Boat-dwellers and non boat-dwellers turned out to the protest at Peartree Bridge Inn towpath on Saturday June 7. Anita de Klerk and Clare Solomon report
For the first time protestors of boat dwellers, union members canal users, enthusiasts and members of the public gathered in Milton Keynes with the People's Flotilla Against Austerity and made a stand against the evictions that are being imposed by the Canal and River Trust (CRT) on the most vulnerable, elderly and disabled boaters.
Speakers from the National Bargee-Traveller Association, the Green Party, Milton Keynes Against the Cuts and the People's Assembly addressed the crowd from the back of a boat which formed part of the protest.
Before the speakers got underway boats were draped in banners, flags and posters. As the event went on more boats arrived and tied themselves to the already breasted boats.
Any initial nerves and concerns to join the stunt and to form the blockade were soon overcome once people realised that the action was supported by the public and that they had a right to protest.
One disabled, live-aboard boater who was threatened with eviction said; "I finally decided to join the stunt, after watching it from the bridge, because people are standing up for us and giving us a voice".
Pauline, a pensioner who lives on the canal said; "I have a friend who is suffering with cancer. Myself and my friend went to the CRT offices and asked them if it was possible to over stay the 14 days after her opperation on her lungs? They replied; ... yes of course it is. It will only be an extra £200 a month. This is a woman who is on a £400 pension."
Richard, another canal dweller, asked the question, why are the CRT spending £120 million on a building, in Manchester that was no way near the canal, and not spending it on the canals? Richard highlighted the fact that the "canals are collapsing everywhere and they should be spending money on the canals to make it safe for us to live on".
Whilst gathering more signatures for the petition passers by who were unaware of the issues commented; "It's a disgrace. This is exactly what they are doing across the rest of society."
The final petition with 5700 signatures demanding that CRT stop evicting people who are unable to abide by the 14 rule, due to their personal circumstances and illnesses which deem it either unsafe or impossible for them to move, was delivered the head office of CRT at 5pm.
The Green Youth, other youngsters and people who joined in on the day for their first ever protest enthusiastically handed out flyers for the National Demonstration Against Auserity on the 21st June in London.
Inspired new members continued discussing the issues well into the evening with a family social on the towpath.
People interested in joining us to travel down to London on the 21st of June should meet us at 10:45am to catch the 11:06 train from Milton Keynes.
Anita de Klerk is a lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy, Marxist activist and founder of the People's Flotilla Against Austerity.
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