Part of the Ecological Land Co-operative’s holding
A colleague, Shaun Chamberlin, writes:
As we look around the world, we see the 1.5m strong Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil, the vast International Peasant’s Movement, La Via Campesina, the tens of thousands of Greek families deserting the cities and returning to any land they can access and the enormous (and successful) land rights march across India earlier this year.
The right to access land matters, in a fundamental way. It is a place to live, a source for food, for water, for fuel, and for sustenance of almost every kind. And land management also has profound impacts on our ecosystems and environment, and thus on our well-being and our collective future. So it matters deeply that while UK supermarkets and housing estates find permission to build easy to come by, those who wish to use land to explore truly sustainable living are frustrated and harassed at every turn.
In Britain I see increasing numbers of my friends disillusioned and marginalised from the mainstream economy – ripped off by banks, burdened with huge debts and struggling to find decent employment.
As the inherently unsustainable financial economy continues to unravel, the people of England are not yet reaping the desperate consequences to the extent that those of Greece or India are, but it is growing even here, and it will come heavily home to this dark heart of the financial empire soon enough. For many, ‘austerity’ is already biting hard.
Naturally, in such circumstances, we seek alternatives. Yet while some might wish to follow the example of those Greek families and earn a simple, honest life “by the sweat of our brow”, rather than working frantically to earn ‘a living’ while paying off the debts incurred by a corrupt financial system, we are simply not being permitted to do so.
New laws are being passed absurdly criminalising the likes of squatting and trespass (even against the wishes of the police forces), meaning that the police are being forced to step in on behalf of landowners. Meanwhile land planning policy reform makes it ever easier for corporations – and harder for families – to control land, leaving the courts obliged to prosecute those who wish to work to heal disused, neglected land instead of relying on state handouts to survive the vagaries of the employment market. The glaring injustice that has mobilised mass movements in the likes of Brazil and India is becoming ever more apparent here.
It is this sorry state of affairs that has given birth to the “Reclaim the Fields” movement and activist groups like Grow Heathrow. Inspired by the example of Gerrard Winstanley’s 17th Century Diggers, these peaceful, practical radicals have moved onto disused UK land in order to cultivate it, build dwellings and live in common “by the sweat of our brow”.
In other words, they have asserted their right to simply exist on nature’s bounty, seeking neither permission from anyone nor dominion over anyone; a right that they believe people should still share with the other animals. A right, indeed, that was enshrined in UK law in the 1217 Charter of the Forest . . .
Thus I see the tide of history at the backs of the Diggers 2012, with their direct action the vanguard of the UK movement to reclaim the land under our feet from the 1% (or 0.06%) who would call it theirs.
Yet as with all movements for change in society, if it is to be successful, it must have a number of strands – the ever-swelling public pressure and the direct action of those willing to put their bodies on the line must be complemented by positive examples and alternatives for others to follow, and by the slower work of building the alternative legal and governmental forms that would allow land to be brought back to the people . . .
To read about the practical action Shaun and others are taking, click here.