“None ought to be lord over another
but the earth be free for everyone to live on”.
Garrard Winstanley 1649
Garrard Winstanley was an outstanding philosopher and political thinker ofthe seventeenth century. He became one of the principle advocates for the `Leveller’ and `Digger’ causes. Earlier in the century, the Royal Enclosures of common land had grabbed vast areas for their own use. Three quarters of the country was common land at this time.
….. The common people suffered.
During the chaos left at the end of the Civil War, the new Establishment took advantage and seized Royalist land and further expanded their estates by shamelessly enclosing more of the commons. The new Parliament acquiesced to this and people remained landless and hungry.
….. The common people suffered.
Over time, some were attracted to the principles of self-help, non violent direct action, self sufficiency in order to help themselves, nobody else was going to do it for them. After all, they had helped fight a war against the King’s tyranny and they were still dispossessed. On the 1st April 1649, the landless Diggers established a commune on St. George’s Hill, Surrey, intending to grow crops and graze livestock. The adventure lasted little more than a year before people were forcibly evicted.
It might seem strange to begin this tale in the seventeenth century, but some facts seem as relevant today. Government seems remote from the people and knows little of their concerns and situation. Pressures to conform are high, deviant activities are forcibly discouraged. The existence of the `underclass’, the dispossessed, of land or of opportunities. Additionally now, we are increasingly aware of environmental considerations. It is an old struggle which has taken new forms. (The tension probably began between the farmers and the hunter-gatherers of the Stone Age!)
Gatherings in the open air with music are probably as old as anything human beings have ever done.
The `Pop Festival’ became a more modern manifestation of people’s desire to gather and celebrate. We are social animals. In the late 1960’s, they went to Woodstock and the Monterey Festivals by the million. In the UK, the free `Stones in the Park’ and the Isle of Wight Festival saw huge crowds.
Alongside the commercial events, `Free Festivals’ developed. People became fed up with the exploitation, rules, squalor and general rip-off that so many events came to represent. They discovered something. It is a powerful vision. People lived together, a community sharing possessions, listening to great music, making do, living with their environment, consuming their needs and little else. Parallel to all this, the squatting movement was taking off, and groups such as the `Hyde Park Diggers’ were beginning to question land rights.
It is from these beginnings that the 1970’s saw the establishment of many commercial and free events. The Windsor People’s Free Festival became an annual event over the August Bank Holiday. As numbers continued to rise, and because of the politics of the situation, (after all, we were in the Queen’s back garden), in 1974 Thames Valley police eventually acted. Forcibly breaking up the site with much violence and injury. (They have been hitting us with sticks for thirty years now!)
After finding a sense of community and purpose, some for the first time in their lives, many adopted an alternative lifestyle and travelled between events in the `season’. They didn’t go `home’ in between. You got to choose your neighbours and defeated the alienation that many had felt back in the cities.
In 1975, the People’s Free Festival was re-established on a disused airfield in Oxfordshire. Over 10,000 people came and for two weeks re-invented the town. The following year however, the bank holiday event died due to much police pressure and days of very heavy rain!
The Stonehenge Free Festival had been held at the Summer Solstice since 1974. However, in 1977, numbers suddenly increased and this became the Annual People’s Festival. Since then, the numbers involved doubled each successive year. The 1984 festival attracting hundreds of thousands over a six week period.
People looked at the various examples provided by gypsies here and in Europe. To nomadic people across the world. To try life outside the house in many different ways and to pick and select those means that make life comfortable, easy and meaningful. The `bender’, the Indian `tipi’, the Moroccan `yurt’, the Romany `bow top’, the western two-man tent, the truck and the double decker bus.
Many developed a sense of common purpose and identity. There was an acceptance that modern life was too fast, expensive and polluting to the environment. We had discovered Anarchy in action, and it worked! People began working out and managing relations within `our’ communities, without reference to Them.
The temperature had been rising for some time. Assisted by the misrepresentation in the press and their invention of the `Peace Convoy’, a moral panic was created. The papers were full of the shock – horror that we have come to expect. A couple of my personal favourites were:
The Sun’s – “Gun convoy hippies attack police” (with no mention of any gun in the article!). The News of the World contributed –“The Wild Bunch – Sex-mad junkie outlaws make the Hell’s Angels look like little Noddy”. These were headlines read by millions of people and made modern day `folk-devils’ out of essentially peaceful people.
In objection to the American Cruise Missiles to be stationed in this country, a peace camp was established at Greenham Common and later at Molesworth. However, in February 1985, `Field Marshall’ Heseltine, the then Defence Secretary, sent in huge numbers of troops to evict the three hundred or so people and two goats that had occupied the site as the Rainbow Village for some months.
Although the authorities found all this distressing, there wasn’t any specific law effective in dealing with it. So they invented some. In the past, a police force generally felt that their job was done when pushing people over their boundary. Thus merely passing on the `problem’ as they saw it. In the wake of the miners’ Strike, the police had learned how to act as a national force under unitary direction.