Occupy the Land!


I am interested this morning in the contrasting images of the tent city at St Paul’s, where well-educated young people are politely and wittily encouraging bankers to think about the error of their ways, whilst co-operating with the police :

and the full scale eviction of travellers at Dale Farm in Essex, which looks like a historical re-enactment of the Miner’s Strike, where old ladies are apparently being booted in the head by the kind of Police for whom the chance to legally kick the shit out of people is the stuff of dreams.

I was planning to go to the Occupy protest, but what with the tents, the portaloos (paid for by capitalism?) and the spontaneous bongo playing, the only thing setting it apart from some cruddy festival is that its surrounded by York Stone rather than mud. And I don’t think U2 are playing.

At Dale Farm, obviously they are breaking The Law of Planning : in the countryside these days, you can own a field, but the state retains the right to decide what what you can do with it. Nomadic people literally have no place in our version of control-mad capitalism, which requires a house to fill with stuff, an address to register your supermarket loyalty card, a location by which your socio-economic status can be judged.

Traveller families are told they can pitch caravans only in these extraordinary little council-run concrete reservations, in London in places like Hackney Downs, the back of Peckham, and formerly in the Lea Valley, on land no one else wants, until the Olympics came along, anyway.

Traditionally, though, the Romany lifestyle was intimately in tune with the seasons : and the point of the travelling was to provide harvest labour to the farms of the south east, while overwintering mostly in London. A life of slowly working your way around the country, following what seasonal or temporary work you can find, living by crafts, and using the resources of the land : what’s not to like?. This Gypsy way of life has been having the shit kicked out of it by the state since the industrial revolution : which is why, I guess, Essex County Council chose to spend its money on riot police rather than on providing more facilities for these people and letting them live as they choose.

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