A month ago, I was delighted to meet up with — and be interviewed by — an old friend and colleague, Tony Gosling, a journalist and broadcaster, who also has a long-established mail order service, Culture Shop, making videos and books on important political topics available. For many years, Tony has sold videos and DVDs of “Operation Solstice,” the documentary about the showdown between new age travellers and Margaret Thatcher’s government that took place on June 1, 1985, in a field in Wiltshire, when police from six forces and the MoD savagely “decommissioned” a convoy of travellers, anarchists and environmental and anti-nuclear activists, assaulting men, women and children, and destroying vehicles.
The government succeeded in preventing the convoy from reaching their planned destination, Stonehenge, where they had intended to establish the 12th annual Stonehenge Free Festival — a huge free event that was a gigantic inspiration for all kinds of dissidents, but was, of course, feared and despised by the establishment.
After I published my first book, Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, in June 2004, a social history of Stonehenge that was, essentially, a wider British counter-cultural history, in which the Battle of the Beanfield was pivotal, I swiftly followed up with another book, focusing specifically on The Battle of the Beanfield, through original essays, transcripts of interviews with people involved on the day, and excerpts from the police log, which was published on the 21st anniversary of the Beanfield in 2005.
Tony then began selling my Beanfield book, and DVDs of “Operation Solstice,” and when I took a collection of photos of the Stonehenge Free Festival around the country, I stayed with him while showing the exhibition and doing a talk at a community social centre in Bristol.
When we met up recently, while Tony was on a visit to London, he interviewed me for his show for the Bristol Broadband Collective, a community radio station in Bristol. The 28-minute interview is here, and in it I discuss the historical resonance of the Stonehenge Free Festival and the Battle of the Beanfield, mentioning its inspirations (in the 17th century Diggers movement, for example, and the Diggers revival in San Francisco in the 1960s), and also discussing how, after the Beanfield, laws were introduced to suppress popular dissent, but also how, in spite of increased state suppression, popular movements continued to thrive — in the road protest movement of the 1990s, and, in particular, I believe, Reclaim the Streets, which influenced the anti-globalization movement that began in the late 1990s, but was largely sidelined by the “war on terror” and the increase in the paranoid police state that began after the 9/11 attacks.
In the last third of the interview (from around 19 minutes in), I particularly focused on how one important element of the free festival/convoy period — radical notions of land reform — which later reemerged in the road protest movement and Reclaim the Streets, has emerged once more in the Occupy movement. This part of the interview was partly a lament about the savage and unprecedented assault on the state by the Tory-led coalition government, and partly a call to arms, involving a discussion of how a new political movement is required, one that can foster the creativity of young people without filtering everything through the kind of greed that actually suppresses grass roots entrepreneurs — largely through the control of property, manifested in monstrously high rents and business charges.
On the eve of the summer solstice, as revellers gather at Stonehenge for the annual party that has been allowed since 2000, after the post-Beanfield exclusion zone was ruled illegal by the Law Lords, I hope that English Heritage’s “Managed Open Access” — allowing tens of thousands of revellers to gather freely amongst the stones from 7 pm today until 8 am tomorrow — is successful, but I also find myself reflecting that the motives that drove some of those who were violently suppressed at the Battle of the Beanfield en route to Stonehenge — those who were deeply politicised land reform activists — remain as relevant as they did 28 years ago, at the Beanfield, and 38 years ago, when the first Stonehenge Free Festival was established.
Here’s to the Diggers, the dreamers and the dissidents!
Note: For my recent reflections on the Battle of the Beanfield, see Remember the Battle of the Beanfield: It’s the 27th Anniversary Today of Thatcher’s Brutal Suppression of Traveller Society, an article I published three weeks ago. For more information, see my articles, In the Guardian: Remembering the Battle of the Beanfield, which provides excerpts from my book The Battle of the Beanfield, and The Battle of the Beanfield 25th Anniversary: An Interview with Phil Shakesby, aka Phil the Beer, a prominent traveller who died two years ago. For more on dissent from the anti-globalisation movement to the Arab Spring, see The Year of Revolution: The “War on Tyranny” Replaces the “War on Terror”, and for commentary on how gypsies and travellers still face persecution in the UK, see my articles about the disgraceful eviction last year of gypsies and travellers at Dale Farm, The Dale Farm Eviction: How Racism Against Gypsies and Travellers Grips Modern-Day Britain and The Dale Farm Eviction: Using Planning Laws to Justify Racism Towards Gypsies and Travellers. For reflections on Stonehenge and the summer solstice, see Stonehenge and the summer solstice: past and present, It’s 25 Years Since The Last Stonehenge Free Festival, Stonehenge Summer Solstice 2010: Remembering the Battle of the Beanfield, RIP Sid Rawle, Land Reformer, Free Festival Pioneer, Stonehenge Stalwart and Happy Summer Solstice to the Revellers at Stonehenge — Is it Really 27 Years Since the Last Free Festival?
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
In correspondence with my good friend cosmicsurfer, who promotes my work on various social networks, I wrote:
Hopefully this will pick up some readers! I just discovered that most most-shared article ever on Facebook was my article three weeks ago about the Beanfield. I wish it was Guantanamo, obviously, but at least there’s a resurgence of interest in dissent.
I think you are correct on the resurgence of dissent – that is both good and bad. Bad because we MUST protest because of what we are becoming; Good because we MUST protest to stop what we are becoming.
The more we can pull people into understanding we have aproblem with the entire paradigm that has been long accepted and growing more obscene with each passing day, the easier it will become to educate to the issues.
It is opening their eyes and mind first, then educating to specifics second.
You seem to be getting attention with your focus on the Battle of Beanfield. Reminding people that what caused that event has never been resolved but is more out of control today.
I agree about finding a way to open people’s eyes to understanding that something is wrong with the entire paradigm. Some people, I’m sure, have been trained to worry about planes crashing into every tall building they see. For myself, since the crash of 2008, and particularly since the Tories seized power in a bloodless coup in 2010, I’ve been seeing two realities – the surface wealth created under New Labour between 1997 and 2008, and the decline that is now underway, engineered by savagely incompetent ministers, in which the current reality peels away, and all but the most rich neighbourhoods once more start to revert to the shuttered wasteland they were in Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980s.
On Facebook, Allison Lee-Clay wrote:
” …Here’s to the Diggers, the dreamers and the dissidents!”
amen to that!
Thanks. Allison. Happy solstice from this particular dissident!
cosmicsurfer wrote (in response to 3, above):
I can understand the disappointment. Wanting to be part of something and lending physical support can mean a great deal as well as the event itself and what one can get from being a part of that community.
I find at times, I have had to accept being a voice instead of a body. As I get older, most certainly so – can’t march as far, yell as loud and stand as strongly…though can still run circles around some, just not quite as rapidly as in previous years.
Concerning the changes being seen in Britain – they are certainly echoed in the US.
I hear the call for “bringing back a strong Labour Party” from some and I have to wonder how much is just yearning for the naivete that was part of the boom under Blair who (like Bill Clinton) was lucky enough to get out as the decline began (and landing softly into a “job” teaching at the Bush Family Alma mater – got to wonder if that was part of the deal to back Iraq and keep his mouth shut) where Clinton developed his own “philanthropic” organization and let his wife go to DC and play politics…
Brown took the heat for the decline in Britain, though I am sure much of complaining about Brown was justified, leading to the disastrous Cameron.
Here it lead to the “tea party” PR campaign that installed some of the most ignorant, hateful, down right fascist congress members I have seen in my 58 years.
Britain and Thatcher – US and Reagan. Pretty much following the same pattern of decline.
Somehow it seems quite fitting that both Reagan and Thatcher developed Alzheimers. Maybe the universe’s response to neo-liberal destruction of the countries they swore to protect and defend.
And Bush propped up bubbles and false wealth until the bottom fell out but his blatant lies are still used to support the RW ignorance in this country while it was all falsely created and, as in the US, a temporary bubble that could not stand and that had to adjust itself.
Thanks again, my friend. Good to see that we’re not up against much, then! (joke)
neo-liberalism saves the planet from itself and from the bother of taking care of the people…..
“…Mr Scrooge, … it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?”
“Plenty of prisons…”
“And the Union workhouses.” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“Both very busy, sir…”
“Those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Very good! Thanks for bringing up Dickens. I wonder what he would make of it all?
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