Tag Archives: Diggers2012

Diggers, Occupiers, Co-operators, Revolutionaries and a Rogue Council

One Barnet, Two Barnets, Broken Barnet & Barnet Library…

Barnet is in north London. I’ve never been there but I’ve been hearing a lot about it recently.

Initially, Barnet hit the indymedia because the (Tory) council closed the library there in April, despite pleas by local residents. The council’s plan was (and probably still is) to sell it off to developers. People involved in the Occupy movement got wind of this and went along to see if they could help the locals get their library back. In September the library was Occupied and re-opened. Soon 8000 donated books were lining the shelves and the library was restored to its function as a community hub.

The library has been hosting a wide range of events, from music gigs to book launches, French lessons to kids’ comic-making workshops. Some of those involved mounted a campaign to get the library recognised as a ‘Building of Local Architectural or Historic interest’ – their recent success will make it more difficult for developers to demolish the building, which will make buying it a less attractive proposition. Meanwhile, the council has launched a legal battle to enable it to re-close the library. Friern Barnet library supporters, local residents and Occupy activists will be back in court on December 18 for the next round in the legal battle.

[more info and petition to sign: fbpeopleslibrary.co.uk]

Having developed a taste for taking community matters into their own hands, on 6 December Barnet residents and their supporters stormed a council meeting and temporarily occupied Hendon town hall to protest and discuss the council’s decision to privatise local services in the ‘One Barnet’ sell-off programme, which would see services such as planning and environmental health outsourced to Capita plc (alleged tax-avoiding profiteer). The residents succeeding in derailing the hand-over meeting and are seeking a Judicial Review of the sell-off.

Two days after their ‘polite English revolution’ (it was noted that those involved in storming the town hall brandished statements not spears and apologised to the cops for troubling them), Barnet residents were amongst those who responded to UKUncut’s invitation to ‘Target Starbucks‘. Drawing a parallel between tax avoidance and cuts to public services, protestors swarmed into the Barnet branch of Starbucks and turned it into – you guessed it – a library for a day.

[more info at barneteye.blogspot.co.uk ; wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.co.uk ; occupylondon.org.uk (council meeting), occupylondon.org.uk (Starbucks), occupylondon.org.uk (library), occupynewsnetwork]

Diggers2012 are dug in for Winter Solstice and Christmas…

I visited the Diggers eco-village at Runnymede ten days ago. Alighting from a train at Egham station after dark, armed with a torch and directions copied from the website, I set off up Cooper’s Lane before diving into the woods onto a network of muddy but navigable paths. On my last visit I took the long route via the Magna Carta Memorial, so was a little disoriented as I approached from the opposite direction, but aided by a full moon shining through bare branches I found my way to the camp.

In the four months since I was last there, things have changed a lot.  The wooden-framed, earth-walled longhouse has been extended and further enclosed to shield from the elements a communal kitchen. A geodesic dome approximately 24ft across nestles into trees beyond the longhouse, providing an indoor meeting space. Solar panels (rescued from the St Paul’s Occupy camp) provide enough power for the Diggers to host film nights; a generous donation was recently used to buy a projector and screen, which turns the dome into a rustic cinema complete with cob-walled fireplace. Fresh spring-water was found just uphill from the camp and is now piped down into the village; when I was there Vinnie, a newish resident, was preparing to lag the pipes to prevent them freezing up in the expected cold snap. A hot water shower area with drainage was halfway built – to date, it had only produced tepid water but Vinnie assured me that the technical hitches would soon be overcome.

I slept in the dome and woke to a valley of frosted fields sparkling in winter sunlight. Residents of the eco-village have been busy constructing their own sleeping and living quarters over the last couple of months, each to their own design and timescale. Some are happy to reside in the tents they lived in at the St Paul’s Occupy camp last winter. Others have built yurts, tepees, lean-tos, benders and cabins. There’s a ramshackle treehouse and a few abandoned attempts to build shacks and sheds. What I loved most about the set-up was that almost everything used in the structures is natural or reclaimed material; and every structure is different.

No one seems to know if or when the Diggers will be evicted. I’d like to see them planting a forest garden in the springtime.

Finally; A BOOK REVIEW

The Co-operative Revolution: A Graphic Novel by Polyp 

Less a graphic novel, more a heavily-illustrated primer on the subject of co-operation, for grown-ups and kids over about 10. Simple language avoids condescending to the novice co-operator and the design / artwork is varied and attention-grabbing: cartoons, comic strips, photographs, handwritten notes, quotes and posters break up the text. A slim 70 pages, taken up mostly with pictures, but, somehow, packed with masses (and masses) of information. I’m sure I learnt – and possibly even retained – more about history and biology in an hour with this book than I did in a year at school.

Chapters on ‘Yesterday’, ‘Today’, ‘Always’ and ‘Tomorrow’ take readers on an unlikely journey. From the industrial revolution via the Luddites, Peterloo Massacre and Rochdale Pioneers, to the inside of a human cell and a critique of the pronouncements of Darwin and Dawkins… from birds and bees to snake-catchers, football teams and the collapse of the Argentinian economy… culminating in a fictitious trip to Mars in 2044. The Martian adventure is a little tame; for me, true tales of the courage and grit shown by our co-operative ancestors are way more impressive than this final flight of fancy, but kids and space enthusiasts may cheer to see the new-age Rochdale Pioneers make it off-planet.

Educational, not overtly political but subtly revolutionary, this inspiring ‘novel’ jumps off the page and lodges in your brain. It’s a reminder that ordinary people have been fighting powerful elites for a very long time, that some battles have been won, and that if we work together we have the strength to win more, for “altruistic groups beat selfish groups” or, as Polyp puts it, “good guys finish first”.

Author and artist Polyp is a co-operator and political cartoonist. His politics are a mash-up of “Bill Hicks, radical democracy, direct action, the co-operative movement, Karl Popper…”. He lives in Manchester, makes props for protests and is into tactical activism.

The Co-operative Revolution celebrates the 2012 UN Year of the Co-op. It can be read online for free or bought from its publishers New Internationalist (itself a non-profit co-operative) for £5.99.

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One Year

In London on Saturday there was an Occupy street party, along with a call to bang pots and pans in a global cacerolazo; we were invited to march and make a big noise and celebrate our birthday.

It’s a year ago that we Occupied the land between the London Stock Exchange and St Paul’s Cathedral. It was an incredible experience, it mattered, it demonstrated viscerally and loudly and at times smell-ily that it is possible to get away with doing outrageous, Establishment-rattling things. But how can we ‘celebrate’ the aniversary of a camp that is no longer there? How can we celebrate, when our politicians are intent on tightening the screws that keep us down; when the banks and corporations have given up not one jot of  power; when global climate-saving initiatives have run aground and natural resources are being plundered in ever more devastating ways and the rich keep getting richer while Greece, Portugal and Spain crack apart under the economic strain, and drones continue to kill children in far off phony wars; when there’s injustice, inequality and short-termism steeped in greed… everywhere? Celebrate? Ha!

I can’t get excited about the oh-so-cerebral upcoming New Putney Debates, or the October 20 TUC march, or about symbolic tents and protest-as-spectacle. The ‘St Paul’s Four’ made a stab at articulating their anger at the Establishment but I think we need to eschew media stunts now, get our heads down and concentrate on accruing practical skills, knowledge and wisdom, while extending our networks. My feeling is it’s time for rolling up our sleeves, getting fit and practising alternative ways of organising and living, every single day. We should be creating real life opportunities to live equitably and sustainably, while challenging the current system in every which way we can.

I’m not downhearted, because in the cracks and creaking seams of society, I see people doing exactly that.

In North London, Friern Barnet library – a victim of Tory cuts – has been repossessed by a coalition of squatters, Occupy activists and locals. They’ve recently been given a stay of execution by the courts. Occupiers evicted from the St Paul’s and Finsbury Square camps have  recently opened The Hobo Hilton –  a Central London squat that aims to provide a creative hub for revolutionaries, as well as providing shelter and drawing attention to homelessness. The squatted Cuts Cafe in Blackfriars is a new radical social centre with the byline “building our own future”; it has a full programme of workshops aimed at building resistance and exploring “the real alternatives to austerity”. The Diggers2012 remain dug-in at Runnymede; their eco village, sited in disused woodland, is almost four months old. Despite multiple eviction threats, the Diggers are peacefully building their community and tending the land. Meanwhile, Radical Routes continues to support and train those who choose to challenge the capitalist system whilst demonstrating the effectiveness of consensus decision-making and cooperative living.

At Hinkley Point in Somerset, anti-nuclear campaigners squatted common land, set up a camp, built a barn, connected with Bridgwater residents during a town centre rally, engaged local, national and independent media, dodged G4S security and guard dogs, cut and scaled fences and succeeded in trespassing en masse on the proposed site of a new nuclear power plant. The entire four-day action was planned, organised and enacted by a leaderless network of affinity groups, each bringing different skills and tactics which proved beautifully complementary and – for the police – bafflingly unpredictable.

Many of the young and novice activists who were drawn to Occupy seem unaware that we’ve been doing these things for years. Graeber’s 2002 review of anti-globalisation activism is instructive. In some ways it makes me feel – fuck, yeah, we knew all this ten years ago, so why are we still trying to reinvent the wheel and frequently doing it less successfully than we were then? But, it is simultaneously inspiring and shows that we don’t give up. ‘Occupy’ is part of a much bigger movement – historically, as well as geographically. In 1992 a friend joined environmentalists walking from Manchester to London to campaign at the Rio Earth Summit. She thought the government might be ready to tackle the spectre of climate change, invest in renewable energy and end the arms trade.  The Berlin wall had come down and everything seemed possible. The activists on that march might’ve had their absurd optimism dashed, again and again over the last twenty years, but they haven’t given up, as this blog published by the Occupied Times demonstrates. The author is still fighting eco-crime and capitalist corruption, latterly through the Ban the Burn campaign.

I recently realised that at every significant protest, there’s at least one Greenham Common woman with more experience of direct action than everyone else put together. And that we should probably listen to these women more than we do.

We’ve achieved a few things over the last year. We’ve raised awareness and “changed the terms of the debate” (I seem to have heard that phrase a lot). We’ve been vindicated: the LIBOR scandal, Leveson Enquiry and a host of other dirty dealings – perpetrated by banks, politicians, corporations, media magnates, millionaire CEOs, armies and the police – have been uncovered.

In Canada, students and occupiers fought against tuition hikes – and won. The people of Iceland jailed their thieving bankers. In Spain, Portugal and Greece, anti-austerity movements are verging on uprisings which no European politician or bank can ignore. In the US, debt strikes and resistance to home foreclosures see citizens taking control back from the banks.

Ok… so we can make a difference. But we need to really, really mean it. That means being prepared to give up the capitalist trappings we’re still clinging on to, ditching comfort and ego, accepting diversity of tactics within a broad movement for radical change, and taking a leap of faith into the unformed ‘other world’ that we believe is possible.

Ready steady go.

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August

The Diggers 2012 are going from strength to strength, extending their longhouse, building cob walls, hosting workshops in traditional crafts, installing solar panels and constructing a compost toilet. Visitors welcome, regular open days and workshops.

The Olympics is over, the aftermath yet to be fully realised. Over a hundred Critical Mass cyclists were arrested for cycling near the Olympic stadium. Other outrageous examples of over-zealous policing abound. The Paralympics is bringing into focus the horrors inflicted on disabled people by the government’s benefit cuts and sponsors Atos.

The Nomads melted away from Hackney, as promised, and have not yet re-emerged. Kay says the Occupy spirit remains strong and that a period of rest, reflection and regrouping will be followed by some mysterious ‘Next Steps’.

Occupy London is cheering the release, with no charges, of the Xstrata 16, who were arrested back in November for occupying the offices of multinational mining corporation Xstrata. The 16 succeeded in highlighting the obscene pay of CEO Mick Davis and the environmental and human rights abuses perpetrated by his company.

In early August Occupiers organised assemblies and discussions, music jams and poetry slams, talks, workshops, films and livestreaming at The Green Gathering, a small festival near Chepstow. Somewhat jaded activists discovered “a thread of hope tied to Occupy which can be cherished and built upon.”

The question people keep asking is “what can replace the current system?” The less commercial (and less hedonistic) festivals create spaces for exploration of some real life alternatives. At The Green Gathering there were workshops on co-operatives, squatting, renewable energy, permaculture, transition and traditional crafts. The Occupy camp helped to tie these alternatives together and relate them to a bigger, global picture. An assembly on the theme “what are festivals for?” elicited the following: “They are about sharing skills and experiences. For seeing all the incredible things people are already doing and have been doing for years, and for gaining hope and inspiration from that.” And: “They are about building networks. We need to organise and build the alternatives we are talking about in our local communities. But we also need wider networks to get new ideas and support, and to organise against a government that will attack us sooner or later.”

Increasingly I feel that Radical Routes – a collective of radical co-operatives – and the Occupy movement should be working hand-in-hand. With that in mind I went to a Radical Routes Summer Gathering in the Welsh borders where I learnt a little more about consensus decision-making, facilitation, ethical finance, wood-burning hot tubs, homemade elderflower champagne and  how long it takes to scrub and boil potatoes for a hundred people.

It sometimes feels as though a festival or gathering needs to last for more than a weekend to fulfil its potential but occupiers have learnt the hard way that temporary autonomous zones have a tendency to sap energy and engender disillusion if they attempt to put down roots and become permanent. In a true TAZ, every moment is precious. And maybe, even if what occurs is intangible, the very act of gathering with likeminded people – at The Green Gathering and Radical Routes, at the Festival of Resistance and the Diggers’ squatted eco-village near Runnymede, at Earth First! Gatherings and Occupy camps – maybe all this is covering the country in an invisible network, which will be activated when the time is ripe for the next phase in building towards a revolution.

Looking to the near future, The Occupied Times collective is about to print OT 17, another twenty pages of creative indymedia featuring alternative news, analysis, interviews, international reports, comment and satire.

London-based Occupiers are involved in planning for a Global Noise day of action on 13th October.

Local campaigns continue apace. Stop New Nuclear are planning a camp and mass trespass at Hinkley Point in early October.  RAFF are doing all they can to prevent fracking on the Fylde coast in Lancashire.

Read my blog about Yorkshire-based Ban the Burn! in the New Internationalist or a longer version of the story in the online version of the OT, or in September’s print edition.

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Occupy Nomads, the Inside Story

Earlier this week I visited the Occupy Nomads in Haggerston Park and the Diggers2012 at Cooper’s Hill, Runnymede. Despite repeated evictions, court cases, loss of belongings and the wettest summer anyone can remember, both groups are in good spirits.

My last post, ‘Whose Land?’, focussed on the Diggers’ story. Since then they’ve faced two attempted evictions. Eco-villagers have been carried away from their wooden longhouse and dumped in the mud further down the hill. But, both times they returned before the hearth went cold, rekindled a fire, boiled a kettle, had a cuppa and got back to digging in. Compost toilet construction, an extension to the longhouse and a garden are all underway.

This post tells the story of the Occupy Nomads, largely in their own words.

Stephane is Corsican. He’s fiery and proud. He joined the Nomadic Occupy group in March, at the group’s first camp in Limehouse. Before that he was a politically-motivated, community-minded squatter.

I asked Stephane why he joined the Nomads.

I support Occupy, because if Occupy wins it will be a nice little step in the right direction,” he said. It took a while to untangle what he meant, the rapidity of his speech and his strong accent hindering me far more than explaining complex concepts in his second language hindered him.

Stephane wants to take down the capitalist system we live in, but not via revolution. He knows it’s not going to happen overnight, that if it did we’d be in a mess because we’re not ready to live self-sufficiently and autonomously in the anarchic communities he would like to see emerging from the death throes of neoliberalism. For him, Nomadic Occupy is a training camp, an opportunity to live in the future he wants to see, and a physical, visible reminder to the authorities and the wider world that dissent has not gone away.

Stephane doesn’t see camping as the be all and end all of the Occupy movement but he does believe that keeping a tented presence in the public eye is important. He sees the Nomads as forerunners of change, taking back our right to live on the land, to build our own communities and to practice self-sufficiency. The Nomads are, to some extent, supporting themselves by recycling items destined for landfill and by foraging. Old appliances are expertly taken apart and rebuilt or stripped into useful parts, food is plucked from skips or donated and, as summer unfolds, fruits and herbs can be picked for free in London’s parks.

I asked Stephane what Occupy “winning” would mean and why, for him, such a win would be only a “nice little step”. He said that as he understands it, the Occupy movement is pressing for redistribution of wealth, which for him wouldn’t be enough – we’d still be living in a system he wants to reject. For Stephane, anarchy is the answer and he explains anarchy thus: “Everyone has individual responsibility, first for themselves and then to their community. You look after yourself, but also you share, you co-operate. That’s what we’re doing here.”

Tim camped at St Paul’s before becoming a nomadic occupier. He believes that the OccupyLSX camp, being in the City of London and thus visible mainly to city workers and tourists, failed to connect with ordinary people in the way Nomadic Occupy does. He says “The nomads engage with people at the arse end of society, the people who are massively affected by the big issues – politics, globalisation, corporatisation – but who’re least engaged with those issues. We encourage people in local communities who have never been politically active, who’ve always assumed they can’t change anything, to think and talk about these big issues and to start connecting with activist groups and grassroots campaigns.”

Nomadic Occupy also provides a valuable social hub which is particularly appreciated by the disenfranchised, according to Tim. Pubs and cafes are too expensive to be viable meeting places for many and squatted social centres are often too hidden, or too intimidating, for people outside the squatting community to take advantage of. A small camp in a public place is far easier to approach. The kettle is always on and “we probably provide the only free al fresco cafe in London”.

Encouraging participation in political issues is a big part of the Occupy mission. Tim is passionate about recruiting new people and about “bridging the disconnect between the local and the global”. He accepts that the Nomads have made some mistakes and that they’re still on a steep learning curve, working out how best to connect with communities and how to avoid antagonising the very people they want to reach out to. On the whole, he says, the dispossessed – those with insecure housing, troubled relationships, unstable mental health or little to lose – welcome Nomadic Occupy. Those upset by the encampments tend to be clinging to privileges and a ‘not in my backyard’ attitude. Some of those who are initially, perhaps naturally, suspicious, relax and engage once they understand the remit of Nomadic Occupy and the temporary nature of the camps.

Tim explains how residents around Mile End and Ion Square found that the presence of a Nomad camp reduced crime and antisocial behaviour in the area, making local parks – once no-go zones for pensioners and families – safer and more hospitable. He also reminds me that as eviction loomed at St Paul’s we brainstormed about what Occupy should do next. Going ‘on the road’ and engaging with local communities was high up the list of priorities and the Nomads have found a means of doing that. “St Paul’s was probably one of the largest activist training camps ever,” Tim says. “Since the big camps have been evicted the activists have scattered but they’re still spreading the word in their own communities and workplaces, on the streets and in the parks.”

Steve describes himself as “a typical East End person”. He stumbled across Nomadic Occupy in Ion Square Gardens and wasn’t impressed at first but was invited to sit down for a chat. “I had my eyes opened,” he says. “These guys educated me about social issues which I’d always felt powerless to engage with or change. They made me think about the things that matter. Most of us don’t think about those things because we’re blinded by TV or by our own struggles.”

Steve decided to join the Nomads. “I want to help them engage with local people. I want ordinary people to understand that the banks and the media manipulate people and how it’s all for the benefit of the one percent.” Regarding the camp, Steve argues that land should be for the people, for all people, and that camping out, cooking over a fire and creating a social space for discussion and education is a better use for it than most.

Nomadic Occupy has given Steve hope for the future. “The Nomads are fighting for the dispossessed. I want more people to know that there are people prepared to do that. I want more people to experience what I have, to have their eyes opened and to feel hope. The Nomads are the embers of Occupy – from this a phoenix can rise. I have a vision of more camps like this, of increasing numbers of people without fear being prepared to stand up against those who take away our rights. I feel empowered now, when I didn’t before.”

Kay was at St Paul’s. “We knew that after eviction we’d need a new strategy. I was part of the ‘Next Steps’ working group. We, like others, came up with the idea of mobile occupations and eventually what came out of that was Nomadic Occupy.”

The purpose of Nomadic Occupy, according to Kay, is to spread the ideas and aims of Occupy more widely while reaching out to communities and recruiting people to the movement. The Nomads are particularly well-placed to highlight issues around homelessness and land use and Kay concurs with the Diggers2012 who say that “every person in this country and the world should have the right to live on disused land, to grow food and to build a shelter. This right should apply whether you have money or not.”

Occupy London prepared a statement about homelessness when it became apparent that many homeless or insecurely-housed people were joining the camp at St Paul’s out of necessity or a desire for community. As Kay explains “Homeless people have no choice but to Occupy space which is not ‘theirs’. The Occupy movement brought this to public attention but the issue is still misunderstood. Charities and other organisations set up to help the homeless often cannot understand why someone they have placed in a hostel or other accommodation will leave and go back to the streets. They don’t realise that a home is not just about having a roof over your head. Being socially isolated is worse than being cold or damp. That’s why people will return to the homeless community rather than sit alone in a bedsit. That’s why camps such as this are such positive developments – we are creating a real community of people who care about each other here.”

Kay believes it to be important that Occupy maintains a visible presence on public land, not just for community-building purposes but to remind people that the issues which brought occupiers onto the streets in October 2011 haven’t gone away – and in fact, are becoming more and more apparent what with the Barclays interest-rate fixing scandal and the militarisation and corporatisation of the Olympics (and the negative effect that’s having on many East-Londoners). “We will Occupy until the one percent start to address us and propose solutions,” Kay proclaims.

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Whose Land? | The Occupied Times

Finsbury Square has been evicted, the Diggers are digging in, Rio+20 was useless except to highlight the negative influence of multinational corporations on the global environment, Simon’s been given a two-year ASBO for trying to save Leyton Marsh from development, Climate Sirens locked on to the gates of Buck’ Palace and hung banners quoting Prince Charles saying that we need to act now on climate change, Counter-Olympics campaigns are burgeoning as the torch gets trapped in the flooded North, organic farmer in court for trashing GM wheat, GM-pusher Monsanto amongst worst ‘Green-washers’ along with Olympic sponsor BP… All this swimming around in my head, and I write, for the Occupied Times:

Whose Land?

The Occupy movement was not, initially, about land. It was about the economy, democracy, justice and climate change. It was about bank bonuses, public service cuts and being the change we wanted to see. It was also about joining the dots between apparently disparate issues and, recently, the realisation has dawned that land is one giant polka dot.

The London Occupy movement unwittingly flagged up the privatisation of public space from the outset. On 15th October 2011, protesters were prevented from entering Paternoster Square by an injunction brought by its private owners, Mitsubishi. Occupy has always been about using land for temporary camps, originally for the purpose of making a political stand and later – as the movement engaged with immediate local issues such as homelessness – to enable those without homes to enjoy shelter and community. Occupiers are now working with the Diggers 2012, a group of activists who claim disused land and use it to practise sustainable living. Occupy is joining with international campaign groups and indigenous activists to highlight landgrabs by mining corporations Xstrata and Glencore in Asia, Africa and Oceania. Occupy activists are also kicking-up a fuss about landgrabs closer to home, for example the appropriation of Metropolitan Open Land in Hackney for the London 2012 Olympic Village.

In the eight months since the Paternoster Square injunction, land issues have come to the fore and even the mainstream media has taken note. The Guardian recently referenced the Occupy movement, while describing just how ubiquitous and restrictive private ownership of outdoor space can be. Character, community and biodiversity are frequently subjugated to profitability and showcase ornamentation in privately owned spaces. Canary Wharf has practically been declared a no-protest zone, whilst in Northern cities such as Liverpool, quirky districts stuffed with recycled-furniture markets, independent bookstores and community cafes have been stripped bare and sterilised.

Occupiers have been educating themselves on the subject of land. In squatted social centres and tent universities, Anna Minton’s Ground Control (2012) jostles for bookshelf space with Kevin Cahill’s Who Owns Britain (2002). Minton considers the deeply undemocratic nature of private land ownership and the harm done to communities when open spaces are corralled for profitability instead of being tended for the public good. Cahill underlines the inequities inherent in land ownership, whilst uncovering the myth of land scarcity. He reports that less than one percent of the UK population own approximately 70 percent of the land and that land is nowhere near as scarce as we are led to believe. Only a tenth of the UK’s land mass is built upon. Rural landowners pay no taxes on land and actually receive subsidies simply for owning unused acres. Cahill’s conclusion is that a redistribution of land could go a long way towards addressing economic and social problems, not just in Britain but globally.

As Occupy supporters marched through the City of London during an international day of action on 12th May, issues of land ownership were raised with the chant: “Whose streets? Our streets!” Later, whilst temporarily kettled, protesters broke through police lines, only to be arrested a couple soon after simply for having an assembly, hanging out and playing music on “our streets”. Elsewhere, squatters are continuing to fight for the right to use derelict buildings for the common good; bailiffs evicted Occupy’s squatted Bank of Ideas and went one further with the School of Ideas, razing it to the ground. Between April and July the Nomadic Occupy group was taken to court by Tower Hamlets council, evicted from a Hackney park and threatened with arrest when tents were erected on Hampstead Heath. The stated aim of the ‘nomads’ is to set up small, purely temporary encampments for outreach purposes while maintaining good relations with their neighbours and lending a compassionate ear to vulnerable members of local communities.

Politicians decry the decline of community and yet attempts to use our outdoor spaces for collaborative, creative activities are regularly thwarted by injunctions, health and safety regulations or trumped-up public order offences. Red tape and bureaucracy frequently prevail in preventing unauthorised gatherings, protests, celebrations, leisure or pleasure from occurring even in public places – unless, of course, the activity in question is an Establishment-bolstering Jubilee party. Policies instigated in the Thatcher years – from redevelopment of the London Docklands by an unaccountable, but publicly-funded Urban Development Corporation, to the Criminal Justice Act (no more subversive partying in fields) – have served subsequent governments well, while enshrining in law the separation of people from land.

Taking their inspiration from Gerrard Winstanley’s True Levellers, the Diggers 2012 are attempting to redress these injustices. On their simple website the Diggers “declare our intention to go and cultivate the disused land of this island; to build dwellings and live together in common by the sweat of our brows”. They believe that “…every person in this country and the world should have the right to live on disused land, to grow food and to build a shelter. This right should apply whether you have money or not”.

These latter-day Diggers set off to walk from a community allotment in London to the Crown Estate in Windsor on 9th June, with the intention of starting an eco-village on disused Crown land. The True Levellers attempted a similar project in 1649, with a view not only to planting vegetables on common land but also to reforming the existing social order. By the time the Diggers 2012 reached their destination they had an escort of police and an injunction had been slapped on the entire area. A walk along the banks of the Thames ensued, the peaceful Diggers tailed by police and Crown Estate officials. A succession of temporary camps were set up, despite attempts by police, council, estate and park officials to run the Diggers off the land.

On 11th June, as the group scouted for a suitable location to grow vegetables and community, one of their number was arrested. Simon Moore was deemed to be in breach of the Anti-Social Behaviour Order he was given for his participation in a peaceful Save Leyton Marsh protest. Jailed for a night, Simon rejoined the Diggers the following day. By then the group had managed to ‘dig in’ to a piece of woodland on the edge of Runnymede Park, the birthplace of our modern democracy.

Gathering around the Magna Carta memorial at Runnymede – a memorial inscribed with “Freedom under the Law” – the Diggers discussed land, freedom, democracy, irony and injustice. Planning law is used to prevent groups like the Diggers from solving their own housing issues and is abused by those in power, who can declare ‘exceptions’ when it suits them, as they have done on the Hackney Marshes. For now, the Diggers 2012 are camped on a piece of disused land that was sold by Brunel University to developers in 2007. They are beginning to build structures from natural materials and are inviting all – but especially forest gardeners and permaculturists – to join them for a spot of guerilla gardening.

Todmorden’s Incredible Edible project, dreamed up by a couple of self-proclaimed ‘old birds’, shows just how successful guerilla gardening can be. In an unusual community-spirited ‘landgrab’ the town’s residents planted up roadside verges, roundabouts and council-owned flowerbeds with fruit, vegetables and salad crops. Now locals and visitors alike can grab a handful of fresh food as they walk down the street and international eco-tourists are flocking to this formerly down-at-heel South Pennine town. This project is a baby-step in the right direction. It is an example of the kind of dignified, creative, co-operative solution that Occupy in London is exploring in its ‘Creating Alternatives’ assemblies.

Regaining control of land and buildings, claiming space and building communities, living on the earth and protecting it from rape and pollution – these endeavours are at the heart of Occupy, even though we didn’t trumpet land rights in our initial statement.

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A wild, weird, wired, wet weekend in London Town

It began sedately enough with a small assembly on the steps of St Paul’s. Activists returning from the Stop ACTA demo joined us after defending internet freedom and privacy rights. We discussed the upcoming series of assemblies ‘Creating Alternatives’, to be based on nurturing connections between community groups and grassroots campaigns. These assemblies will look at ways of working together which take us out of the competitive ratrace, away from notions of victimhood, and towards community empowerment. We’ll be considering Co-operatives, a Community Bill of Rights and the notion of ‘The Commons’… alongside topics brought to the assemblies by participating groups. This series will begin on June 16th and will continue throughout the Summer, every Saturday at 2pm on the steps of St Paul’s, culminating in a community picnic on August 19th (location tbc).

It was a sunny Saturday so some of us continued sitting on the cathedral steps after the assembly wrapped up. Thus we were treated to the sight of several hundred nude and semi-nude cyclists (plus a few scantily-clad skaters and scooterists) participating in a mass Naked Bike Ride to promote cycling and cyclists’ rights. This was impressive, beautiful, slightly shocking and seemed terribly, eccentrically British… although we later discovered that naked bike riding is a global phenomena. American and Japanese tourists who’d obviously never experienced the phenomena in their own countries were flabbergasted. Especially when the entire procession became embroiled in a traffic jam and came to a halt wound around the cathedral. “In front of a church!” exclaimed one, while trying not to catch the eye of a naked person… nor to stare too long at flabby or private body parts. When propriety proved too difficult she closed her eyes.

Next stop, the London Green Fair in Regent’s Park. A whole festival surrounded by city towerblocks – quite surreal. Wholesome foodstalls, fairtrade clothing, crafts, eco-products, bars and music. Lovely. Luckily, still sunny. The Occupy London Energy, Equity & Environment group met here and sat chatting in the park until dusk, stumbled across by an Occupied Times editor, some Finsbury Square folk and a few Anons.

Having found my way to the latest Nomadic Occupy Camp in Ion Square Gardens, Tower Hamlets, I caught up with the nomads’ news around a fire. I heard that relations with local residents – who had arranged portaloos for the camp and many of whom visited daily – were good. Preparations for a court hearing were in progress, however, and there was some disagreement amongst the camp’s inhabitants over whether to fight the case or simply slip away to the next site. Some felt that having cleaned up the park they had evidence to prove that Nomadic Occupy provides a valuable community service and that they could petition for temporary camping permits. I slipped away to bed while the debate continued.

Having slept well in a borrowed tent I was woken by scorching sun on Sunday morning. It looked to be a perfect day for catching up with the Diggers2012 who were en route to Windsor to reclaim disused Crown Estate land for an eco-village settlement, so I took a train out of London, hitched through a police cordon and joined the Diggers. I later wrote about our adventures for The Occupied Times: Diggers2012, A Walk to Windsor

On Monday London (and much of Britain) was treated to monsoonal weather and the Nomads were in court. Their pleas to remain in Ion Square for another two weeks were rejected and they were given until 9am Wednesday morning to depart. At a hastily convened and rather damp meeting there was consensus to move to a new borough. Overnight it was decided that Hampstead Heath would be an audacious but appropriate move.

By Wednesday morning I was back in Yorkshire and the Occupy Nomads were ensconced on Hampstead Heath. The Nomads told reporters that they were “building a space for political discussion” in an area of the Heath known as the Vale of Health. The Vale is managed by the City of London Corporation so the Nomads were poking an old enemy. They managed to stay on the Heath for less than 24 hours before being threatened with arrest if they refused to pack and leave… but during that time they highlighted controversy over plans to commercialise the area, as well as refocusing attention on the continuing existence of the Occupy movement in London.

Evict us and we multiply.

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