in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
The media and others are keen to pigeonhole anti-capitalism as a cultural phenomenon defined by lifestyle, dress and age. The direct action movement in Britain has roots in various communities, noteably the anti-road camps and campaigns of the 1990s, but the portrayal of our movement as a ‘sub-culture’ minimises the extent to which anti-capitalist ideas have taken root in many parts of society. For instance, it is simply not true to say that this is an ‘anarchist’ movement – anarchists play an important role, but so do socialists, greens, communists and loads of people who wouldn’t call themselves any of these things.
People are always developing new, practical links with others fighting capitalism – strikers, anti-racist campaigners and others both here and abroad – based on mutual respect and a shared determination to challenge capitalism in all its forms. The way we organise allows us to minimise the state’s targetting of individuals as ‘leaders’ and encourages new ideas and tactics to develop in a way that would otherwise not be possible.
4 Showing A Healthy Disregard For Legality
The law has always been used as a weapon to prevent effective opposition to capitalism. From the anti-union laws preventing picketing to the Terrorism Act outlawing free speech, from the Criminal Justice Act stopping people dancing, squatting and protesting to the Public Order Act’s attacks on basic rights of assembly, laws are constantly brought in to attack us. We’d be mad to treat these laws as anything but an occupational hazard to be got around – we certainly don’t let them dictate what we do. Opposing capitalism within the law is like playing a game of football after deciding you’re not going to kick the ball outside your own half. It doesn’t work.
This doesn’t mean it’s okay to go around attacking and robbing people everywhere – that’s what capitalism does. It means recognising that the state and its laws are there to defend the capitalist system and we shouldn’t be surprised when it does exactly that. It means showing that we will not play by capitalism’s rules of ‘legitimate protest’ because they are their rules, not ours, and if we play by them we will lose.
5 Breaking With The ‘Official’ Movements And Parties That Hold Our Struggles Back
The wealth of the richest 358 people in the world is more than the annual income of nearly half the world’s population; 800 million people in the world are severely malnourished or starving; a tenth of children in the poor countries of the world die before their fifth birthday. We use these sort of facts to illustrate how obscene a system capitalism is. But the sheer scale of this obscenity raises an important question – not so much how do we get rid of capitalism but rather, if capitalism is so obscene, so wasteful, so against the interest of humanity, how come it still exists?
The answer, of course, is that lots of people want it to. Many people in Britain and other rich countries are able to live in relative affluence as a result of the millions that capitalism keeps flowing in from the south. It has been estimated that if UK consumption were matched globally we would need eight planets to provide the resources needed. The cheap commodities produced by slave labour in the south, the massive ‘debt repayments’ to the north, the manipulation of world markets by the rich countries and their institutions such as the World Bank, World Trade Organisation and International Monetary Fund contribute to a higher standard of living for many people in the rich countries. It’s not just merchant bankers and multinational directors that gain from Britain’s financial power – many middle-managers, professionals and others benefit significantly.
It is from people like this – stuck between those at the top and the millions of workers, carers and unemployed with no security or privileges at the bottom – that the Labour Party and, to a large extent, the trade unions draw their membership. While there are working class people in the Labour Party and trade unions they do not determine these organisations’ political standpoint.
The Labour Party has always played an important role in sabotaging, undermining and holding back effective opposition to capitalism, acting as a safety valve for capitalism, allowing people to feel they have a choice, without anything changing. A recent survey revealed that only 15% of Labour Party members see themselves as working class. This is not a party of the toiling masses – it is a thoroughly pro-capitalist organisation that is backed and funded by major corporarations. From supporting the corporate takeover of our public services to arming third world dictators, from incarcerating asylum seekers to criminalising opposition with the Terrorism Act, the Labour Party has shown itself to be not misguided or wrong-headed or badly led but, quite
simply, capitalism’s government of choice.
The unions today are little better. They are major financial institutions in their own right, holding assets of over £1,000m. Unions are now more interested in providing financial services for its members the better off, the better than fighting for their members and facing the prospect of having their assets sequestrated. Less than a third of British workers are in unions and those that are tend to have more secure jobs – every other trade unionist is a professional and over a third have degrees while only one in five casual workers and 6% of workers under 20 are in a union. A middle aged manager with a mortgage and a private pension is more likely to be in a union than a teenage casual worker on the minimum wage.
This isn’t to say that we don’t support strikes and other actions by workers – far from it. The direct action movement occupied and blockaded docks during the Liverpool dock dispute and Reclaim The Streets have taken action in support of striking tube workers. In contrast, almost all significant strikes in the last few years – the Liverpool dockers, the Hillingdon hospital workers, the Tameside care workers, the Dudley hospital workers – have been denied the support they needed to win by their own unions.
As privatisation kicks in we can expect to see thousands of workers, like the SITA workers in Brighton taking action to defend basic services against profiteering fatcat companies. These actions will only win if they are based in local communities and take the sort of action that unions, usually more concerned with staying within anti-union laws than defending jobs or services, all too often tell their members to avoid. Anyone with
an ounce of anti-capitalism in them will be supporting these actions and hopefully helping them to win.
‘Vote Labour Where You Must’
The SWP reject all these principles. While using the language of direct action, they take part in it as little as possible. Handing out leaflets in Bristol becomes an ‘action’. A book launch in London is preceded by a widely advertised ‘action’ that involves shouting slogans outside McDonalds for half an hour. While paying lipservice to the idea of direct action, the SWP prefer legal, ineffective demos – preferably with Labour councillors or MPs – everytime because they are more unacceptable to the Labour Party supporters they are trying to win to their party.
The SWP believe that the struggles of peoples in the south are far less important than trade union struggles in Britain and other richer countries. They believe that third world debt is peripheral to the world economy and that workers in Britain and other richer countries are more exploited than workers in the third world (9). The Zapatistas, they reckon, are “not in a position to provide political leadership for the movement that has celebrated their example”. No, that’s a role that the SWP have reserved for themselves (and since when did the Zapatistas want to ‘lead’ us anyway?).
But what most clearly differentiates the SWP from anyone with a spark of anti-capitalism is their support for the Labour government. The SWP have always voted for the Labour Party. At the last election they stood Socialist Alliance candidates in a minority of seats but instructed their members to vote Labour in the majority of seats. In the same publication that they say “a vote for Labour is a vote for continuing inequality, poverty, privatisation and slavish devotion to the market” they announced that “our approach in the coming election should be ‘vote Socialist where you can, vote Labour where you must'”.
The SWP would have us believe that the Labour Party and unions are full of closet anti-capitalists who can hardly wait to take to the barricades with us – as long as we behave ourselves. When they tell us that “many who were on the anti-capitalist demonstrations or sympathised with them will also be members of the Labour Party” and “anti-capitalists have to build bridges towards these outraged Labour members” you know that they’re not calling on Labour Party activists to adopt direct action – they are trying to convince anti-capitalists to tone down their activities so as not to upset these people. When they write that, “combining direct action with electioneering will not always come naturally to those from a Labour background” you know it’s not the electioneering that will be quietly forgotten as they try to turn the anti-capitalist movement into a sad left-wing pressure group.
Of course, there are loads of people who’ve got involved in Globalise Resistance and the SWP because they really do want to fight capitalism. It’s easy to mistake the glitz and big meetings for effective organisation, especially when SWP members often simply lie about their real beliefs when out recruiting.
But it’s not effective. It’s a sort of convenience politics – the same everywhere, obsessed with market share, sometimes initially tasty but, in the end, not much to it. The real world’s messier, less straightforward and sometimes downright confusing – but it is the real world.
Getting Our Act(Ion) Together
Over the last few years the direct action/anti-capitalist movement has developed enormously. People have been continually and creatively adapting tactics to meet new challenges and changing circumstances. Alongside big actions, people are increasingly doing things locally, in their own communities. From the fight against cuts in Hackney to the Vote Nobody! campaign in Bristol, activists are building strong links with other people fed up with what capitalism has to offer. This isn’t a retreat away from the big picture – it’s building things solidly, connecting with the spirit of resistance you find in estates and communities up and down the country, while never forgetting how all our struggles – and the struggles of millions of people across the world – are linked.
We need to build on this. In the next few years we’ll need all our resourcefullness if we’re gonna seize the moment, build new alliances and involve new people in fighting this mad system. We’ll need to be bolder in promoting our ideas, more creative in involving new people and clearer in getting our message across.
We haven’t got all the answers – and sometimes we’re own worst enemy. Our aversion to hierarchy is healthy, but too often it just means that there’s some inner circle making the real decisions. This is not ‘non-hierarchical’ – it is often the very opposite, excluding many people from participation. Ask yourself – how easy is it for someone new to your town to get in touch with your group? Do you have meetings where newcomers – and not just people from your own social circles – are made to feel welcome and involved in things? The easier we make it for new people to get involved, the more we connect with the day-to-day struggles of people around us, the more successful we will be. It’s really as simple as that.
Movements never stay the same for long – they either grow or fade away. If we fail to continually improve the way we organise, there is a real danger that people will turn their backs on direct action and be led back into the dead end of electoral politics. We can’t allow that to happen. The stakes are just too high. We want to win.
socialist workers party- some blasts from the past the swp have a long history of appearing revolutionary in the abstract – while opposing effective action in real life.
In the late 1970s, the SWP formed the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) to oppose the growth of the fascist National Front. Then as now, the greatest attack on black people in Britain did not come from fascist groups but from a Labour government implementing racist immigration laws. The almost exclusively white ANL grew into a movement of hundreds of thousands holding massive rallies and concerts across the country where Labour politicians would be invited to address the crowds. But, when it came to fighting state racism, The SWP argued that the ANL should not oppose immigration controls. The SWP refused to oppose state racism rather than upset Labour Party supporters.
In September 1978, the ASIAN COMMUNITY IN EAST LONDON
asked the ANL to divert people from a big ANL carnival to the east
end to oppose a National Front march. The ANL refused. SWP
members argued that the ANL should not oppose the racist march
because “even such a movement on the empty streets of the city of
London facing 8,000 police might not have broken through and
beaten the Nazi marchers”16. The Asian community was deserted
by the SWP.
The Miners’ Strike Of 1984-85 saw miners, their families and their communities fighting for survival against a determined state machine and a militarised police force. The miners had enormous support from miners support groups throughout the country but, of course, the Labour Party and trade union movement refused to give
the miners the support they needed to win. Faced with the refusal of other unions to back them, miners organised hit squads to prevent scabbing by sabotaging scabs’ buses and physically prevent scabs from breaking their strike. The SWP, supporting only legal trade unionism, condemend the hit squads, arguing that “we
are opposed to individuals or groups using violence as a substitute for class struggle” (17) and that “such raids can give trade union officials an excuse not to deliver solidarity” (18).
During the campaign of MASS RESISTANCE TO THE POLL TAX in the late 1980s, the SWP insisted that only the unions would be able to beat the tax. Dismissing the mass non-payment movement in Newcastle, for instance, they said that “In a city like Newcastle the 250 employees in the Finance Department are more powerful than the 250,000 people who have to pay the poll tax” (19). Chris Harman, the current editor of Socialist Worker said at the time that “on the council estates there are drug peddlers, junkies and people claiming houses under false names. These people will complete the registration forms to avoid attention from the council” (20). If the SWP had had their way, there would have been no non-payment campaign and the poll tax would not have been defeated.
In June 2001 Brighton’s refuse workers went to work to find that their employers, the French multinational SITA, had imposed increased workloads that were impossible to deliver. When the the 160-strong workforce protested they were sacked. The workforce occupied the depot.
This is the sort of dispute that makes the left go all wobbly at the knees with paper sellers flocking to the picket lines to tell the workers ‘how to organise’ – and ‘why not join our party while you’re at it.’ But what happened was something entirely different. Within a few hours, people from the Anarchist Tea Pot were down at the depot with food and blankets. Other activists helped design a leaflet with the workers to give out around town.
The next morning, SITA brought in casual employment agency workers to scab against the strike. It didn’t work. Supporters of the Free Party successfully persuaded the agency workers that if they scabbed they wouldn’t be welcome anymore at Brighton free parties! Then someone using good old-fashioned direct action skills locked onto one of the trucks for five hours, preventing the rest from moving. As one striker put it, “This fellow is crazy but what he has done is much appreciated”. Next, activists picketed recruitment agencies that were advertising the sacked refuse collectors jobs – within a few hours they had all pulled out. Thursday morning was spent with scouts on bikes looking for scab trucks while 30 people sat in a park waiting to spring into direct action.
By Thursday evening, SITA had caved in. All the workers were reinstated, getting full pay for the time they were on strike. As GMB official Gary Smith told SchNEWS at the time, “We had enormous public support from the local unemployed centre, direct action people and loads of different communities who are fed up with their services being run for profit. We should take inspiration from this fight, because it shows that when people get together we can stop privatisation in its tracks.”
The Okasional Cafe
Squat cafes and community centres are a great of getting people involved away from the intimidation from the police and authorities that you would expect to get at an action. In Manchester, the Okasional Cafe is a squatted social centre that has been appearing occasionally for the past four years in different buildings around the city. It’s a friendly, accessible place where people can get to know each other, start working together and build up trust. On election day this year, it was the base for a Manchester anti-election day of action with street theatre, free food and music.
More recently, people from the Okasional cafe heard about a film called Injustice dealing with deaths in police custody – wherever the film was due to be shown, the Police Federation would threaten last minute legal action and the cinema would be forced to pull it. Some people from the cafe decided to get in touch with the film makers and offer the squat as an alternative venue in case this happened again. Sure enough, a local cinema was soon forced to pull out of showing the film because of threats of legal action and the Okasional cafe stepped in. Activists shepherded an audience of about 100 around the corner from the cinema to watch the film in the cafe. People who wouldn’t normally come to the cafe were told that they were in a squat and what else was going on there. After the film there was food and a discussion with the families of victims of police killings and the filmmakers about their campaign for justice.
Avin’ It In Haringey
The Haringey Solidarity Group from north London have been involved in radical community organising for years. Originally set up to fight the poll tax, they decided to carry on after the tax was defeated. Since then they have been involved in everything from supporting local workers’ struggles and fighting casualisation to keeping an eye on police surveillance and the exposing the cost of corporate regeneration of the borough.
“We are a group of local people who feel things need changing and we don’t have much faith in politicians and other so called leaders to do it for us. Things will only get better for ordinary people when we decide what is best for us. It is not for some boss or so-called leader to decide what they think we need. We believe in doing things for ourselves wherever possible and we try to encourage others to do likewise.
“We also feel that when ordinary people fight back against the system – be that your boss, the local council or some multi-national company – they need to be supported. So we agreed from the birth of Haringey Solidarity Group onwards that, where possible, we would work with and support local campaigns and try to get them to support us. By this we don’t mean taking over a campaign. We mean sharing skills, giving each other confidence to do things and learning from each other’s successes and failures. People need to feel confident before they can even think of starting to fight back themselves. We know this may be a slow process but it is far better than starting something up and telling people what they must do. We don’t want to just become the new set of leaders.”
Fighting Casualisation The Simon Jones Memorial Campaign
Simon Jones was killed in 1998 on his first day as a casual worker at Shoreham docks – another victim of Britain’s casual labour economy. His death would have been brushed under the carpet like hundreds of others – except this time a campaign of direct action was set up to support Simon’s family’s fight for justice.
The docks where Simon was killed in were shut down, the employment agency that sent him there occupied. When it was clear that nothing was going to get done, the campaign occupied the Department of Trade and Industry, shut down a bridge outside the Health and Safety Executive and blockaded the Crown Proaecution Service. Eventually, the state agreed to prosecute the company involved.
This victory would not have been possible without direct action. Dozens of local union branches gave money to the campaign which they saw as fighting for the most basic union right – the right not to be killed at work. But while union activists kept telling the campaign how they fully supported the campaign’s effective tactics, they also said that they couldn’t do that sort of thing for fear of breaking union laws – they saw the direct action movement as being able to take the action it couldn’t. As one union activist put it, “Nowadays, unions are just too scared to do this sort of stuff. I wish that wasn’t so, but it is. Let’s hope that changes.”
Get Yourself Connected
One way of breaking down barriers and encouraging more cooperation between people is to have a regular get together for different anti-capitalist groups in an area. In Brighton the Rebel Alliance is an irregular get together of the various direct action/non-hierarchical groups in the town. Groups such as SchNEWS, Hell Raising Anarchist Girls, Anarchist Tea Pot, Simon Jones Memorial Campaign, animal rights and permaculture groups, etc are given a couple of minutes to say what they are up to. This allows new people to see what’s happening locally and decide what they want to get involved in. It’s also a great way for everyone to meet people they might not normally come across, exchange information and discuss what’s going on in the big bad world beyond your own campaign or group. Similar stuff happens in London with CItY and in Manchester with the Riotous Assembly, where each meeting has a topic with speakers and films as well.
Hard core activists are probably used to waking up to in-depth discussions about globalisation, so it’s sometimes easy for them to forget that there are few places where new people who don’t happen to be mates with activists already can listen to what we have to say and discuss stuff with people who are involved. You can use these get-togethers as opportunities to discuss fundamental issues – for example the violence/non-violence debate has old political hacks crying into their beer/herbal tea but for new people it might be the first time they’ve had the chance to discuss some of the arguments.
Watching Them Watching Us
We all know that the mainstream corporate media is controlled by people who don’t exactly take kindly to anti-capitalist ideas. We have our own media – hey, you’re reading it! – and there’s never anything stopping people getting together to publish a newsletter, stick up a website or whatever. From small, local newsletters to the worldwide Indymedia sites – the Italian Indymedia site alone was getting over a million hits a day during Genoa – we certainly have ways of getting our message across.
But that doesn’t mean we can avoid the mainstream media altogether. It’s certainly true that journalists can stitch you up, misrepresent what you say and try to make you look like an idiot, and in the past people involved in actions have often refused to have anything to do with the media because of this. The problem is that nowadays our silence is being used by groups like Globalise Resistance and self-promoting academics to speak ‘on our behalf’. So whereas in the past we could often let our actions speak for themselves, it’s now quite important to consider talking to the media – so that someone else doesn’t come along and claim to speak for you.
So how can you get your message across? Well, when Justice? set up a Squatters Estate Agency in Brighton a few years back to advertise local empty property to potential squatters and draw attention to homelessness in the town, there was an incredible media interest. Everyone from Australian TV and the German press to Radio 1 and Newsnight were desperate to hear what was going on. Luckily enough, Justice? had had a media training day a month before, learning how to deal with dodgy interviewers, so were able to prepare for the onslaught quite well. “We got half a dozen of us together, went through the basic points we wanted to make – so many empty homes, so many homeless people, why? – and did the interviews sticking to those points. Because there was a group of us, no one got seized on as leader – and it was great being able to beat MPs and government ministers in discussions by keeping to the basics.” – SchNews: october 2001
A30 Trolls Eviction Progress
Earlier this afternoon the occupants of the `BIG MAMA` tunnel opened negotiations with the Under-sheriff of Devon, Trevor Coleman. His response was to cut our vital communications link with the tunnel occupants, as with the eviction of Trollheim. Despite his assurances at pre-eviction safety meetings, Coleman’s actions centre on confrontation, rather than co-operation – he is not prepared to consider the requests of the tunnelers.
There are five protesters remaining underground. They have requested the disclosure of just one document, relating to the ‘public money – private profit’ A30 which so far has been kept from open scrutiny – it has never been shown to a public enquiry .
An ex-Newbury security guard who joined forces with the A30 protesters was today the last person to be peacefully removed from the trees. The vast majority of security guards who have been spoken to express their understanding and support for our protest, however this man has acted on his beliefs. He has shown his courage and conviction by walking in to our camp three months ago.
We applaud his courage and love him.
a30 action – emergency :
police and undersheriff cut communications link with tunnel in bid to stop opening of negotiations with tunnel dwellers
at 7.10 am on sunday 26th of january the police and sheriffs officers extended the cordon around the area being evicted to an extraordinary mile square area. as a part of this process they have removed pp3 the protesters communications centre (the only safety link to the tunnels). this is in breach of all the assurances given by the undersheriff in pre eviction safety meetings. it is preventing monitoring of the situation in the tunnel.
despite these actions against us we were able to issue a set of demands which if met will mean the occupiers of `big mama` will cease the peaceful protest. we are attempting to resolve this through dialogue despite the undersheriffs bully boy tactics.
26 January 1997 09:00 GMT
We the occupiers of the ‘Big Mama’ at Fairmile on the route of the proposed A30 Bypass hereby state that we will cease our peaceful sit-in if the following demands are met:-
That all documentation relating to this “Design, Build, Finance, Operate” – public money – private profit road be made public so that they can be scrutinised by all.
That the traffic highways agency reveal all the financial details of this road to full public scrutiny, particularly the system of payment known as shadow tolling. Which we believe will mean that the more traffic that contractors induce onto the road, the greater the profits will be for the contractors and their financiers the ‘Bank of America’. This could land the taxpayer with a bill of over 200 million pounds in thirty years time (this prediction is based on the D.O.T’s own growth figures!)
That possible infringements of the 1765 Enclosures Act protecting Hedgerows are reviewed publicly.
That the breaching of the 1992 Badger Protection Act by this eviction is delared publicly by the Highways Agency, the CONNECT consortium, and by the Undersheriff of Devon Trevor Coleman.
That all building and destruction of this road be ceased until an unbiased and open public enquiry into the use of the Design, Build, Finance, Operate scheme in the building of this road is held.
That what is left of this beautiful place is preserved until after a public enquiry or judicial review of the previously secret information.
All the information that we wish to be made public and scrutinised is contained in the contract signed between the Secretary of State for Transport and the CONNECT consortium on the 24th of July 1996. This document contains the only claim CONNECT has ever had on this land, which has never been made public or reviewed by any previous enquiry.
It is a small demand to make that the public be allowed to review one contract upon which all of this destruction is based. Why is the Highways Agency keeping it secret????
We will leave the tunnel system if the above demands are met by representitives of CONNECT and the Highways Agency releasing all the documents and ceasing work immediately followed by a statement sworn in front of the media saying they will hold a fresh public enquiry.
It is now 39 hours into the eviction of the camp at Fairmile and up to 25 protestors have been arrested. Many have been taken down from the trees peacefully and released without charge, one person has been taken to hospital and the latest news is that she is comfortable and in good spirits.
The main tunnel system is still holding well. The potholing access team have just breached the main entrance after 30 of slow painstaking work, as of writing none of the undergrounders have been removed.
There have been several arrests this morning for attempting to breach the cordon and protestors have also been arrested for sitting up trees outside the cordone and released without charge, one person has been taken to hospital and the latest news is that she is comfortable and in good spirits.
The main tunnel system is still holding well. The potholing access team have just breached the main entrance after conditions, along with increased security activity around the sett obviously heightens our concerns for the badgers and we are asking Chief Inspector Dale to explain why, after requesting a meeting, they have now arrested our negotiating team.
At 10p.m. on Thursday 23rd January Trevor Coleman, the Under Sheriff of Devon, in collaboration with the Connect consortium comprising of The Bank of America, Balfour Beatty, Philip Holzman Associates and WS Atkins, moved in to destroy our 2 year old community of resistance at Fairmile on the route of the proposed private profit A30 Bypass.
Due to half an hours advance warning the residents were in position in the network of underground tunnels and in the aerial tree village.
Twenty four hours into this forced eviction, the atmosphere amongst the protesters is jubilant. Protesters still inhabit the trees. The extensive tunnel network known as “Big Mama” is holding strong. The forces of darkness have failed to penetrate its inner defences, despite working all day.
A protracted siege has commenced with double coils of razor wire being laid between two fences cordoning off the camp and police dogs being used to deter entrance. These actions are compromising the safety of everyone in the area. Despite this high numbers of protesters have breached the cordon.
This morning security guards trampled over an area containing the badger sett. Tubes were inserted into the sett and the area has now been fenced off. Possible breaches of the Badgers Act 1992 are being documented and investigated. Impartial observers have been denied access.
Arrests so far have been kept down to seven, the majority of whom have already been released. Morale is good
The use of police for the third time to back up the interests of an American bank and consortium of multinationals is a sad comment on their impartiality. The dubious financing of this development through the Design Build Finance Operate scheme is the start of privatisation of road ownership in this country. The Connect Consortium foot the bill for construction and maintenance and then get paid back over 30 years on the basis of “shadow tolling” : the Government pays per vehicle that uses the road. In order for DBFOs to be profitable the Connect Consortium therefore must encourage vehicles to use its roads through development of adjacent land and discouraging public transports even, the majority of whom have already been released. Morale is good
The use of police for the third time to back up the interests of an American bank and consortium of multinationals is a sad comment on their impartiality. The dubious financing supported the Road Traffic Reduction Bill, conceding to the pressure and arguments long advanced by the roads protest movement.
Destruction Commences At Fairmile Protest Camp
At 10 p.m. on Thursday 23rd of January Trevor Coleman Undersheriff of Devon in collaboration with the Connect consortium comprising of The Bank of America, Balfour Beatty, Philip Holzman Associates and Ws Atkins, moved in to destroy the 2 year old community of resistance at Fairmile on the route of the proposed private profit A30 Bypass.
Due to half an hour advanced warning the residents where in position in the underground network of tunnels and the aerial tree village.
The privately hired professional climbers took advantage of the darkness to blindly cut rope access walkways at heights exceeding 50 ft and police where used to shine lights in to the eyes of protesters who where not wearing safety harnesses. During this period a protester did fall and was not attended to by medics for over five minutes. Luckily she is not seriously injured.
The police have formed a cordon around the site and have been using dogs in the area. Despite this at least 12 more protesters have been able to breach the surrounded area and get up the trees to join their colleagues. The police are not allowing the independent legal observers the opportunity to watch the proceedings.
After the initial haphazard attempts to remove people from the emplacements the police appear to be content with their closing of the area and appear to be waiting till first light for the eviction to fully commence.
The fact that the police are being used for the third time to back up the interests of an American bank is sad comment on their commitment to any form of justice. Despite this the residents will non-violently resist the destruction of their homes and our common heritage.
Trollheim – is under attack!!!!
Around 10pm on Thursday 13 January the Under Sheriff’s men, assisted by hired in climbers, police and dog handlers swooped on the camp attempting to seize the camp by surprize. The climbers cut aerial walkways in the darkness – an action considered to be dangerous by a spokesman for the protestors. One protestor fell but is not thought to be seriously injured.
A police cordon was thrown around the camp awaiting first light to begin removing those in the trees and in the labyrinthine tunnels under the ground.
Spirits remain high as those locked-on to their tree houses exchanged calls of support with those outside the cordon.
As one of the Under Sheriff’s men said to a local: “You have to admire their ingenuity!
Press and independant observers are on site, a full press release about this latest attack by the forces of destruction will follow later …..
13 Jan 1997:
Issued by the department of trollheim on the 13th of january 1997.
independent free state of trollheim
Safety of Trolls severely endangered by the actions of the Balliffs
The manner in which the Bailiffs conducted themselves at the eviction of Trollheim questions the stated intention to evict the A30 protest all safely and professionally. What follows is a detailed account of the Bailiffs treatment of the Trolls.
Heavy machinery was brought up to the edge of the fort almost immediately causing major vibrations shifting shoring and causing cave-ins. This was dismissed as not a cause for concern by the authorities. It was only the high standards of construction methods used by the Trolls that averted an immediate disaster. Legal observers were refused admittance and one, present in Trollheim when they arrived was ejected.
All subterranean protesters cited examples of excessive force being used to gain access, causing shoring and ceilings to begin collapsing in one instance despite assurances from those below that they would leave peacefully and open exits at dawn. Bailiffs ignored pleas to slow down and proceed with caution. One protester was threatened with a beating whilst locked on if he didn’t release himself. Machinery was used in a number of instances in close proximity to protesters without safety equipment being provided. Protesters were removed by wrists or ankles handcuffed to ropes and dragged out from the surface.
They gained access to the main tunnel by forcing the door so violently that shoring began to disintegrate. All three occupants agreed leave peacefully at first light, at approximately an hour and a half before dawn. This request was denied and ventilator pipes were cut. The Under Sheriff claimed that they had installed their own ventilation system at this point, which is untrue. Two protesters were then removed on ropes using unnecessary force. In the process of their eviction shoring and walls were destroyed, communications channels were cut and all food and water was removed. The third protester who was locked on was tied up by the ankles and then pulled by three bailiffs from the surface to establish that he was unable to release. They then left him stretched out unable to move on a taut rope for half an hour.
The presence of a doctor brought in to monitor a suspected unconscious protester made the difference between life and death. The doctor arrived and assessed the situation. He ordered the immediate installation of vents, oxygen, communication channels and the reshoring of the tunnel. He described the behaviour of the bailiffs as “like %$*ing animals”. We think that the bailiffs behaviour is an insult to the animal kingdom. Someone or something was looking out for us but it certainly wasn’t the Under Sheriff and his men.
Independent Free State Of Trollheim Is Laid Siege To By The Combined Forces Of The Undersheiff’s Office And The Police.
At 3:30am a contingent of 150 specially trained police officers accompanied the Undersheriff and his men in an attempt to catch the fort by surprise Forward Intelligence had enabled the Trolls to have one last cup of tea and still be locked on in underground defences when they arrived, thwarting any chance of a speedy eviction.
All legal observers were removed from the fort under treat of arrest and heavy machinery was swiftly brought in threatening the safety of the Trolls below ground. The fort was breached and partially destroyed to allow access. People are now being removed from any lock-ons but it is far from over.
The mood at the fort is calm as can be possibly expected. The absence of a private security force and the high numbers of police involved must bring into question the financing of the evictions. Can Devon and Cornwall police afford this operation? Why did the Connect Consortium not send Security to assist? Who is paying for the excessive policing at the protest camps?
We, the Trolls, use no violence in the defence of this land but are passively and peacefully resisting eviction. We do this not because we are brave or foolish but because we have to.
We are driven to these extreme measures by a Government who enforces an outmoded transport policy, privately funded by the Bank of America, with its catastrophic environmental effects, onto the people of the Westcountry. This road is part of a greater scheme, the London to Penzance trunk road. This is no more likely to bring long-lasting prosperity and quality of life to the area than all other road development schemes to the Westcountry.
It is time that the Government began to listen to it’s people, to be truly accountable for this land to once again be ruled by the people and all life that this earth sustains. We cannot deny nature for we are part of it. To destroy our natural habitat is to destroy ourselves.
Viva the Motherland! May the Land become Green again by our efforts. Long may the Trolls fight on in the forces of destruction. 12th of january 1997.
ALLERCOMBE IS EVICTED – Friday 27 December 1996
Bailiffs arrive as the site sleeps. All the trees are cut down. 2 arrests are made, one for aggravated trespass, one for previous warrants.
As suspected, the Sheffield climbers who helped in the Newbury evictions are down here, again helping with the evictions.
We need as many people to come down as possible – please, please give any support you can.
Thursday 12 December 1996:
Police prevent contractors from taking a bulldozer to Allercombe, on the grounds that they would be in contempt of court.
Sunday 8 December 1996:
An argument breaks out in the campaign HQ about who has eaten the most chocolate biscuits.
Monday 2 December 1996:
Contractors begin digging near Brickyard, where a lot of work was carried out last year. They claimed the digging was for archeological purposes. A small compound has been built to support this work.
Thursday 28 November 1996:
Around 150 police plus security arrive at 7:30 am to guard a demolition team as they destroy a house on route, at Gittisham, just outside Honiton. Police and riot vans have also been spotted near the camps.
Wednesday 27 November 1996:
Contractors begin building an access route behind Fairmile.
Tuesday 26 November 1996:
Soil testing is carried out by contractors, guarded by around 60 police.
Monday 25 November 1996:
Protesters meet with Fire and Ambulance workers to discuss health and safety. The Under Sheriff would not attend, saying he would speak to the protesters in his own time and not before. The meeting discussed the damage done to the tunnel ventilation systems and the communication wires on Friday. These wires, which allow people in the tunnels to communicate with people on the surface, have already saved one life. The ventilation systems were tampered with while there were protesters in the tunnels.
The protesters consider the Under Sheriff’s attitude to health and safety to be highly dangerous and urge him to meet with them to discuss these issues.
Friday 22 November 1996:
After a period of quiet, police and bailiffs today visited all three sites to deliver 48hrs notice for protesters to leave the land. It is reported that tunnel ventilation systems at Fairmile were damaged and tunnel entrances were spat in. The Undersheriff is refusing to speak to protesters about health and safety…
Wednesday 5 November 1996:
All quiet on the road protest front, but…
Police harrassment of the Dongas continues. Having been evicted from Fairmile on Wednesday 9 October under Section 61 of the CJA, the Dongas were today evicted from land on Dartmoor. The police arrived late this afternoon with horse-boxes ready to take the animals and social workers ready to take the children. The Dongas were given one hour to get off the land. With horses this is simply not possible.
Fortunately, a very helpful local land-owner happened to be driving past at the time. She allowed the Dongas to camp on her land. We’re all very grateful to this lady for her help and would like to thank her for helping the Dongas out of this totally unfair situation.
Monday 4 November 1996:
A digger digs a 12 foot pit behind Trollheim to do soil tests. Protesters sit in the pit as the contractors try to fill it back in. A cherry-picker is seen driving along the A30 with a police escort.
Friday 1 November 1996:
Surveying takes place on route.
Saturday 26 October 1996:
20 police search the home of AAA’s Jim Cauty for explosives. Cauty is arrested under suspicion of possessing a sonic weapon, but is later released without being charged.
Police and riot police arrive at Trollheim and load the saracens onto a low-loader. Protesters try to prevent the low-loader from leaving with the tanks by lying in the road in front of it. The riot police move in and a 16 year old girl is injured. The saracens are impounded.
Cauty later tells press he has no regrets and considers AAA’s operation a success.
Wednesday 23 October 1996:
The new Fluff Central camp is evicted by 6 van loads of police and a van load of security guards under Section 61 of the CJA.
Monday 21 October 1996:
A large amount of police activity is noted around the camps and on the A30.
Local TV news broadcasts interviews with local residents complaining about the noise from the new AAA sound system. Do these people not realise they’re about to build a road?
Saturday 19th October 1996 :
A30 Action and A.A.A.
(Formerly the K Foundation, formerly the K.L.F.) As of 2300 hrs 19.10.96 the armoured division of the A.A.A. Formation Attack Ensemble established a front line defensive position at the Trollheim Hill Fort, Fairmile, Devon, in collaboration with A30 Action in defence of the threatened trees, badgers and some insects.
At dawn on 21.10.96, the Triple A will activate their S.Q.U.A.W.K. 9000 sonic device in response to any offensive action taken on behalf of the Connect consortium.
The autonomous communities of Fairmile, Trollheim and Allercombe have resisted the soul destroying consumer nightmare of the private profit A30 through a 2 year campaign of Non-Violent Direct Action. Now armed with the 2 Saracen armoured personnel carriers both loaded with 15 Kilowatt Soundsystems and weighing over 10 tons they intend to dance in the face of the legions of destruction.
You Are Strongly Advised To Attend The Eviction Party Will Begin On Monday The 21st Of October
Wednesday 16th October 1996:
Protesters disrupt a meeting of solicitors, bailiffs, senior police, a representative of the climbers and the Under Sheriff at Michealmores Solicitors in Exeter. Police arrive quickly and one arrest is made.
Monday 14th October 1996:
Protesters stage a sit-in at the Exeter offices of W.S.Atkins, a Consultant Engineering company involved in planning the new A30. No arrests were made, but a protester’s camera was snatched.
Friday 11th October 1996:
Court rules that Fairmile camp may be evicted at any time, except for the land occupied by one caravan. A final court case on Tuesday 15th October will decide the fate of this land.
Thursday 10th October 1996:
Eviction order is granted for Trollheim, so the fort may now be evicted at any time. However, local farmers fail to get a possession order on the unoccupied land surrounding the fort.
Wednesday 9th October 1996:
At 8 am 120 police arrive and, under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice Act, give the Dongas tribe 4 hours to leave the field between Fairmile and Trollheim where they have been camping. At 12 pm the Dongas are escorted off the land by the police.
Meanwhile a digger is used to flatten the paintball center behind Trollheim, guarded by Pinkerton’s Security and a police cordon.
Tuesday 8th October 1996:
Allercombe lose the court case. Eviction could legally begin at any time.
Friday 27 September 1996:
Final eviction notices received. Protesters told to appear in Exeter High Court on the following days:
Allercombe – 8 October, 10 a.m.
Trollheim – 10 October, 2 p.m.
Fairmile – 11 October, 2 p.m.
Eviction could legally begin immediately after the court cases.
These dates are just two days after Fairmile and Allercombe’s second birthday, the 5/6th of October. There will be a party at Fairmile on Saturday 5th October.
Tuesday 17 September 1996:
Notice received instructing protesters to vacate all three camps by Sunday 22nd September 1996. This means we expect to receive legal papers on Monday 23rd September.
Global Street Party
reports on Global Street Party Berkeley, Lancaster, Estonia & more from Prague & Birmingham
Here’s one (of 8,000!) impressions of Brum 98:
Well, that selection of the fattest of the cats, the leaders of the eight most heavily industrialised nation-states on the planet were no match for the combined intimidatory power of the Global Street Party and the more sedate but more numerous Jubilee 2000 human chain. The news that Tony Blair was to lead his band of international ne’er-do-wells and their vast battalions (ie. hairdressers, jokewriters, media sycophants, spin doctors etc) of cronies to a sumptuous, secluded rural retreat to better ponder the perils of international crime…made absolutely no difference to the 60,000 or so who had a point to make that Saturday afternoon. When the polite but impassioned plea of the 50,000 debt relief human chainers had subsided, an altogether wilder and less conciliatory note began to be heard from the region of New Street Station, as pulses sped and sweating clowns were spotted making ready to laugh in the face of the G8 in the adrenalised melee.
Then suddenly at 4.30 the crowd (by now about 8,000) felt a tug towards the waiting road, and the reclamatory hordes poured onto the Bull Ring roundabout, the waiting police looking on powerlessly. A huge circle of tarmac surrounding a sunken market place was brought to a standstill as the partygoers revelled in their new freedom of the open road. For at least half an hour it was uncertain what would be our territory for the rest of the night. One tripod went up and came back down along with its occupant; another stayed up only to find itself stranded behind a police line; another staked our territory successfully, marking an endpoint beyond which all that could be seen were the hundreds of police vans from all over the country containing riot gear patiently waiting to be donned. Eventually we laid claim to half the circle and got down to the party.
A bangin’ techno sound system encased this time inside a private car provided the bulk of the entertainment while at the fringes fire was eaten and odd passages of unamplified music were heard occasionally. A second system and various other props couldn’t make it through the police lines. Nifty lamppost scalers had soon decorated and contextualised the space with banners reading ‘Protest is Hope’ (underneath the G8 Joker), ‘Beneath the Tarmac the Grass’, a huge red kitelike masterpiece with floating yellow tassles bearing the names of all the global street parties, and of course not forgetting that old favourite: ‘Reclaim the Streets’. Other banners, like ‘Local Vibes Not Global Lies’ for instance, didn’t make it up.
Boxes of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber, some brought up to the road by market traders, became slapstick weapons, sailing through the air into police lines (on the odd occasion they were accurately aimed.) When twenty policemen moved in apparently to remove the sound system they found more resistance than their superior officer had obviously expected, and beat a hasty retreat. One slightly less hasty P.C found himself the recipient of an unexpected gift from a nimble clown: a perfectly baked and perfectly aimed custard pie. It’s doubtful whether he’ll be regaling his grandchildren with the tale of his long, dignified walk back to the safety of the police line, half his face immaculately smeared in creamy custard.
As dusk began to fall the party continued full pelt (as it were), some determined to have a good time in their temporary autonomous zone, others equally determined to have ‘discussions’ with by-now riot geared-up law enforcement types. A white car abandoned hours before became the object of some fairly intense scrutiny, so intense in fact that it ended up on its back, but not incinerated. (The crowd was split between those who wanted to build a funeral pyre to car culture, and those who were worried either about safety or the impression it would send out.)
The Stars + Stripes and the Union Jack made a pretty pair as they were ceremonially torched atop a bus-stop. Then when it came time to depart for pastures new (ie. a local club), our seasoned diplomats negotiated with the police, the result being the safe passage out of the sound system. Thus the blessed system was slowly escorted off site and across town by over a 1000 people, all the way to the pre-arranged after-party party venue. That this procession departed unscathed by riot police was a real example of the power of determined citizens over a pushy police presence.
So at the club the celebrations went on until dawn. Press coverage was, needless to say, only concerned with occasional outbreaks of conflict with the police, and chose to ignore the significnce of the days’ conclusive acts of transnational resistance both in Brum and clear across the planet. Anyway, the stomach-turning sight of the G8 leaders joining together for a chorus of ‘All You Need Is Love’ close by that evening was more than made up for by the heart-warming vision of Birmingham – not to mention 37 other towns and cities in 22 other countries – reclaimed.
& more from Berkeley, Lancaster, Berlin & Prague
The San Francisco Bay Area’s first Reclaim the Streets action took place just across the bay in Berkeley and it was a great success. By my estimate, about four hundred people met at the downtown BART (subway) station. We began the march as a single group and, as we moved along split into two groups, one on bikes and one on foot.
The cops were confused but very helpful. They blocked roads for us and generally stayed on the sidelines. When we got to the site (after a masterful bait and switch manuver) We proceeded to party for several hours. There was a DJ, fire eaters, free food, a little beer, a lot of pot. Aside from the testosterone brigade who seemed to enjoy smashing TV’s and setting a noxious bonfire, the atmosphere was celebratory and fun.
The cops moved in only to put out the fire, then moved back to the sidelines. Very cool. They even went up into an apartment building and stopped people from tossing water balloons on our heads! The cops in San Francisco need to take a lesson from these guys. San Francisco is next!
About 40-60 people went down from Lancaster, but as lots of individual groups, so we didn’t really meet up.
We got to New Street station about 10 past 4, and stood around, joining in lots of woohoooing, and trying to spot the coolest costume.
The RTS finally (spontaneously, it seems) ‘set off’ at about 5pm, the roundabout right outside the station was taken, and a fair amount of duel carrigeway (I think, I’me not good on types of road) also. Tripods and banners went up, and the Police tried to push back the amount of duel carrige way taken, with some success. A game of volley ball was started up, and a sound system ‘appeared’ out of a ‘people carrier’ type vehicle and played a cool trance –> techno –> hard stuff –> drum and bass set, making the lower part of the roundabout jam packed with people throughout the afternoon. Druming, started out all over the place, and eventually congregated on one side of the duel carrigeway.
Paint and foam was everywhere, and a car which got stranded at the junction was slowly ‘decomposed’ throughout the day. The bumble bee cafe delt out yummy food, and things were generally hunky dory. Their was a huuuge police presence throughout the day, often 3 or 4 lines deep. Towards the bottom part of the roundabout someone got pulled off a sign (after spraying it), and some stuff got thrown. After that, all the police at that end word head gear, which later progressed to full riot gear around 8ish. Other police were generally friendly, and listened to our ideas.
Towards 9 o’clock, the feeling of the crowd seemed to be that people were readly to move off, and the sound system tried to escape around one side of the roundabout, but failed. Around this time, their was a bit of pushing between the riot police down the bottom end of the roundabout and a couple of people got trunchioned. However, this was nothing like a riot, which some of the local papers claimed on sunday. The sound system turned round and headed off up the empty side of the duel carridgeway, with everybody crowding round it.
The police put up an extremely futile effort to stop people, with just two lines on that side of the road. They constantly moved backwards as the people moves forwards, and a few bottles were thrown, but none did any damage to either side. Everyone walked up round the side of the city centre to a club, where the sound system was unloaded, and people went inside, or dispersed.
Don’t know what happened to any people left over after the sound system went – report anyone?
Hi there here is Prague!
Its 14:00 and over 3000 people are having fun on the first action on this kind ever!!! , 4 soundsystems, 20 DJs, fireshow, break dance, puppet show, drums, infos, life music…Its 18:20 and 3000 people are spointainly and without any organisation goin to the main road in Prague. After 30 minutes around 30 policeman are blocking road trying to stop 3000 people…RIOT starts. Policemans untill 22:30 hours didnt have change. 6 police car destroyed, Mcdonalds and KFC + one skinhead shop broked. 22 policemans in the hospital, 64 erested, police brutality this are the results of first and the worst riots in Prague for past 10 years.
on the 16th of may also in berlin we had a rts-party on a road crossing in the center of berlin, 150 meters from Alexanderplatz (main square of east-berlin). We had a group of approx. 800 walking demonstrants and 150 people with bycicles divided in two groups. all 3 groups came together in the same moment at the party site. a huge soundsystem (made by the berlin group “radikal rave”) and a quite big drum group made the music, people brought more drums and stuff like chairs etc., danced, smoked, drank, played volleyball, chess, artistical stuff and so on. People were in a very good mood and now everybody is encouraged to go on.
As after the riot scenes on the 1st-of-May-demonstrations in berlin there was quite a big media campaign against police violence (you know that in berlin we have an army general as minister for inner affairs, the worst guy you can imagine for this job – he wants a clean capital) and that must be why we were like left in peace there. We had “only” 3 people arrested and a handful of people were hit by policemen. Two other reasons for the peace were there: Police didn’t know about our plans (we were quite well organized for the first time. Everybody knew only what he had to know – for example i don’t know if someone else is writing a report to you) and for the first time we didn’t choose one of the very big squares. Next time it’ll be bigger…
Czech republic Street Party violence
We would like to inform you about the situation in the Czech republic in terms of the police violence against demonstraters at the Global Street Party 98 which was held in Prague on 16 May. 3 000 people came to enjoy the GSP and in the evening hours went to march in streets of Prague. They blocked traffic in the trunk roud which cuts through Prague almost in the centre.
The first confrontation with police appeard when a line of 28 policemen tried to stop the march by using truncheons without asking people to disperse. Policemen were driven back and nobody was seriously injured. The next incident happend when a police car drove into the crowd at high speed. The demonstraters turned it upside down but didn’t attack the policemen inside. The march was dissolved by organizers of GSP in front of the town hall. However, 300 people continued marching into the city centre where new confrontations occured. In that time police already had enough men and equipment to stop the demonstrants, nevertheless they didn’t use it. After that shop windows of Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonaldo, butcher’s and fashion shop (whose owner support fashist skinhead’s movement) were broken. Just about 30 people including few provocateurs were smashing windows and the rest of people (150) was just watching it. Police started to act about 9 p. m., in time when riots men over. The police attack was so hard and brutal that even the Czech public was shocked. It has to be added that because of late police intervention no ,radicals” were present at that time. 64 people were detained including 22 those younger than 18 and 13 women. During the police action inocent people (who were just walking around) were also beaten. All detainers were beaten, mistreated and humiliated until morning hours. Injured people were taken to hospital where beating continued even in presence of physicians. All these people were interrogated, however police refused to give them copies of the interrogation. 25 people were accused of criminal offences and 10 of them were 14 days in the detention (one man is still there). Those people (in the detention) were beaten so much that police refused public and media to contact with them. Most of them are about 18 years old. Responsible institutions and the minister for inner affairs still claim that the intervention was adequate. All organizations involved in human rights in the Czech republic have made statements that treaties about human rights were infringed. It is evident that the imprisoned demonstraters weren’t beaten because of commiting any crime (what is also inadmissible) but for their political beliefs. State institutions reacted by proposing to create a special police comando of 500 men trained against this kind of demonstrations. The next step done by the police was accusing me, as one of the organisators of the GSP, of alleged destroying the bilboard with the portrait of Miroslav Sládek (the leader of the republican party with rasist and fashist manifestations). On 26. May I was detained for 30 hours and was unable to me to participate in a TV programme about anarchism. I was released just because of interventions of few NGOs, Czech TV and some noted personalities. Now I am try and there is a possibility to convicted me to 2 years to prison. The intimidation of other activists still continues and we wait that more people will be accused. In my opinion the Czech republic has excluded itself from the community of democratic countries after mass emigration of Gipsies because of their discrimination and racial attacks (more than 20 dead people), brutal police attack against demonstrations and attacks in autonom clubs without punishing the responsible funkcionaries. With regard to our desperate situation (we haven’t enough money to paying lawyers, the conection with you is possible only thanksgiving one organization, which send us a computer and modem…) we apply for your help. If you are able, please, take actions in front of the Czech ambassy in your country, mail them, inform NGOs and people about our situation. Or if you are able to make a benefit concert or give us some financial support for imprisoned and prosecuted activists, we will be really obliged to you.
the spokesman of Rainbow Keepers Czech republic
Squat party in Tuffnell Park
It got broken up by those lovely chaps with batons and riot shields… I think it was a USystems bash and my mates systems were supposed to be playing although I couldn’t find them coz I was mashed and talking bollocks to anyone and everyone…was anyone arrested or beaten up ? I got there about 12 and we had to go over some gardens at the back of the place to get in coz the police had blocked the front off…things proceeded as they normally do…and then later on all of a sudden there were loads of them all around me and they pushed me around with their shields and out onto the road…there were loads of people on the street outside…bottles started landing around us…and we were pushed down to kentish town by a road wide row of police…
I’ve been at this lark for a long time now and been in some of the darkest smelliest squat parties but its been along time since the police were worried about it (parkway is the last I can think of…and they let that go on after taking the system)…is this a premonition of whats going to be going on this summer…pretty shitty if it is…
But I really don’t think so. I reckon the police had prior knowledge of the event taking place. I’m not sure how you get 50-100 odd policemenin riot gear and dogs that quickly unless they knew it was going to
Also, the venue was a bit too residential, people have had parties there before and have had hassle with the police.
How they got notice of the event is another matter. We should always make sure when talking about parties on the net that we don’t let the address of the venue be known too early.
I wasn’t there but I know a lot of people who were. They basically said that the police were very eager to start something, jeering, coming up really close and snarling “want to try something?”, etc., but the partygoers for the most part were being very reasonable, calm and not letting the police get what they wanted (i.e. violence). This, I think resulted in a very good news report on Channel One News (London Cable TV station).
It was more or less totally on the side of the party people. It went on more or less about “Excessive force”, “people turning up expecting to dance not fight”, local residents saying stuff like “Dunno what all the fuss was about”, etc. There were loads of shots from people being calm and the police being very aggressive. There were even some interviews with some partygoers telling their side of the story.
If we can keep violence down to a minimum when competing with police tactics we might just get more news reports like this and may help swing public opinion our way.
Pity the party got stopped though! Still, there were at least three others that I knew of.
We come to Stonehenge
We come to Stonehenge because in an unstable world it is proper that people should look for stability to the past order to learn for the future…. The evidence is indisputable that Stonehenge and the surrounding area is one of the most powerful spiritual areas in Europe, It is right that we should meekly stand in the presence of God, but it is proper that we should sing and dance and shout for joy for the love and mercy that He shows us….. We would not run a road through Stonehenge and given our way, it would soon be removed. A very important part of the monument is now a tarmac car park, ugly to behold. We would not surround it with barbed wire and arc lamps… Holy land is Holy land and our right to be upon it cannot be denied.”
What could have been a peaceful street party was turned into an aggressive show of force by over 250 police, many in riot gear, who utilised massive resources (including a helicopter and dogs) to stop the party going ahead. Instead, the police did their best to elicit a violent reaction from the good natured crowd, with confrontation seemingly their primary objective (perhaps they needed the arrests to justify such a ridiculously high presence).
If this show of force was intend to stifle the demonstration or coerce the protestors into giving up, it failed miserably as the protest went mobile instead, blocking off several major streets including the promenade.
The crowd clapped and sang along to those darn ‘repetitive beats’ supplied by several of Brighton’s famous beach drummers until the police decided to react with an unprovoked and astonishing show of aggression. Suddenly lines of police dressed in full riot gear charged their way into the crowd and began to drag the drummers to the ground and arrest them (what for? drumming?). Things quickly turned very ugly.
Officers were wielding long-arm truncheons as protestors (of all ages) scrambled to get away from this unprovoked violence. I was sickened and depressed. Why do they feel the need to do this?
The crowd eventually moved on round the back streets of Brighton, where I saw one of the most senseless, stupid and downright dangerous acts I’ve ever witnessed. Suddenly, a gold Rolls Royce drove straight at the body of the protestors as they walked along the quiet road. Driving into the crowd at over thirty miles an hour, people had to literally jump for their lives as he swerved and weaved his way past the terrified onlookers. It is truly nothing short of a miracle that no-one was killed. Oh? And what did the police do? They let him through of course….
We tried complaining and asking why they hadn’t arrested him after endangering so many lives and they simply replied that ‘they couldn’t care less’.
When we left the demo, we felt sufficiently demoralised by the whole affair. They could have let them have a party in the town where people could have had a good time, danced to some music and made their political point peacefully. Instead, we witnessed an afternoon of aggression and confrontation which quite probably resulted in far worse street congestion.
Later on, we took a stroll up the windswept pier and watched in horror as we saw some half drunk lad one starting to drown in the heavy seas. Before we could react we saw a white haired fifty year old man risk his life to pull out the drowning lad, and quite probably save his life.
He’d come straight off the demo, and returned afterwards. Said it all really…..
In spite of a massive police operation, aided by the Essex Police helicopter, several dog sections, Suffolk and Norfolk Cops and under the watchful gaze of the Forward Intelligence Team (plainclothes and on their shiny new mountain bikes) over 1,000 people successfully reclaimed Mill Road in Cambridge for six sunny hours on Saturday 14th September. They turned one of the city’s most congested roads into a free party zone. Local residents were supportive with many askingwhen the next one was going to be. Police managed to intercept one of the tripods but made the mistake of trying to bring charges of theft against the tripod team, when the scaffold poles were actually legal. The other tripod was successfully raised and was soon followed by a crowd that had gathered at the railway station. A thin blue line held them back for a few minutes but a strong surge broke through. Drummers and two sound systems then kept the party going for the whole afternoon, with several hundred out-manoeuvred cops just standing by and watching. The sounds went off at 6.30pm and most people then left. Around forty people resisted the police line which was then blocking most exits and trying to clear the residue of the party instead of waiting for them to leave of their own accord. A typical over-reaction by the police yet again as they all changed into full riot gear. The riot cops then spent about the next hour baton charging the forty all the way to the ring road, while locals looked on bemused.
Cambridge police just couldn’t resist a macho show of force after losing the day to RTS – even the local MP is making a complaint to the Cambridge Chief Constable. Tally for the day was thirty-eight arrests. A defence campaign for those arrested is now being formed, with the prospect of suing for unlawful arrest.
Our Reclaim the Streets on June 8 went really well. It took place on a major road in the residential inner city of Highfields. Locally-based activists and other residents made up at least 3/4 of the 500-strong crowd which blocked Evington Road for the street party. The event had a really strong community feel to it.
Despite a police helicopter scouring the area initially, and van-fulls of party saboteurs loitering with intent to be miserable, we successfully set up three tripods at the location and were joined by a critical mass and the march. Four hours of asphalt partying was followed by a celebratory march to Victoria Park where activists danced on the grass and in the trees until midnight.
The local Leicester Mercury newspaper, which has a huge ciculation, had a mixed news article on the following Monday June 9, with the headline “Car-culture protest ‘irresponsible’ – police” concerning the ‘risk’ to public safety and potential problems with emergency access. But the photos clearly showed the street party atmosphere: sofas, carpets, a paddling pool, and dancing in the street with crowds thronging Evington Road.
The Leicester Mercury of course has a regular ‘Driving Force’ motoring section, but as there is also public sympathy with anti-car protest they allowed us to write a 500 word piece about Reclaiming the Streets and cities for people which was published last Friday June 13, virtually unedited. They pointed out that the protest was illegal as we didn’t notify the police beforehand, and initiated a phone-vote on the issue: ‘Were the Reclaim the Streets protesters right?’ – Yes or No – and are encouraging letters. Spot interviews in the street showed full support for what we did except for one woman who said there was too much traffic but that blocking the street is the wrong way to make a point. And the result of the phone vote was: Yes 66% and No 34%. We won! And the debate is still going on in the letters page.
Repair the Streets – The Taking of the M41
‘We are not going to demand anything.
We are not going to ask for anything.
We are going to take.
We are going to occupy.”
Billed as a “Festival Of Resistance” and “the only ‘party’ worth having”, London Reclaim The Streets third street party lived up to its promises. At its height upwards of eight thousand people occupied the M41 near Shepherds Bush transforming the country’s smallest motorway into the ‘biggest, freest, most spectacular street party yet!’
Thousands of partygoers had gathered at Broadgate near Liverpool Street only minutes past the 12 noon meeting time on Saturday 13th July. Leaflets were distributed asking people to “follow those with pink armbands” and to “expect the unexpected”. At 12.30pm word spread that it was time to go and a three hundred strong Critical Mass set off, while the main group, aided by undercover organisers, moved underground to the westbound Central Line. Fourteen stops and six packed tube trains later the crowd emerged at Shepherds Bush, where the police, until this point content with surveillance, blocked off the entrance to the M41 roundabout. Some people, unsure if this was the actual site, began partying here.
At the opposite end of the motorway the blockade crew, aware that people had arrived, decided to go for it. Outmanoeuvring police spotters they made it onto the road. Two cars were theatrically crashed to block the road and three tripods were erected across the southbound carriageway. At the foot of the convoy two sound system vehicles drove on, chased by dozens of police on foot. In what was possibly the scariest moment of the day, the vehicles were surrounded on an empty motorway. The drivers were pulled out and arrested by smug police officers, certain that they had stopped the party.
But the police had under-estimated the creativity of the crowd. Hearing that the road had been taken people began finding alternative ways onto it. Like a river breaking through a dam, the trickle grew into a flood. One large group walked far around the police line, coming up from behind and simply running past it onto the street! Others found ways through back streets and climbed onto the road further up.
At the blockade, those not already arrested had clambered onto the sound system trucks and witnessed the amazing sight of thousands of people running up the motorway towards them. Police faces dropped quickly and as the crowd neared they began backing off. The arm-twisted, quick-cuffed arrestees, on a nod from a sergeant were swiftly de-arrested (de-arrest of the year perhaps?) and the vehicles were soon swarmed with partygoers. The sides of the lorries were opened and the sound systems kicked off. The people roared. The party was on!
Dig For Victory!
Climbers hung enormous banners the breadth of the motorway. A huge sun, colourful murals; while others proclaimed ‘Destroy Power!’ ‘Support the Tubeworker’s and ‘The society that abolishes adventure, makes its own abolition the only adventure’
A struggle ensued when police tried to stop other decorations and equipment being brought in from a nearby estate. One van containing the p.a. rig for live bands was impounded, but once again, faced with an active crowd, the authority of the police dissolved. They retreated and in came carpets, armchairs – a complete living room! A tonne of sand was laid on the tarmac and stalls set up on the hard shoulder.
Three thirty foot ‘pantomime dames’ glided through the party throwing confetti. Food stalls gave away free stew and sandwiches; graffiti artists added colour to the tarmac; poets ranted from the railings; acoustic bands played and strolling players performed. The tripod sitters, isolated by a police line from the party, negotiated their inclusion and joined the mass of people. The police retreated to the ends of the road settling for re-directing traffic and arguing amongst themselves.
Beneath the giant skirt of one panto dame de-constructionists set to work. Using a pneumatic drill in time to the techno music, the tarmac of the road was repetitively attacked, until large craters littered the fast lane (Enthusiasts were later seen comparing ‘chunks’ of motorway!). The lunar landscape was then ‘naturalised’ by the planting of sapling trees rescued from the path of the M11 link road.
As the sun set on an extraordinary day fires were lit on the road, litter was collected and the banners removed. The sound systems announced another free party elsewhere in London, then at 11pm the music went off, and the trucks drove off to the cheers of a grateful crowd.
For nearly ten hours the M41 vibrated, not to the repetitive roar of the car system, but to a human uprising; the living sound of a festival, and as one activist put it to a disgruntled copper, ‘Think yourself lucky, we could have gone anywhere: Buckingham Palace, Downing Street, thousands of people climbing up Parliament.’
And, as another said, ‘Today we are only practising. Tomorrow’ anything is possible!’.
On the morning of Friday 2nd August, the Reclaim the Streets office and one persons private home were raided by police, who seized computers as well as various personal effects. At the moment it seems as though at least one person is to be charged with conspiracy to cause criminal damage to the M41.
Nottingham Reclaim The Streets
Nottingham’s Reclaim The Streets party was held on September 19th, in part to compensate for the city council having banned the annual carnival. The party went ahead, but was marred by extreme violence from the local constabulary.
They had been promised ‘zero tolerance policing’ and that was exactly what they got. Around 1000 people were met by police lines as they left the meeting point. Some tried to break through the lines and one was thrown by police through a plate glass window. At this point the crowd retreated and another street was occupied until people were charged by mounted police. One woman holding a baby was dragged screaming across the street by three police officers.
The crowd eventually managed to meet up with a sound system and occupy Mansfield Road. The van containing the second sound system had its windows smashed and its driver and passenger dragged through them by police. After this the party started and the atmosphere lightened as people danced and children played. Sadly, by this time the police harassment had driven many away. At 6:00 the party ended and the crowd moved off to the Forest Recreation Ground at which point the police arrested 54 people, some allegedly involved in confrontation earlier in the day, some just random party goer.
One witness commented: ‘People deserve a carnival as a break from the monotony of daily life. The people of Nottingham wanted their carnival and when they tried to organise one the police decided to crush it.’ They might have tried to crush it but they could’t stop it
Apparently about 30 people were arrested at the party and another 20 on Forest Fields (the Goose Fair land) afterwards.
From a first-time partygoer:
The Nottingham RTS on Mansfield Road was a first for me. I write to you now as a convert. I do not share all of RTS’s political views, but for me the point of the street party is to question the established hierarchy, encourage better policies on public tranport, and have a fucking good time. Where else can you dance ecstatically surrounded by police in broad daylight? When else do you see thirty-somethings, children, Big Issue Vendors and up-and-coming young executives discard their differences and share in a truly solid community event?
The car will never be destroyed (not before we have really fucked the place up), and capitalist ideas of economic progress are here to stay. And there are positive things to be said for both. But I am an idealist, and hope that the continued RTS carnival will have some effect, might reduce the traffic, might encourage subsidised public transport, might see more city centres wholly pedestrianised. The important thing for me however has been to make me stop and see that it doesn’t have to be this way, that if I WANT to stop the traffic and dance all afternoon in the street I can. And in a street empty of quotidien bustle, noise and dirt, no-one can deny the atmosphere is more congenial than usual.
This says everything I know that happened so it’s quite long!
The day started off with a student march, at which there was a very heavy police presence, including police horses. Anyway the street party was advertised there and many expressed interest. Around noon people started gathering at the meeting point, South Parks. The police had D-locked all but one of the entrance shut so as “to be able to keep control better”. At the same time many police started arriving and showing their strength with their favourite helicopter hovering above, while reports were coming in saying that both the alternative powered sound systems had been turned away when trying to get into the city, and that Rinky Dink had been escorted out of the county.
It later turned out that police had used two motorcycles and a high speed pursuit vehicle to capture a camper van towing Sparky, Greenpeace’s mobile mini-solar rig: after cautiously following the van around the ring road the police escort eventually gained courage to seize the outlaws (I think its the first time police have at a street party used anti-rave legislation- s63 CJPOA 1994) and keep them out of the 5 mile exclusion zone, though they gave the vehicle free parking at their police station for the day so that the driver could get to the party, and one of the officers, being a camping van enthusiast, offered to swap some spare parts! At about 1pm the police noticed a old car that was apparently going to be trashed on the street and that had some equipment for a sound system in. When they tried to take it away some people rushed up to it and the police immediately arrested them for obstruction of a police officer (a non-arrestable offence under s24 PACE!), one gave me hassle and demanded my name and address as I was handing out leaflets and was therefore an organiser. The police were blocking many of the streets and suddenly there was a charge through a back yard. The police then blocked off the exit and some people including Green County Councillor Sushila Dhall, negotiated with the police who offered us Morrell Avenue to have a party on, which was a crap idea. Instead the crowd sensibly made a dash towards Cowley Road.
Part of the road was quickly taken and the police blocked off both ends. A bit later a red van came along, after we had moved up the road away from town. As it had the sound system in, people moved round to protect it. Suddenly there was a mounted police charge, with ground support into the ground. One woman was trampled on, the dragon got its head severed and I was hit by a horse, then I heard “get this one”, had my T-Shirt ripped, rucksack ripped open, pulled away by my hair, and there were a lot of people shouting and crying, particularly the kids there. The police suddenly left; someone said that the reason they charged was that they were scared we wanted to use the van to charge through their line and kill their officers (Trafalgar square attempted murder stylee- yeah right), and when they found that it was just a soundsystem they left.
The sound system took so long to set up that someone put a penalty charge notice on their windscreen with the words “You have been fined the sum of £23.23 for loitering with the intent of lunching out setting up the sound system. Signed Chief-Super Pig”. In the mean time there was some acoustic activity and ecotrip set up selling their usual burgers and giving out information. The rig was a local one without much experience but when it did set itself up ok there was a big movement towards it and an kicking party started, with hard house and tekno, etc. The great thing about Cowley Road is that it’s full of people up for a party and the local shops loved it, while people danced on the low roofs along the side of the street: while there were a lot of up-for-it ravers, there were also crusties, middle aged, ethnic minorities, pensioners, etc, giving it a real sense of community, as its the only time you really see the area partying together in the common space of a street reclaimed from traffic, and this bit relay made it for me. There were a few kids playing at the kids area, but as was pointed out to the police officer liasing with us when he asked why there weren’t more, parents aren’t exactly going to want to take their kids through two lines of police and police horses.
The police remained in line form at both ends (“so that we can do the can-can” said one of the few officers able to answer back/with a sense of humour), as a bargaining tool and to try to show their authority- classic police tactics. They later threatened to charge unless we stopped playing dance music (or rather, in legal terms, s63 CJPOA 1994, sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats), so a couple of bands, including Casey Neil from the US and Silas, played using the pedal powered generator, while others danced to the drumming, next to the police in their fashionable UV jackets (not quite mate), others smoking spliff just two meters from the police line! Numbers did dip at this time, along with the temperature, from a peak of about 750, and just before the agreed deadline of 7pm the music stopped. Things were cleared up quickly with random people joining the litter pick-up so that all that remained when the street opened was the shit from the police horses. Those that remained till the end had the amusement of watching police attempting to march in two lines up the street, splitting to allow space for their horses, and then march back and line it to stop us stopping the traffic.
Soon after a dense fog descended and London RTS joined us for a curry on the Cowley Road which was really nice. It was agreed that this was the worst battle for a street in the UK that we’d won, the worst having been in Brighton when a street was never taken. The police presence, which was what one would expect for a football riot not a peaceful demonstration (don’t forget there were only 3 police at last year’s party), was described as “far too large and far too confrontational” by one of the local Green councillors, and the Green Group will be making complaints on the County Council Police Liason group.
Greetings from canada
Hey Alan, good to hear from you. I’ll give you my 2cents worth of opinion on the canadian situation versus the american situation since i also spent a lot of time working in various parts of the US through my work.
as far as Canadian police go i don’t really have a problem with them…maybe because i live in Calgary where people are very friendly, there’s not a lot of crime, and there’s no significant racial tensions. on the whole though, i’d say Canada is a very civilized place and canadians are generally family oriented and sensible. Cops don’t come across here as ‘law enforcers’, instead they have more of a ‘protect and serve’ service image. It’s quite a different story in the states though where police tend to treat you as though you’re a criminal unless proven innocent. I once argued with a guy from the US on the ravers-geriatric mail list that it’s quite possible the typical belief in the states that you achieve order through force or the threat of force might be the reason why there’s more violence and social tension in the US than a lot of other ‘first world’ countries i’ve been to.
The american ‘establishment’ treats raves and most other things related to youth culture as something to be suspicious of and stamped out. The US media depiction of rave culture tends to be negative. In Canada, on the other hand..at least in Calgary anyway, it’s no big deal. In fact, just last year a young 17yr. old female rave promoter who has been throwing raves to raise money for charity causes was one of 3 youths honoured and awarded a very generous scholarship, and her story was on the front page of one of the sections of the leading local newspaper. So here was this young girl with purple and green hair who used to live on the streets and started organizing charity raves at the age of 15 being duly recognized and honoured by popular media….you won’t find that too often in the US.
Another example of canadian sensibility: in Vancouver where there is a very serious heroin addiction problem in the city the authorities are moving to have heroin addicts treated as medical cases instead of criminal cases. Their reasoning is that there’s no point in locking people up because of heroin or drug possession because addicts are not criminals per se.
I don’t want to come across like i’m bashing the US or anything as i love the expressiveness and creativity of the american people…it’s just their policing policy of ‘rule by force’ that i find annoying, as well as a tendency in that country to have self-righteous special interest groups that are near militant, if not outright militant, in forcing their beliefs on other people. But there are great cities in the US nonetheless: San Francisco, for instance, is THE place in the states for rave culture; Seattle is a warm and friendly town; and Austin,Texas is an amazingly welcoming and comfortable city despite being in one of the most redneck states in the US.
Well back to Canada: about the surveillance issue, i don’t find there’s a ‘big brother is watching’ attitude in Canada. I remember seeing a show on tv about the british installing cameras on street corners to cut down on crime..from that and from your photo-essay it appears the british police have a fascination with photo technology. I do think the camera on the street corner is a good idea..i just didn’t realize the police were making such intensive use of the camera. I have never seen here a police team at a public gathering walking around with cameras. But you have to remember canadian cities are relatively tame as far as crime goes so the police don’t really have a need to get all bent out of shape in ensuring order..you’re talking about a country where pedestrians stop at a red light at a deserted intersection with no cars around for miles, and wait until the light is green before crossing: excruciating politeness and sense of order (but it’s actually quite sweet).
As for outdoor raves etc., i’m not personally a fan of outdoor raves because i find it hard to dance on turf, however there are outdoor raves here but nothing on the scale of a ‘burning man’, which itself is nowhere near the scale of the ‘love parade’ from what i could gather.
I’ve been to a couple outdoor raves in British Columbia where the scenery was fantastic: rocky mountains, pacific ocean, full moon (awesome). There are 3-day camp-out raves during the summer in most major areas across Canada but i don’t keep track of them too much. The rave scene in Calgary is maturing..it’s not large (in fact the rave scene in north america in general – except maybe for the San Francisco area – is nowhere near the scale it is in England), but the scene here has a good following and there’s enough parties with good vibes and good music to keep me satisfied. There’s not much hassles with cops or anything, and i’ve been noticing lately that rave promoters have been able to get access to some pretty fancy venues like our science centre, the convention centre, the performing arts centre (the main theatre complex in the city), and other fairly major city locales.
Obviously the proprietors of these places don’t seem to have a problem with people using their fancy facilities for all-night parties. Some may say that’s corporate raves: raves gone mainstream, but hey, there aren’t too many massive warehouses in Calgary, and this is Canada where everything is fairly civilized (i must say, i do prefer the grittier warehouse parties though..i used to go to a lot of those kinds of parties in San Fran.).
On the other hand, a rave with over 700 people here is considered to be ‘huge’..we don’t have any of those massives with the thousands or tens of thousands of people..i don’t think even the 3-day outdoor raves would get much over the 2000 people count (if that much). There is, thankfully, an underground trend even in the rave scene here to small parties with 200-300 people max., and the parties are usually advertised word of mouth.
I also noticed a similar trend in Vancouver and in the San Francisco bay area as well. The small parties are usually the best, especially here where you’re likely to know most of the people at a small event from seeing them regularly. ‘e’ is not as big a factor here as it is in other cities (though pot is fairly common), and for some strange reason Calgary has really good dancers and people here are not afraid to let it out on the dancefloor (Canadians are civilized but could also be too reserved and self-conscious on the dancefloor..but not here in Calgary). love,
As you may already know, the 121 Centre in Brixton, London has been awaiting eviction by the bailiffs and police since Thurs 28th Jan. Finally, we had heard that the bailiffs (who wrote us a letter!) were coming to evict on MONDAY 8th FEB at 9pm.
Since the Centre is now heavily barricaded we decided to maintain a street presence outside to deter eviction and have a few people inside the building to operate the emergency air-raid siren, sound system and to be locked-on to various secret defences should the bailiffs (and cops) enter the place.
People gathered outside from 6am and put into place materials for street barricades which we decided to throw up on the arrival of any police and bailiffs. It was all a bit spontaneous ut we finally had to act when a police car arrived to see what the early morning activity was. In a split second we deciced to act and people dragged wood, chairs, old fridges and cookers, metal and other stuff across two parts of Railton Rd and two parts of Chaucer Rd that completely barricaded in the 121 Centre from any approaching cars. The five cops present were a bit baffled and just watched us assembling the defences. At that time we didn’t know what to expect – the cops might have easily sent three vans of riot police and beaten us off as their were about 70 of us max – but we waited and the sound system played wonderful hip-hop (La Haine style!!) and neighbour brought out hot tea for us all (bless her!).
At 8.30am, Inspector Craggs (Chief of Operations of the Brixton Area) approached and we assembled round to hear what he had to say. He said (and later put in writing) that there would be no eviction today as he had spoken to both Lambeth Council (the buildings ‘owners’) and the bailiffs and had asked them to postpone any eviction. He said that the Council and bailiffs thought that they would be just come down, kick the door in and seal the place up again. He had then probably told them that it wouldn’t be that easy and that they couldn’t just phone up the police to send in riot cops if they found our resistance to heavy. He then said that the police and council were meeting on Tuesday at 2pm to discuss the eviction of the centre.
We asked him to give us the names of the Council people he was dealing with and he went away until 9.30pm, our barricades still blocking Railton Rd.
When he came back, he had in tow, Chief Inspector Des Stout (the top cop of the Brixton area !!). They handed over the names and then said that there main priority was to open up the roads. We have a choice – take the barricades down and we get to keep them (!!!) or they could clear them with dumper trucks and we would lose them. He stood far away whilst we decided that (a) NO EVICTION was likely that day….(b)we would keep our barricades for another day and © we would occupy the council chambers.
It was a very polite and surreal scene indeed. Anarchists taking down their barricades for another day and the police just really interested in keeping the peace..
About 30 of us went to the Council, 10 stayed behind and some others went to help three local squats move their stuff as the bailiffs had started to evict 3 squats on Coldharbour Lane, Brixton. At the Town Hall we stormed in , ran around until we found the office of the Leader of the Council, Jim Dickson (although he was absent and just an underling was there) and started a set-to with the security guards (who were seriously pissed off and taking it very personally and throwing people around). Some people briefly played with some files and others just milled around but the security guards were making things a bit difficult with their non-stop macho crap, one person thrown so hard against a desk that it cracked! Eventually sirens were heard and we saw a lot of cops running towards us. We shut the door on them and locked it but a security guard shoved us out of the way and the cops burst in. Oh dear. They grabbed the people nearest them and smashed them around a lot, cuffing anf arresting them and made everyone leave. Despite the cops enthusiasm for ‘criminal damage’ charges (although it was only the cops and guards that broke anything) the underling didn’t want anything to happen apart from everyone getting thrown out. The arrested were officially ‘de-arrested’ and let go and the cops even gave us our banner back.
We went back to the organised safe-space and licked our wounds and discussed the situation. Then then the Council phoned us offering us a ‘No Agenda’ meeting with them at our convenience and we decided to meet with them on Wednesday at 5pm.
It really is a weird situation with lots of players positions seemingly in flux. The Cops seem to want to keep it all quiet and with their ears to the ground know all about our barricading. The Council seem to have forgotten that people like us don’t just walk away from our social centres and we seem to have moved into a game of political chess and suprised ourselves at what we can do. We had done a lot of local work with positive results and maybe that’s what frightened the cops into meeting with the council and postponing the eviction.
So , we wait for ther outcome of the meeting and see what the council have to say (they had previously ignored our request for a meeting with them). Ultimately we are still facing an eviction and the cops now know that we will resist. It could be very heavy. Right now we are still having to maintain a 24 hour occupation of the place (which is hard work and taking up a lot of energy with sleepovers and cooking etc) and we know that from now on any eviction attempt will be a suprise to us. But we press on. Today was a good start.
121 Street Party, Brixton
Saturday 10th April 2pm. STREET PARTY at 121 CENTRE,
BRIXTON Seeing as it was organised in only three weeks, we did pretty well. There was a lot of panic and chaos in the run up – what would happen? would we block the street? did the cops know or care where it was? it seemed that everyone else knew about it in advance despite us keeping it a secret? Our intention was to bounce back to life after a few weeks of feeling crap about defending the centre…you know 18 years in occupation but13 weeks non-stop behind barricades seemed like an eternity…where was everybody these days? So we decided at a meeting to have a big street party on a Saturday afternoon outside121 on Railton Rd to tell everyone that we were still there after 86 days behind barricades. Oh and to piss of the cops and council for being crap at evicting us.
We busted our ass to prepare free food, big banners, paint the building colourful colours, make huge puppets of cops, death’s head judge’s, huge gargoyles and a cool masked-up Pippi Longstocking (with green and black facemask of course!) and to hide three tons of barricade material inside the 121 awaiting the big day.
On the Saturday itself, it was raining and we were bummed out. Still, surreptiously we were moving chairs and sofas onto the pavement that people were lounging in, and piles of wood, cookers, cabinets etc to nearby street corners. At 2pm supporters from Citizen Smith squat caff in North West London set up a small ‘Founditinaskip’ system on the balcony and the music started. It all looked like quiet sit down along Railton Rd. There were 2 cops walking about bemused, one of which was Crabs, the Chief of Operations for the Brixton area. Anyway, like a miracle, when the 121 crew finally got it together and stopped stressing out, the signal was given and we hauled a big-ass system out right onto the pavement, others dragged the barricade material to block the street and the sofas and chairs to, put up a load of cool banners, the clouds broke, the sun poured down, two flares went off and the big system roared. The road was taken!! Hooray.
Okay, so we had the party from 2pm until midnite with about 1000 people passing thru all told. The System pumped out roots reggae, drum and bass etc and even a roaring, crowd pleasing ‘Anarchy in The UK” (I know but it was fun, everyone slamming). Free food was wolfed down by all, face were painted, 2 punk bands played up the road, drink was consumed. Info was given away. The nearby caff even brought out their own system and played their collection of reggae classics to one end of the street party. There was even a Full Monty strip by the 121 Strip Team on the 121 Balcony, their naked bodies reading ‘Jim Dickson (the Leader of Lambeth Council) Evict This!’ and ‘This one’s for you Crabs, baby!”.
At the end of the day, while the same 2 cops watched the whole thing, there was just the remains of the dancers, two huge bonfires in the middle of the road and some people passed out by the collected rubbish. We stopped the music and tidied up, put out the fires (with the help from the local Fire Brigade…ho!ho!) and that was that. Policing so low key you’d think they were all on holiday. Weird huh? Well, not really, we know the eviction, when it comes, will be on their terms. They just didn’t want to provoke anything on the Brixton Frontline by going in hard in case all those new Yuppie bars go up in smoke in a bit of community resistance. It’s a funny old game. OKay, so no eviction since then. We are still waiting for that. Cafes are happening sporadically and other events are happening organically. We still need support though. Stop by for a visit but phone first. Places for people to cook and stay over..121 Centre, 121 Railton Rd, Brixton
PhD, Law & Travellers
Got your email/web address from Alan Dearling who I met last week.
I’ve now moved down to Somerset with my daughter – new I think since we last met – she’s 7 and called Madeleine – and am pursuing a PhD into the impact of Family Law on New Travellers – particularly the way social services intervene and are viewed by families, with particular reference to Children Act cases where there is a dispute between settled relatives and traveller/festival-goer parents over the “best interests” of the children.
Anyway – apart from that, for my first year of the PhD (which I’ve just started) I need to undertake a statistical review of the available data sources on Travellers – I’ve followed the usual sources and would imagine that you are a good contact – I’ve inevitable been led into the way in which police keep records, and of course find it impossible to get much sense out of anyone.
Hence, when I heard what you’ve been doing – re: once again fighting the system and winning -I was interested. If you could send me some details of your case/copy of the report in the Guardian (which I managed to miss) and anything else which you have on police data, I would be extremely grateful.
GOOOD GOD!! How dare they
Glastonbury 2000 Mendip council Report – This seem to cut straight to the issue at hand!
10. The Police were to reconsider their response in dealing with the potential invasions of the site by a large group of travellers.
8. Specific Recommendations
a) The Festival Organisers and Police co-operate in resolving the issue of intrusion by the New Age Travellers convoys each year to the Festival site.
This year residents of Evercreech were affected by the noise from their amplified music. The Council would need to be satisfied with the Police and Festival Organisers proposals for dealing with the travellers before issuing an Entertainment Licence.
GOOOD GOD!! How dare they. We helped build this event, and it was something to do, with the alternative.
With the post beanfield / stoney cross / and the general stress that travellers were under at the time in the mid ’80’s, I was quite involved with the politics of the situation. It all started because of the trouble around the Stonehenge festival, and the influence that that had on gbury, it meant that to keep licence / maintain the public liability insurance, and hence be able to keep the event, they had to start to exclude the travelling population. Ie, the regulation ‘scapegoats’ , to be thrown to the lions, to appease business eh?
Its been on ongoing situation with hundred of thousands, having a nice time, but a few thousand of us have felt / been excluded for years now.
We have been shouting about some of the tools and powers (licences can be just another way of saying no, rather than the safety implied) that THEY have been taking onto themselves, to control gatherings. First I remember in this vein, was the Local Government (miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982! This is where the idea of a licence to gather at a pop concert came from. A little before they got travellers, specifically, in their sights.
Well, we’ve been here before. but it appears to be Glastonbury’s go next. There are just too many wanting to go, and there are no other ‘proper’ festivals left. So, what you do is whack up the ticket price, in proportion to demand. Police it, keep out the riff-raff. Simple really. I know there will be some argument with the organisation of the festival, but, when push come to shove, If they don’t, they haven’t got a festival.
This of course is going to put one against another on the issues that will arise. Who is a greenfield person, an eco-warrior with truck doing a stall, new age traveller, site worker wots’ being paid to be there. Tons of stress coming!
The objective, of course, of those raising these objections, to attempt a cultural / ethnic cleansing of the festivals that remain … tash.
A Criminal Culture?
Jim Carey reviews the recent political history of Travellers, city kids, raves and festivals, and reveals the multi-tactic approach used in attempts to annihilate an emerging culture.
“You have to realise that the events at Stonehenge polluted the reputation of festival goers in the eyes of Wiltshire Police”. I looked around the tent to see how Inspector Hunt’s words would be received by those attending the question and answer session. There was not a flicker of dissent. Two minutes later the assemblage gave police a round of applause after being told how Wiltshire constabulary had ‘generously’ reduced their asking price for festival policing from £32,000 to £10,000.
This was the Big Green Gathering 1995, with no sound systems, no music licence, no bars; entirely powered by sun and wind. The one minor skirmish over the entire long weekend brought nine riot police on site. “We were totally pissed off,” a festival security guard told Squall. “It was nothing but one bloke who’d had one too many cans of beer, we could have dealt with it no problem but the riot police insisted on coming on.” The organisers paid the £10,000. They also paid for a marquee from which the police earned their easy overtime money by searching people coming in. “Basically it’s a protection racket,” said festival co-organiser Jean Viddler. “The police are saying: ‘If you don’t pay us, your event won’t happen’.”
It was all very much a far cry from the 10th consecutive Stonehenge Free Festival that had taken place in the same county eleven years earlier. By 1984, the Stonehenge Solstice celebration had become the apex of a burgeoning festival scene, attracting an estimated 30,000 people, with many more visiting the site during its month long celebration. Entirely unlicenced, unpoliced and free from the profit motivation that drives modern day commercial festivals, it was one of the great people-led social experiments of modern times. The festival existed in sharp contrast to the vacuous modern political rhetoric about ‘community’, for despite its many foibles, it was a genuine example of people working through the realities of the word. The authorities, however, hated it with a vengeance and the following year inaugurated a new era of intolerance with blood.
The Battle of the Beanfield It is difficult to convey the extent and affect of the berserk circumstances that occurred on June 1st 1985, but its socio-political ramifications were immense. A convoy of Travellers’ vehicles left an impromptu park-up site in Savernake Forest to head towards Stonehenge. Seven miles from the Stones, and still some way out of the newly imposed four and half mile High Court exclusion order, police blocked the convoy with three lorry loads of gravel. After a short stand-off, the acting Deputy Chief Constable of Wiltshire, Lionel Grundy, gave orders for his men to begin attacking the vehicles and arresting drivers. When word swept through the convoy that police were smashing windscreens at the front and the back of the line of vehicles, Travellers pulled their vehicles off the A303 and into an adjacent grass field. At this stage, many Travellers were keen to return to the Savernake Forest site, but were told by Wiltshire Police that those wishing to leave the scene could only do so without their vehicles (homes).
After a tense wait, the pressure cooker finally exploded with over 1,000 police drawn from five constabularies charging into the field wielding truncheons. In an effort to escape, the convoy drove from the grass field into the adjacent Beanfield looking for a way out. The huge numbers of by now hysterical policemen charged in behind them to commit their now infamous carnage. Public knowledge of the events of that day are still limited by the fact that only a small number of journalists were present in the Beanfield at the time. Most, including the BBC television crew, had obeyed the police directive to stay behind police lines at the bottom of the hill “for their own safety”. One of the few journalists to ignore police advice and attend the scene was Nick Davies, Home Affairs correspondent for The Observer. He wrote: “There was glass breaking, people screaming, black smoke towering out of burning caravans and everywhere there seemed to be people being bashed and flattened and pulled by the hair….men, women and children were led away, shivering, swearing, crying, bleeding, leaving their homes in pieces…..Over the years I had seen all kinds of horrible and frightening things and always managed to grin and write it. But as I left the Beanfield, for the first time, I felt sick enough to cry.”
The only national television camera crew in the Beanfield was from ITN. Reporter Kim Sabido spoke to camera: “What we – the ITN camera crew and myself as a reporter – have seen in the last 30 minutes here in this field has been some of the most brutal police treatment of people that I’ve witnessed in my entire career as a journalist. The number of people who have been hit by policemen, who have been clubbed whilst holding babies in their arms in coaches around this field, is yet to be counted…There must surely be an enquiry.” However, when the item was nationally broadcast on ITN news later that day, Sabido’s voice-over had been removed and replaced with a dispassionate narrator. The worst film footage was also edited out. When approached for the footage not shown on the news, ITN claimed it was missing. “When I got back to ITN during the following week and I went to the library to look at all the rushes, most of what I’d thought we’d shot was no longer there,” recalls Sabido. “From what I’ve seen of what ITN has provided since, it just disappeared, particularly some of the nastier shots.”
Some but not all of the missing footage has since surfaced on bootleg tapes and was incorporated into the Operation Solstice documentary shown on Channel Four in 1991. Photographic evidence is also scant. Ben Gibson, a freelance photographer working for The Observer that day, was arrested in the Beanfield after photographing riot police smashing their way into a Traveller’s coach. He was later acquitted of charges of obstruction although the intention behind his arrest had been served by removing him from the scene. Most of the negatives from the film he managed to shoot disappeared from The Observer’s archives during an office move.
Fellow photographer Tim Malyon narrowly avoided the same fate: “Whilst attempting to take pictures of one group of officers beating people with their truncheons, a policeman shouted out to ‘get him’ and I was chased. I ran and was not arrested.” Tim Malyon’s negatives have also been lost with only a few prints surviving. One unusual eye-witness to the Beanfield nightmare was the Earl of Cardigan, secretary of the Marlborough Conservative Association and manager of Savernake Forest (on behalf of his father the Marquis of Ailesbury). He had travelled along with the convoy on his motorbike accompanied by fellow Conservative Association member John Moore. As the Travellers had left from land managed by Cardigan, the pair thought “it would be interesting to follow the events personally”. Wearing crash helmets to disguise their identity, they witnessed what Cardigan described to Squall as “unspeakable” police violence.
Cardigan subsequently provided eye-witness testimonies of police behaviour during prosecutions brought against Wiltshire Police. These included descriptions of a heavily pregnant woman with “a silhouette like a zeppelin” being “clubbed with a truncheon” and riot police showering a woman and child with glass. “I had just recently had a baby daughter myself so when I saw babies showered with glass by riot police smashing windows, I thought of my own baby lying in her cradle 25 miles away in Marlborough,” recalls Cardigan. After the Beanfield, Wiltshire Police approached Lord Cardigan to gain his consent for an immediate eviction of the Travellers remaining on his Savernake Forest site.
“They said they wanted to go into the campsite ‘suitably equipped’ and ‘finish unfinished business’. Make of that phrase what you will,” says Cardigan. “I said to them that if it was my permission they were after, they did not have it. I did not want a repeat of the grotesque events that I’d seen the day before.” Instead, the site was evicted using court possession proceedings, allowing the Travellers a few days recuperative grace. As a prominent local aristocrat and Tory, Cardigan’s testimony held unusual sway, presenting unforeseen difficulties for those seeking to cover up and re-interpret the events at the Beanfield.
In an effort to counter the impact of his testimony, several national newspapers began painting him as a ‘loony lord’, questioning his suitability as an eye-witness and drawing farcical conclusions from the fact that his great-great grandfather had led the charge of the light brigade. The Times editorial on June 3rd claimed that being “barking mad was probably hereditary”.
“I hadn’t realised that I would be considered a class traitor; if I see a policeman truncheoning a woman I feel I’m entitled to say that it is not a good thing…”
Lord Cardigan as a consequence, Lord Cardigan successfully sued The Times, The Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror for claiming that his allegations against the police were false and for suggesting that he was making a home for hippies. He received what he describes as “a pleasing cheque and a written apology” from all of them. His treatment by the press was ample indication of the united front held between the prevailing political intention and media backup, with Lord Cardigan’s eye-witness account as a serious spanner in the plotted works: “On the face of it they had the ultimate establishment creature – land-owning, peer of the realm, card-carrying member of the Conservative Party – slagging off police and therefore by implication befriending those who they call the powers of darkness,” says Cardigan. “I hadn’t realised that anybody that appeared to be supporting elements that stood against the establishment would be savaged by establishment newspapers. Now one thinks about it, nothing could be more natural. I hadn’t realised that I would be considered a class traitor; if I see a policeman truncheoning a woman I feel I’m entitled to say that it is not a good thing you should be doing. I went along, saw an episode in British history and reported what I saw.”
Largely as a result of his testimony, police charges against members of the convoy were dismissed in the local magistrates’ courts. However, there was no public inquiry. Of the 440 Travellers taken into custody that day, 24 went through the gruelling five year process of taking Wiltshire Police to court for wrongful arrest, assault and criminal damage. They finally won a four month court case at Winchester Crown Court in 1991, but their compensation was entirely swallowed by the legal costs incurred in the process. As Lord Gifford QC, the Travellers’ legal representative, put it: “It left a very sour taste in the mouth”. To some of those at the brunt end of the truncheon charge it left a devastating legacy.
Alan Lodge, a veteran of many free festivals was one of the 24 Travellers who ‘successfully’ took Wiltshire Police to court following the Beanfield incident: “There was one guy who I trusted my children with in the early ’80s – he was a potter. After the Beanfield I wouldn’t let him anywhere near them. I saw him, a man of substance, at the end of all that nonsense wobbled to the point of illness and evil. It turned all of us and I’m sure that applies to the whole travelling community. There were plenty of people who had got something very positive together who came out of the Beanfield with a world view of ‘fuck everyone’.” The berserk nature of the police violence drew obvious comparisons with the coercive police tactics employed on the miners’ strike the year before. Many observers claimed the two events provided strong evidence that government directives were para-militarising police responses to crowd control. Indeed, the confidential Wiltshire Police Operation Solstice Report released to plaintiffs during the resulting Crown Court case, states: “‘Counsel’s opinion regarding the police tactics used in the miners’ strike to prevent a breach of the peace was considered relevant.”
The news section of Police Review, published seven days after the Beanfield, stated:”The Police operation had been planned for several months and lessons in rapid deployment learned from the miners’ strike were implemented.” The manufactured reasoning behind such heavy-handed tactics was best summed up in a laughable passage from the confidential police report on the Beanfield: “There is known to be a hierarchy within the convoy; a small nucleus of leaders making the final decisions on all matters of importance relating to the convoy’s activities. A second group who are known as the ‘lieutenants’ or ‘warriors’ carry out the wishes of the convoy leader, intimidating other groups on site.” If the coercive policing used during the miners strike was a violent introduction to Thatcher’s mal-intention towards union activity, the Battle of the Beanfield was a similarly severe introduction to a new era of intolerance of Travellers.
Manufacturing a case for public order law At the 1995 Big Green Gathering SQUALL approached Inspector Hunt, a member of Wiltshire Police force for 20 years, and asked: “Is there any acknowledgement in your constabulary that the events of the Battle of the Beanfield seriously polluted the reputation of Wiltshire Police in the eyes of festival goers.” Persistence finally drew a reluctant answer: “Look, Stonehenge Festival grew too large and out of control, the Battle of the Beanfield was just the beginning of the process of dealing with it. The laws that came after were even more effective.”
Indeed the following year, saw the imposition of the Public Order Act 1986, a new law giving police powers to break up any gathering of 12 vehicles or over. This new legislation had serious implications for both festivals and Traveller sites all over the country; the multi-tactic war to eradicate Travellers and an emerging alternative economy had truly begun. On June 3rd that year Douglas Hurd, then Home Secretary, described the Travellers as “nothing more than a band of medieval brigands who have no respect for the law or the rights of others.”
On June 5th, Margaret Thatcher told the nation that her government was “only too delighted to do anything we can to make life difficult for such things as hippy convoys”. On the same day, a cabinet committee was formed to discuss new legislation to deal with Travellers and festivals. Chaired by Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, it comprised of the Secretaries of State for Transport, Environment, Health and Social Security, and Agriculture. Meanwhile, the convoy assembling to celebrate that year’s Solstice was chased around several counties by both police and right wing media outrage, before finally finding some temporary recuperative respite on a site at Stoney Cross in the New Forest.
Four days later, Hampshire Police mounted the 4am ‘Operation Daybreak’ to clear the Stoney Cross site. Sixty four convoy members were arrested and 129 vehicles impounded after police came on site armed with DoT files on every vehicle. The police also came armed with care orders for the Travellers’ children, though a tip off had reached the camp beforehand and the children had been removed.
The Battle of the Beanfield and the increasingly hostile political climate that followed, had a dramatic affect on the travelling community, frightening away many of the families integral to the community balance of the festival circuit. In 1987, people stood on the tarmac beside Stonehenge having walked the eight mile distance from an impromptu site at Cholderton. As clouds smothered the Solstice sunrise, those who had walked the distance were kept on the road, separated from the Stones by rows of riot police and bales of razor wire. The anger mounted and scuffles broke out. The following year the anger was tangibly increased and once again at Solstice dawn there were some who found the situation too unacceptable. This time the scuffles were more prevalent with concerted attempts being made to break through the police cordon. Secreted around the area, however, were thousands of waiting riot police and, as the anger of the penned in crowd grew, numberless uniforms came flooding down the hill to disperse the crowd with a liberal usage of truncheons and riot shields.
“Towards the end of the ’80s things were getting bad on the festival circuit.
Then raves revitalised the scene and I got my faith back.”
Andy Smith – now editor of Festival Eye – finally received a £10,000 out of court settlement from Wiltshire Police this year for a truncheon wound to the head received after he tripped and fell at Stonehenge in 1988. In the years following the event, he was diagnosed as suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. “I’d had recurrent dreams about the episode and after eight years of raking over it, I needed to put the event behind me.” The numbers of people prepared to travel to Stonehenge and face this treatment naturally dwindled, resulting in a concentration of those who were prepared for confrontation in defence of what was considered as a right to celebrate solstice at Stonehenge. Successive huge police operations backed by the Public Order Act 1986, have become stricter and stricter in attempts to stop anyone from reaching the Stone circle at Solstice. There are still a few however, who hug hedgerows and dart between the beams of police helicopters in order to be in view of the Solstice sunrise at Stonehenge.
Destroying the alternative economy Up until 1985, the free festival circuit had provided the economic backbone of all year round itinerancy. Traditionally the three cardinal points in the festival circuit were the May bank holiday, the Solstice and the August bank holiday. Without the need for advertising, festival goers knew to look out for these dates knowing a festival would be taking place somewhere. The employment of two bank holidays as specific festival times was designed to allow workers the opportunity of attending a festival without the inevitable bleary Monday back at work. The number of festivals in-between these cardinal points also blossomed, giving rise to the possibility of travelling from one to the other (with choice) over the entire long summer. By selling crafts, services, performance busking, tat and assorted gear, Travellers provided themselves with an alternative economy lending financial viability to an itinerant culture.
Evidence suggests that the political campaign to eradicate festivals was aimed at breaking this economy. Indeed, a working party set up by the Department of Health and Social Security published a report on Itinerant Claimants in March 1986 stating: “Local offices of the DHSS have experienced increasing problems in dealing with claims from large groups of nomadic claimants over the past two or three years. Matters came to a head during the summer of 1985 when several large groups converged on Stonehenge for a festival that had been banned by the authorities. The resulting well publicised confrontation with the police was said to have disrupted the normal festival economy and large numbers of claims to Supplementary Benefit were made.”
“As soon as they scared away the punters it destroyed the means of exchange,” recalls Alan Lodge. “Norman Tebbit went on about getting on your bike and finding employment whilst at the same time being part of the political force that kicked the bike from under us.” In the years that followed, the right-wing press made much of dole-scrounging Travellers, with no acknowledgement that the engineered break-up of the festival economy was largely responsible. Another ramification of this tactic was even more insidious and ugly. At the entrance gate to the 1984 Stonehenge Free Festival a burnt out car bore testament to the levels of self-policing emerging from the social-experiment. The sign protruding from the wreckage proclaimed: “This was a smack dealer’s car”.
Dispossessed of their once thriving economy and facing incessant and increasing harassment and eviction, the break down of community left Travellers prone to a destructive force potentially more devastating than anything directly forced by the authorities. “At one time smack wasn’t tolerated on the road at all,” recalls mother of six, Decker Lynn. “Certainly on festival sites, if anybody was selling or even using it they were just put off site full stop.” Heroin, the great escape to oblivion, found the younger elements of a fractured community prone to its clutches and its use spread like myxamatosis. Once again Traveller families were forced to vacate sites that became ‘dirty’, further imbalancing the battered communities and creating a split between ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ sites.
“I don’t park on big sites anymore,” says Lynn who still lives in her double-decker bus. “Heroin is something that breaks up a community because people become so self-centred they don’t give a damn about their neighbours.” Many Travellers report incidents of blatant heroin dealing going untouched by police, whilst other Travellers on the same site were prosecuted for small amounts of hashish. The implication of their claims were that the authorities recognised that if heroin took hold of the travelling community, their designs on its destruction would take care of itself. “So many times people got away with it and there were very few busts for smack,” recalls Lynn. “They must know smack is the quickest way to divide a community; united we stand and divided we don’t.”
The other manifestation of community disruption was the emergence of the so called ‘brew crew’. These were mainly angry young Travellers feeding themselves on a diet of special brew and developing a penchant for nihilism, blagging and neighbourly disrespect. Whilst festival culture was healthy, the travelling community could cope, once broken up however, the community had problems dealing with the exodus. “To start with it was contained,” says Decker Lynn. “Every family had its problems but the brew crew was a very small element around 1986, and very much contained by the families that were around. But there was a large number of angry young people pouring out of the cities with brew and smack and the travelling community couldn’t cope with the numbers.” The so called ‘brew crew’ caused constant disruption for the festivals still surviving on the decimated circuit and provided an obvious target for slander-hungry politicians and right-wing media, with the entire scene regularly painted with the inevitable all inclusive black brush.
Raves and the new blood Towards the end of the 80s a cultural phenomenon began to emerge around the country resulting in an injection of new blood and economy to the festival scene. Rave parties were similar to free festivals in that they were unlicenced events in locations kept secret until the last possible moment. Such events offered similar opportunities for adventure and began attracting huge numbers of young people from the cities. This scene grew dramatically. Where some of these parties differed from the free festivals was that they were organised by groups such as Sunrise who would charge an entry fee and consequently make large amounts of money in the process. Not all such rave parties were of this nature however, and the free festival scene began to merge with the rave party scene producing a hybrid with new dynamism Not everyone on the free festival scene was pleased with the consequences of this festi-rave fusion however. “One of the main things I liked about festivals was going around fires and trucks listening to accordions and talking to people,” recalls Alan Lodge. “When the ravers arrived, I couldn’t hear anything other than the beat. A mass influx of young ravers who were not clued up as to country life did attract a lot of unwelcome attention to Travellers, but without them the festival scene would have finished in ’91 and no-one these days would know what we were talking about.” Others, found renewed enthusiasm in the cultural mutation. Having attended free festivals since 1984 and lived on the road intermittently during that period Simon Reynolds welcomed the new blood: “Towards the end of the ’80s things were getting bad on the festival circuit. Then raves revitalised the scene and I got my faith back.”
Once again, political attention was now targeted against these new impromptu rave events, resulting in the Entertainment (Increased Penalties) Act 1990. Introduced by John Major’s Personal Private Secretary, Graham Bright, this private member’s bill brought in massive fines of up to £20,000 for the organisers of unlicenced events. Once again this legislation had a dramatic affect on the free festival/rave scene, pushing event organisation into the hands of large commercial promoters with the necessary sums required to pay for licences and policing. “By 1993 the laws were having their effect on the free rave scene,” observes Simon Reynolds. “Dance music then moved into clubs and became more exclusive.”
The nature of festival promotion consequently swung away from a community-based orientation, as businessmen and commercial club owners cashed in on the existing public desire for adventurous festival/parties in the countryside. According to Tony Hollingsworth, ex-events promoter for the GLC and now part of the multi-million pound commercial festival outfit Tribute: “The motivation behind these festivals is no longer passion, it is commerce.” Relative to the people-led festivals, the commercial festival scene offers little more than another shopping experience, where an attendant wallet is valued and encouraged far more than participation.
Castlemorton Common By 1992 leaked documents from Avon and Somerset Constabulary demonstrated the existence of Operation Nomad. Force Operational Order 36/92 marked ‘In Confidence’, revealed: “With effect from Monday 27th April 1992, dedicated resources will be used to gather intelligence in respect of the movement of itinerants and travellers and deal with minor acts of trespass.” An intelligence unit set up by Avon and Somerset produced regular Operation Nomad bulletins, listing personal details on Travellers and regular festival goers unrelated to any criminal conviction. A Force Operational Order issued by the Chief Constable also stated: “Resources will be greatly enhanced for the period Thursday 21st May to Sunday 24th May inclusive in relation to the anticipated gathering of Travellers in the Chipping Sodbury area.”
This item referred to the annual Avon Free Festival which had been occurring in the area around the May bank holiday for several years, albeit in different locations. However, 1992 was the year Avon and Somerset Police intended to put a full stop to it. As a result the thousands of people travelling to the area for the expected Festival were shunted into neighbouring counties by Avon and Somerset’s Operation Nomad police manoeuvres. The end result was the impromptu Castlemorton Common Festival, another pivotal event in the recent history of festival culture. West Mercia Police claim they had no idea that an event might happen in their district, the truth of which relies on the unlikely situation that Avon and Somerset Police did not inform their neighbouring constabulary of Operation Nomad.
In the event, a staggering 30,000 Travellers, ravers and festival goers gathered almost overnight on Castlemorton Common to hold a free festival that flew in the face of the Public Order Act 1986 and the Entertainment (Increased Penalties) Act 1990. It was a massive celebration and the biggest of its kind since the bountiful days of the Stonehenge Free Festival. West Mercia Police claimed that due to the speed with which it coalesced, they were powerless to stop it. However, the authorities used Castlemorton in a way that led people to suggest it had been at least partly engineered. After all, a large number of people had been shunted into the area by Operation Nomad, was it really likely that West Mercia police were unaware of this? The right-wing press published acres of crazed and damning coverage of the event, including the classic front page Daily Telegraph headline: “Hippies fire flares at Police”. The following morning’s Daily Telegraph editorial read: “New Age, New Laws” and within two months, Sir George Young, then Minister for Housing, confirmed that new laws against Travellers were imminent “in reaction to the increasing level of public dismay and alarm about the behaviour of some of these groups.”
Indeed, the outcry following Castlemorton provided the basis for the most draconian law yet levelled against alternative British culture. Just as the Public Order Act 1986 followed the events at Stonehenge in 1985, so the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 began its journey in 1992, pumped with the manufactured outrage following Castlemorton. By the time it reached statute two years later, it included criminal sanctions against assembly, outdoor unlicensed music events, unauthorised camping, and ‘aggravated trespass’. The law also reduced the number of vehicles which could gather together from twelve (as stipulated in the Public Order Act 1986) to six. The news-manufacture used to prepare the public palate for the coming law was incessant, with media descriptions of Travellers including “hordes of marauding locusts” (Daily Telegraph), and “These foul pests must be controlled” (Daily Mail).
Police Surveillance and Benefit Clampdowns The year after Castlemorton Common, the police set up Operation Snapshot, an intelligence-gathering exercise on raves and Travellers, designed to establish a database of personal details, registration numbers, Traveller sites and movements. This information was used as a backbone for an ongoing intelligence operation begun by the Southern Central Intelligence Unit (SCIU), operated from Devizes in Wiltshire and initially co-ordinated by PC Malcolm Keene. The SCIU held regular meetings with representatives of all the constabularies of Britain. Leaked documents revealed that Operation Snapshot had estimated there to be around 2,000 Traveller’s vehicles and 8,000 Travellers in the UK. In the minutes of a meeting held at Devizes on March 30th 1993, the objectives of the operation included the development of “a system whereby intelligence could be taken into the control room, and the most up-to-date intelligence was to hand”….. “capable of high-speed input and retrieval and dissemination of information”. The meeting was attended by constabulary representatives from Bedfordshire, Avon and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Dyfed-Powys, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, South Wales, Gwent, Staffordshire, Thames Valley, Warwickshire, Surrey, Suffolk, West Mercia, West Midlands, Ministry of Defence and the National Criminal Intelligence Service (Hampshire and Essex sent apologies).
They were all asked and all agreed to provide the Southern Central Intelligence Unit with “any information, no matter how small on New Age Travellers or the Rave scene”. The leaked minutes revealed the database was designed to hold one million items of information. After a short period the Northern New Age Traveller Co-ordination Unit, designed to cover the north of Britain, was established and operated from Penrith in Cumbria. Further monitoring information was gathered via social security offices. The working party report on Itinerant Claimants prepared for the DHSS in 1986 advised that “in the interests of advance warning and the safety of staff, we recommend better liaison with the police.”
A 1993 internal Benefits Agency bulletin (issue 24/93) headed ‘New Age Travellers’ and marked “not to be released into the public domain”, stated: “Offices will be aware of the adverse reaction from the media following the treatment of claims from this client group last summer [Castlemorton]. Ministers are concerned that the Benefits Agency and Employment Services take all necessary steps to ensure that claims from this group are scrutinised carefully.” The bulletin reports that a National Task Force has been set up to “monitor the movements of such groups of Travellers” and to “inform relevant District managers of their approach and numbers”. In the back of the bulletin is a list of telephone numbers for all the regional police contacts in both the Northern New Age Traveller Co-ordination Unit and the Southern Central Intelligence Unit. Every constable in the country, including the Ministry of Defence, had at least one but usually several, such co-ordinators.
Also included in the bulletin was a possible itinery of festivals for Summer 1993. In 1995, the Benefit Agency conducted a census of New Age Traveller benefit claimants including their personal details. A leaked copy of the results suggested there to be 2000 such climants. In July 1996, more leaked documents revealed that the agency was once again asking regional offices to carry out a census, the results of which are as yet unobtainable. After October 7th 1996, when the Job Seekers Allowance scheme began, benefit may be halted if “appearance” or “attitude” “actively militates against getting a job”. The implications for the further selective targeting of the community are obvious.
The mutating aftermath The extraordinary lengths taken by the authorities to anihilate the new Traveller population in the UK are a testament to the treatment meted out to cultural minorities outside the accepted hegemony. The use of legislation, intellegnce, targeted harrassment, benefit clampdowns and news-manufacture have been employed as a multi-tactic approach stretched accross a ten year period. Such strategies are often achieved without public knowledge; with the length of time over which they are employed, diffusing recognition of their mechanism and ultimate intention. What is clear, however, is that rather than seek to democratically accomodate an expanding community culture, Margaret Thatcher’s government and those who replaced her, sought to annihilate it. The social consequences are immense.
The festival circuit, once an evolving people-led celebration and community co-operation, now lies largely in the hands of profit-motivated commercial promoters. Meanwhile, the travelling community, fractionalised by an annihilation strategy, now displays symptoms reminiscent of the inner cities from which many had fled. Many travellers steerd away from the iron-fist climate by moving abroad to countries like Spain, Portugal and France. Many would not or could not flee. However, despite the worst excesses of the cultural clampdown, Travellers remain screted all over the country. mnay are now in smaller groups, inconspicuous and unregistered if not drawing benefit.
“I don’t think anything should be static,” says Decker Lynn. “We’ve got to grow and we’ve got to move and flow with whatever’s necessary. I’ve got this strong feeling that whatever rules they make there’s always a way round it.”
Indeed for sorted itinerants, necessity breeds ingenious evolution.
Mayday is traditionally a day to remember the struggle of millions of people worldwide for their rights, livelihoods and freedom. It has also been a celebration of the rebirth of spring and the renewal of hope for thousands of years.
Yesterday in London we helped remember that history by celebrating the potential to turn sterile areas of our city into healthy diverse and useful ecosystems. People gardened, built ponds, played in the sandpit and danced around the maypole set up in the street freed of cars.
We were not protesting. Under the shadow of an irrelevant parliament we were planting the seeds of a society where ordinary people are in control of their land, their resources, their food and their decision making. The garden symbolised an urge to be self-reliant rather than dependent on capitalism. It celebrated the possibility of a world that encourages cooperation and sharing rather than one which rewards greed, individualism and competition.
We are pleased that the aims of redesigning Parliament Square and involving thousands of people in pleasurable constructive work and collective decision making were achieved.
Events that occurred outside Parliament Square were not part of the Guerrilla Gardening event.
All Reclaim The Streets’ publicity emphasised a creative, positive action -10,000 leaflets were handed out on the day stating that “Guerrilla Gardening is not a protest; by its very nature it is a creative peaceful celebration of the growing global anticapitalist movement.”
The corporate media’s obsession with confrontation and property damage conceals the violence of capital that occurs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year: The fact remains that the most likely cause of death for an under 14 year old in Britain is being hit by a car, that 1 in 3 children in the UK is brought up in poverty and 50% of this country’s ancient woodland has been destroyed since 1950, all in the name of profit. Surely that is the violence that should be splashing the front pages.
In relation to the graffiti on the cenotaph, we are obviously very aware of the millions of people who have given their lives in the fight for freedom. We know that millions are still dying every year in numerous struggles for independence, freedom and human rights. We respect and celebrate all those people who are, and have been, prepared to stand up to fascism, imperialism and dictatorship. That said, we do not necessarily celebrate the generals and the ruling class that send these people to their deaths in order to protect the privileges and control of the few. The abhorrence of sending millions of men to their deaths in the trenches dwarfs the stupidity of any possible slogan on any possible piece of stone.
Mayday has a great history of people struggling for progress and a decent society. We honour all those people and will continue that tradition.
The banner tied across the treasury building in Parliament Square read:
THE EARTH IS A COMMON TREASURY FOR ALL