The evictions that took place at Dale Farm last year have been forgotten by the media, but the attack on the Traveller community continues writes Laura Jones.
2011 was a year of protest at the greed and irresponsibility of an economic system which is forcing millions to live in poverty and ruining the planet. The ConDem government, like most, has used the financial crisis to enact huge cuts in public spending. For the past year in which we have struggled against their attempts to erode the welfare state, the people of Dale Farm have literally been fighting for their homes.
Media interest in Dale Farm peaked in the weeks leading up to the brutal eviction attempt on October 19, the culmination of a tense stand-off during which the eviction was delayed by a number of hard-fought court-injunctions. Then the case disappeared from the news entirely. A baffling 18 million pounds of public money was squandered in Basildon council’s effort to remove the community at Dale Farm. Despite impressive opposition, the courts eventually sided with the council. The actual eviction of the site took place in November when 83 families were forcibly removed from their homes.
The hugely costly campaign to expel the travelers from the land, which they bought legally years ago – was led by Tory councilor Tony Ball. Despite the residents’ repeated applications, planning permission for their homes was never granted. Ball consistently claimed that their presence was damaging to the designated ‘’green belt’’ land they occupied and that their homes constituted an ‘eye-sore’.
His claims received full support from David Cameron, whose concern for the preservation of Britain’s countryside (unless we count support for the ritualistic slaughter of foxes), has hardly been illustrated in recent months. His is a government which believes that the Thames estuary would look better as an airport terminal and that the marshes at Wolthamshow, home to many ’protected’ species, would benefit from the presence of an Olympic complex.
A growing number of conservationist groups have been expressing their fear for the environmental legacy of the coalition government, which dubbed itself the “greenest in British history.” At Dale Farm, the diggers have come and gone. They tore up the protected green belt and transformed it into mounds and troughs in which toxic water has been gathering.
While some have moved elsewhere, most of the evicted families – many of which include small children – have gone to stay in the ‘legal’ part of the site or are camped along the road which previously led to their homes. Many residents at dale farm are now living in squalid and over-cramped conditions. Back in September, Basildon council’s treatment of the community was criticised by the UN, Amnesty International and the European Court of Human Rights for being in contradiction of human rights laws. But as Dale Farm disappeared from the British national media, international interest and condemnation also ceased.
Interestingly, plans are currently underway for the construction of a large housing estate on green belt land in a neighboring district. The evacuated land at Dale Farm has even appeared on a list of possible sites for planning permission in the next 20 years.
The fate of Dale Farm was decided by those who had a financial incentive to move them. It was clear to anyone following the debacle from the start that the issue had little to do with the preservation of green belt land. Basildon council instead began to emphasise the anti-social nature of the community at Dale farm, citing complaints from locals. In a frighteningly medieval move some local residents hostile to Dale Farm even threatened to take the matter into their own hands, but still more rallied to the community’s defense.
Fostering suspicion and hostility towards the traveler community is not difficult in this country (or elsewhere in Europe: last year, France told its Romani population it was time to go). 6.5 million people watched Chanel 4’s most recent series of ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’, a show which claims to present an objective and accurate portrayal of the culture of the Traveler community. Their current controversial advertising campaign contains the tag-line “Bigger, Fatter, Gypsier”, showing that Chanel 4 have established the exact criteria on which “gypsiness” is based. The show builds upon existing stereotypes of gypsies to create an entirely new construct. While making light of the genuine problems facing the community, it presents gypsies as an entertainingly backward group, whose men are menacing, whose women are always sexually available, and who squander their considerable wealth on things that would make ‘our’ toes curl.
The hundreds of activists from around the world and across the political spectrum who visited Dale Farm in solidarity and outrage at their situation last summer were welcomed with open arms and encountered a very different kind of community.
No Borders and other activists continue to work with the residents of Dale Farm to help plan their next step. Over years, Tony Ball has discontinued every council initiative taken to find alternative sites for the families to live, leaving them with nowhere to go. The community’s only hope is to raise funds for an attempt to re-occupy their land and continue their struggle. Last year their campaign was able to raise just under £4000 and managed to mount a massive resistance to Basildon council, who had vast sums of tax-payers money at their disposal. Their resilience and spirit was an example to all those who are resisting aggressive government policies. With nothing left to lose, they are continuing their fight.
From International Socialist Group site
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