Dale Farm: Big Brother 12

It’s eviction day on Dale Farm. Nobody seems capable of stopping it and worse than this, most parties seem to be gearing up for a big day of confrontation. Activists and the traveller community are prepared to barricade themselves in and use a variety of tactics to keep the bailiffs and authorities at bay for as long as possible. The media has prepared helicopters and towers, while some journalists will report from within the barricades others will be safely tucked out of harms way in a ‘green zone’ courtesy of the authorities. The whole affair has become a spectacle just like the Channel 4 television series, Big Brother, but reality is a lot harsher than ‘reality television’. Although the media do not play a twenty-four hour live feed from Dale Farm they could. Everyone could then speculate on the next turn of events; who will be arrested first and who will be evicted last. If fires and fights come to pass we might just have this kind of coverage but if the bailiffs and authorities decide to wait things out perhaps the media will lose interest and coverage will be cut just like Big Brother. In any event there can be no real winner, it is not a game show and surely we have all lost.

I spent just over twenty-four hours at Dale Farm this weekend and the atmosphere was totally different from the one I experienced nine months earlier. The fear of eviction seemed to have sunk into anger and despair: a sense of the inevitable. Many families were moving their most valuable possessions to areas safe from bailiffs, this left many plots of land empty; void of the life I saw last December when I was so warmly invited into people’s homes. The camp of people supporting the resident community, Camp Constant, has grown with tensions running high as people organise for the eviction day. Activists and residents work together to build barricades, discuss tactics, keep watch, and communicate with medical and legal teams off-site. They are united in a paranoia of unknown faces but this is something that plagues much of England. The environment is quite a sight and looks like a natural disaster has hit the community with broken furniture in piles and homes reduced to their shells. Amongst all this, a stream of media people never ceases to try and gain access to those caught up in events; it’s hard not to see them as anything but vultures preying on distress and misery but when times are hard any lines of help are welcome.

I would like to have stayed longer and got more involved but it was hard to find a meaningful role and make sense of a situation that sometimes seems certain to turn violent. Watching as families make hard decisions about what they could and could not take in the hurry to get valuables out of the reach of bailiffs and wondering how many will return. I am indifferent about how I could help. When families return to defend their bare plots of land, with only graffiti slogans for decoration, it might amount to only a weak protest; truly a sign that they are a part of the British community as the rest of us. Like anyone else in their situation, they deserve to have people at their sides in the event that their homes are taken from them. At other times spirits were lifted and people were wondering how long they could fend off the evictors, either way the conclusion was the same; people get arrested and families are forced out of their homes. It seems to me that the situation has been dichotomised; either you’re for or against, either you’re right or wrong. I’m not happy with such clear-cut distinctions but it’s hard not to think in these terms when the outcome seems so certain; the travellers will be evicted no matter if they own the land or not, no matter if it costs taxpayers more to force them to move than to allow them to remain, no matter if the United Nations and human rights organisations back them up or not.

On Saturday night some off the travellers decided to construct a brick wall on the legal side of the land, right where the bailiffs planned to come in on their newly built road. This feeble wall was on the land that had been granted building permission and so was permitted, so it might present an interesting legal issue that forces the bailiffs to relay their road. Or perhaps the bailiffs will simply demolish it with some legal reasoning; the law is there for them after all. Either way it illustrates my point that this unjust eviction is creating more barriers, racism and damage than it can ever possibly resolve. I spent Sunday stationed at the main gate telling journalists that they weren’t allowed to enter without prior appointments. It didn’t seem fair to be telling people they couldn’t enter but the residents and supporters had agreed that there was still much work to be done and so journalists should be kept out of the way. Still, a few journalists were allowed onto the traveller’s land and I found myself escorting one around to meet families. I facilitated a positive interview but I don’t know the extent to which I trust the condescendingly nice words of a journalist trying to get a story. I also had the opportunity to talk with a senior police officer, a bronze commander, who was insistent that he was there to protect people, but when I asked him just whom he was protecting in this instance he couldn’t answer.

Now I am at home watching the comedy unfold on the news. One moment the High Court has dismissed an appeal, the next they have told Basildon Council that they cannot touch the site until a hearing on Friday. It is good to see that confusion and misunderstanding don’t only rule supreme within Dale Farm and amongst the media but also at ‘higher’ echelons of society. A few things remain crystal clear; the travellers own the land, planning permission is a poor excuse to evict families from their homes and all parties are still gearing up to a day on confrontation… The candlelight flickers as much as ever.

Peace…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/martinruddock/sets/72157627711812498/

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