After much dithering, we ended up driving North on Sunday night heading for Dale Farm, ducking under the Thames at Dartford, and emerging in Essex, new and alien ground for us. Breaking right towards Basildon and then onto back roads, we were anticipating blocked roads and searches, and parked discreetly some distance from the site. We needn’t have worried. Walking in, there was an extraordinary air of calm, with a few quiet words of welcome and thanks from Travellers as we walked in the growing darkness up the approach road to the main gate, below the looming scaffold towers and banners. Just a few hours later, that same route in would be blocked by an array of barricades, several massive lock-ons, and a young woman chained by the neck to the outer gates.
With no time to get bearings, we caught the tail end of a legal briefing within the walls of Camp Constant, the activist hub, then joined our friend at the Red Team meeting. Different colours were used to designate the different areas of the site for the co-ordination of the defence: Red Team, we found out, covered the main gate and a substantial length of the rather exposed-looking right flank of the site. The main gate scaffold tower gave way to an extended scaffold, tyre and wire wall, plugged with anything heavy and rigid from doors to sofas to fridges. The red team meeting was a pretty efficient affair, well-facilitated, and as inclusive and indulgent as the time and situation could permit, but with a fair few of those overenthusiastic and totally infeasible last minute suggestions that only 20 year old guys seem to capable of coming up with. Ah, to be young again! We talked about the lock-on crews and their “guardian angels”: folk whose role was to look after the locked-on with food and support, and make sure the bailiffs and police understood their precarious situation. We talked about rotas, communications, possible scenarios, the availability of blue boiler suits and masks for those wanted to remain anonymous, the presence of legal observers, about the shields that would allow us to form mobile barriers, and protect ourselves, as and when needed, and the need to stay calm and act together.
It seems the Daily Mail infiltrated one Arthur Martin into that meeting. Not suprisingly, that individual reported a remarkably stinky load of porky pies, describing events as follows: “I listen with growing alarm as [my team leader(sic)] attempts to whip us into a fervour of hate against the bailiffs and the police.” Odd, I must have dozed off during that part of the meeting. Also, apparently, “…the rag-tag mix of professional activists, benefit claimants and students had just one thing on their minds: Anarchy.” Strangely, on my mind was something very different: the chance the following day to be a small part of the resistance to a despicable piece of ethnic cleansing, and to help send a message to the world that we will not stand by whilst those in power attack and dispossess minorities amongst us. But, I admit, also on my mind were thoughts of sleep. And perhaps a little bit of anarchy. In the sense of that venerable strand of political thought and action, I hasten to add.
Joining Travellers and activists for a little party around a ghetto blaster for a hour or so, we then retired to our tent. I slept very well, a thick bed of straw underneath the tent to buffer us from the concrete and hardcore (concrete and hardcore laid by the council themselves before the Travellers bought the land : so much for respecting the greenbelt). Miraculously I was only marginally disturbed by the building of a new barricade 20 feet away at around 4am: somehow it seemed perfectly natural, as natural as the pack of little dogs that raced around all day, and the cherry pickers bearing Sky News and ITV cameras and pundits who peered down on us from over the fence next morning.
There was no camp-wide meeting to start the day, no-one running round telling people what to do, and indeed “….no order [being].brought to the camp by self-imposed leaders – ardent feminists in their 40s”, as that risible worm, Mr Martin from the Mail would have us believe. Just groups of young people chatting and calmly preparing to place their bodies between an army of bailiffs on the one hand, and the homes and land of the travellers on the other.
A long and tense day of waiting, speculating, and watching had begun. Barricades were shuffled around a bit. Rumours of bailiffs sighted here and there swept through the site like little wildfires. At about midday, Tony Ball, the leader of Basildon Council, and John Baron, the local Tory MP, trotted out to affirm that the eviction will still proceed today. However, nothing more happens. At all. Eventually, around 3pm, a troupe of bailiffs approached the main gate, and using what appeared to be a Toys-R-Us megaphone, delivered what must be one of the most pathetic opening shots of any confrontation anywhere, ever: an appeal to the travellers to leave in the interests of “health and safety”, because the scaffolding looks a bit rickety. That done, the bailiffs retreated back to their own lines. Job done. £1.2 million per day (allegedly) paycheck well earned.
It’s at 5pm that we hear the stunning news that Dale Farm residents have won a last-gasp injunction restraining Basildon Council from clearing structures from the site pending a further hearing at London’s High Court five days later. Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart granted the order at London’s High Court on the basis that there was a realistic apprehension that the measures being planned by the council “may go further” than the terms of the enforcement notices. There are screams and shouts of joy, high-fives, dancing, and about 400 broad smiles. The TV crews are competing with the activists’ sound system to get their interviews in for the evening news. There’s a party atmosphere, but inside we all know it’s just a temporary victory. But a victory nonetheless, not least because it means that the message continues to go out that oppression and racism will be resisted from below wherever it rears its head, and that Travellers, Gypsies and Roma of Europe are not alone in their struggle for a life free from persecution and violence.
For up to date information on Dale Farm see http://dalefarm.wordpress.com/