29 years ago, on June 1, 1985, a convoy of around 450 men, women and children — travellers, anarchists, free festival goers and green activists — were ambushed by 1,400 police from six counties and the Ministry of Defence, and decommissioned with a violence that has rarely been paralleled in modern British history.
The convoy was en route to Stonehenge, to set up what would have been the 11th annual free festival in the fields opposite Britain’s most famous ancient monument, but the savage decommissioning of the travellers’ vehicles, their mass arrest, and the raising of a military-style exclusion zone around Stonehenge put paid to that prospect.
The exclusion zone was raised every June for the next 13 years, until the law lords ruled it illegal in 1999, and since then English Heritage have allowed unfettered access to the stones on the summer solstice, with up to 30,000 revellers — everyone from pagan priests to teenage party-goers — availing themselves of the “Managed Open Access” policy. Read the rest of this entry »
Since March 2006, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there, initially through my book The Guantánamo Files, and, since May 2007, as a full-time independent investigative journalist, assiduously chronicling the crimes of the Bush administration, and for the last four years and 10 months, President Obama’s failure to close the prison, as he promised, as well as the obstacles raised by Congress and parts of the judiciary.
In an effort to make it as easy as possible for readers and researchers to find my work, I began, three years ago, to put together chronological lists of all my articles, in the hope that they will provide a useful tool for navigation, and will provide researchers — and anyone else interested in this particularly bleak period of modern history — with a practical archive. Unfortunately, time restraints left me unable to find the time to make lists for my work from the start of 2012 onwards, so I’m remedying this now with a list covering all my articles from January to June 2012, and will follow up soon with two further articles covering July to December 2012 and January to June this year.
In this period, as well as relentlessly covering Guantánamo, I was also involved in campaigning to try to save the NHS from a full-on assault by the Tory-led government here in the UK, intent of privatising it, as well as, more broadly, resisting the age of austerity cynically introduced by the Tories to wage a disgusting and disgraceful civil war against the poor, the unemployed and the disabled. These are themes that continue to inform my work, as well as the horrors of Guantánamo, torture and indefinite detention. As a famous saying states, “The mark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Read the rest of this entry »
Please note that my books Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield are both still available, and I also wholeheartedly recommend Travelling Daze: Words and Images from the UK’s New Travellers and Festivals, Late 1960s to the Here and Now, Alan Dearling’s epic review of the traveller scene (to which I was one of many contributors), which was published last year, and is essential reading for anyone interested in Britain’s traveller history.
Every year, on the summer solstice, I am confronted by two particular questions, as, I’m sure, are many people old enough to have spent their youth growing up under Margaret Thatcher, or in the years previously, under Ted Heath’s Tory government, and the Labour governments of Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan, when an unofficial civil war was taking place in British society.
Those two questions are: what happened to my youth, and what happened to massive, widespread societal dissent?
The former of course, is an existential question, which only young people don’t understand. It’s 29 years since the last Stonehenge Free Festival, an annual anarchic jamboree that lasted for the whole of June, when Britain’s alternative society set up camp in the fields across the road from Stonehenge, and it’s 39 years since the first festival was established, by an eccentric young man named Phil Russell, or, as his friends and admirers remember him, Wally Hope. Read the rest of this entry »
A year ago, when Occupy Wall Street began, people occupying public spaces in large numbers and refusing to go home was innovative and radical, but then those spaces were reclaimed by the establishment — with violence, or through legal machinations — essentially bringing the first phase in this new era of protest and activism to an end.
Anyone thinking that the Occupy movement has gone away, however, is missing the point. Just as the movement introduced a powerful new concept — the 99 percent versus the 1 percent — into political discourse, so the complaints that motivated people to occupy public spaces in the first place have not gone away.
Essentially, we live in a broken system, broken by criminals who have not been held responsible for their actions, criminals on Wall Street and in the City of London and Canary Wharf, motivated by greed on a colossal scale, who, aided and abetted by venal and/or stupid politicians, crashed the global economy in 2008 but then got away with it.
Saved by government bailouts, the criminals continue to live lives of almost unprecedented wealth and greed, while the rest of the people — the 99 percent — are being made to pay for the crimes of these thieves through savage austerity programs that are driven by malignant ideologies and are also, it should be noted, economically suicidal. Read the rest of this entry »
Exactly one year ago today, on September 17, 2011, activists began camping out in New York’s Zuccotti Park, the spearhead of a new movement that soon spread around the world. Known as Occupy Wall Street, and inspiring a movement that became known as the Occupy movement, the New York encampment was inspired by an Adbusters article in July, which was in turn inspired by the revolutionary movements that had swept the Middle East at the start of the year — in Tunisia and Egypt, where two dictators had been toppled by people power.
“#OccupyWallStreet,” Adbusters announced. “Are you ready for a Tahrir moment?” they asked, continuing, “On Sept 17, flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and Occupy Wall Street.”
One year on, and the Occupy movement’s novel power — taking over public spaces and refusing to go home — has been defeated, often with violence, and much of the mainstream media is either ignoring the movement or deriding it, but that, to be honest, is irrelevant, as the mainstream media, more often that not, are part of the problem and not the solution. Read the rest of this entry »
The Wealth of Empire: The City of London in the Rain, a set on Flickr.
To describe these photos of the City of London, I used the word “empire” in the title because I believe that, in many fundamental ways, it is apt, although I realise that the British Empire is not, of course, the only source of money and power in the City of London and in its modern offshoot, Canary Wharf. In many ways, the mafia would be a better reference point for what these well-connected crooks have been getting up to as a result of the financial deregulation initiated by Margaret Thatcher (which benefitted David Cameron’s father, who made a fortune through the creation of tax havens) and Ronald Reagan, the subsequent repeal, under Bill Clinton, of the crucial Glass-Steagall Act — which was introduced after the Depression in 1933, separating “domestic” banking from its potentially fatal speculative aspects — and New Labour’s enthusiasm for filthy lucre, and whatever scum happened to have loads of it. The current shower of clowns in Downing Street and the Cabinet are only different from New Labour in the sense that most of them are already rich, millionaires out of touch with the people and thoroughly unconcerned about it.
In particular, the modern money markets are international, and much of the expertise in dodgy financial engineering — of the kind that ought to be illegal, and of the kind that nearly bankrupted the world in the global crash of 2008 — came from Wall Street as much as from the robber barons of the British establishment, although, crucially, it was the long-cherished secrecy of the City that allowed Wall Street bankers to initiate policies in London that were illegal at home. Read the rest of this entry »
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. Read the rest of this entry »
There was a point, during yesterday’s Occupy protest in the City of London, with hundreds of people flowing down High Viaduct from Holborn Circus, high above Farringdon Street, and heading towards Newgate Street, Cheapside and the Bank of England, when there was a real power to the message that protestors around the world are sending to their leaders, and to the bankers and corporations they serve — that their greed is still the problem, and that austerity targeted at the poor, the young and the disabled is unacceptable and unforgivable.
With a mobile sound system pumping out pounding militant dub music, there was, for a while, an energy surge that reminded me of the spirit of creative dissent that was such a feature of Britain when I was younger — in the free festivals of the 1970s, the class war of the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher took on the miners, the travellers and the printers, and the late 80s and early 90s, when the free party movement and the road protest movement emerged, and when, most resonantly in an urban context, the theatrical activists of “Reclaim the Streets” started a global movement of occupying high streets in cities around the world.
In the late 90s, until the universal distraction of the “war on terror” conveniently took over, allowing Western governments to clamp down more heavily on the civil liberties of their citizens than ever before, the anti-globalisation movement brought together all the elements of the dissenters from the 60s onwards — anti-capitalism, environmental activism, social liberalism, all driven by utopian, revolutionary and anarchist impulses — which are largely reconfigured in the current movement for global change. Read the rest of this entry »
The weather couldn’t have been better in London yesterday for the day of action organised as part of the “Global Spring,” an initiative by activists from the Occupy movement, representatives from Take the Square, and other groups in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, who have been planning events worldwide for today and May 15, the first anniversary of the start of the indignados movement in Spain. Click on the photo to enlarge.
I arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral shortly after the advertised 1 o’clock start, to find St. Paul’s Churchyard, which was occupied from October 15 until its eviction on February 28, thronged with Socialists, utopians, dreamers, idealists, visionaries and anarchists — from the UK and from across Europe and around the world — filling the square, as speakers addressed the world’s ills, and the need for fundamental systemic change.
Some have argued that the Occupy movement has posed questions but has proposed few answers about how to effect change, but I think that rather misses the point. An unwillingness to be co-opted by the political mainstream, and an effort to make communal decisions, rather than trusting to charismatic leaders, was a bold and sensible way to begin, and, as has been revealed in the last few days, the “Global May Manifesto,” a work-in-progress produced over the last four months by activists from all round the world looks, as I noted yesterday, like a first attempt to create a Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the times we find ourselves in — not the post-World War II community of idealists concerned to make sure that genocide and torture were outlawed (although that, sadly, still remains horribly relevant), but the 99 percent and the indignados faced with governments that serve only the interests of the very rich, whose criminal plunder is essentially unchecked. Read the rest of this entry »
Today, the Occupy movement and allied groups launch a series of actions and occupations on the first anniversary of the launch of the Indignados movement in Spain, which, along with the revolutionary movements in the Middle East — and Tunisia and Egypt in particular — inspired the Occupy Wall Street movement, which began last September and soon spread across the US and around the world.
In London, where protestors occupied the land outside St. Paul’s Cathedral for over four months until their eviction on February 28, the day’s events will begin at 1 pm outside St. Paul’s, although no attempt will be made to reoccupy the site. Instead, there will be speeches followed by something of a magical mystery tour, as protestors will be led — or directed — to various banks, other financial institutions and lobbying forms, identified on a “Meet the 1%” map, published above. Speaking to the Guardian, Ronan McNern of Occupy London said, “It’s time to hit the financial targets. If we’re evicted, fine, but we’ll come back. There will be comparison with what happened before, but we’re in a different time and a different place.” Please click on the map above to enlarge it, and also on the key to the map, posted below.
As I explained in an article yesterday, since January, Occupy activists, representatives from the Take the Square movement and other groups in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, have been working together on a “Global May Manifesto,” a self-identified “work in progress,” which, yesterday, I described as “hinting at a Universal Declaration of Human Rights for here and now, when we face an existential threat from the unreformed elites who bankrupted us in 2008 and since then have been making us pay.” Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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