Friday, September 23, 2011

hears from #dalefarm - of activism and advocacy

Travelers have never had great support in the UK. Look through history and it isn't long before you see tales of prejudice, hate and mistrust towards a more nomadic approach to life.  
The issue reached the headlines again this week as Dale Farm, and planned evictions. Today the media styled 'battle' for Dale Farm reaches a climax, after a court injunction stopped the bailiffs from acting on Wednesday. 
A friend of mine, Tim Gee, was at Dale Farm on Wednesday so I thought it worth finding out a wee bit more about him, his actions and what benefits he felt they brought:
Could you tell us a wee bit about yourself
Image of Tim Gee
from Guardian Comment is Free
I’m an activist, an author and a blogger. I’ve spent the last month dividing my time between my home in London and the Dale Farm traveler site in Essex.   
Why did you head over to Dale Farm?
Initially I went out simply to find out more. But on meeting with residents there it quickly became clear that a plain injustice is being threatened. People from one of the most discriminated-against groups in the country have bought a bit of land on a scrapyard to live with their community – but still the Council wants to move them on. As a poignant sign near the entrance reads: if not on a scrapyard then where?
What was the atmosphere like?

I’d say the atmosphere on the plot where the supporters are staying is one of determination. All of the supporters are there to make their contribution towards preventing a very immediate tangible wrong from being done. Most are willing to take admirable personal risks for the cause. But there is also a spirit of assistance for one another to learn new skills, to prepare psychologically for the potential horror of what may come, and a growing understanding between the residents and supporters on the site, forged through solidarity. Have you ever been involved in 'traveller' activism/defence before?
No I haven’t – I’ve mostly been involved in environmental stuff. There is an interesting link here though: arguably it was when travelers camped on the site of the proposed road over Twyford Down in 1992 that the bottom-up part of the environmental direct action movement really got started.       
Were the media labeled 'activists' people who had traveled in or part of the traveller community?
What is special about Dale Farm is the unprecedented solidarity from members of the settled community who constitute the majority of activists and supporters on site. The biggest in terms of physical bodies on site is Camp Constant – a base for Civil Disobediants and Legal Observers which has similarities with the Climate Camp in terms of the decision-making, food, structures and so on.

Then there are a number of NGO and CSOs including the Gypsy Council, PAD and the Irish Traveler Movement of Britain which I believe have people born into both the settled and the traveling communities involved.   
How were 'outsiders' helping, rather than antagonising a tense situation?
Every decision made by activists is led by the wishes of residents. Activists were invited by residents and if a majority or consensus wanted the supporters to go the activists would go. On the council’s stated eviction date last Monday many of us accompanied brave residents in their homes who would otherwise have been alone as the bailiffs approached. But in the event, the defenses were so well built that the bailiffs were not even able to breach the perimeter.   
You’re a poster boy for Quakerism this year - did your Quaker beliefs influence your attendance and/or your response to the situation
Quakers are often asked questions like that and often find it hard to respond. It isn’t that Quaker beliefs influence me one way or another, but that I try to live my life a certain way and being a Quaker is part of that. Having said that there were certainly aspects of the shape of the struggle that correspond with Quaker methods - including consensus decision making and nonviolent resistance, but I was only aware of two or three other supporters there having Quaker connections.
 What would you see a 'just' solution to the situation being?
Dale Farm travelers being able to keep their homes. Proper pitches being supplied by councils across the country. A decrease in the shocking racism that prevails against travellers. And more understanding between the settled and traveling communities to resolve those tensions that remain.  
Finally, you have a book called ' Counterpower' coming out in the Autumn, covering people’s ownership of power - if you had to write a brief item on what you saw/experienced at Dale Farm - what Counterpower did you see in action?What I saw at Dale Farm marked a change from protest to resistance. For months and years people have pleaded with the council and the courts, yet the system continued to discriminate against Dale Farm residents. On Monday a different method was tried. Blockades were built, people wore arm lock-ons and a woman chained her neck to the front gate. This is people claiming power and defying the authorities. As the television cameras reported live, the court system for once found in the residents’ favour, granting a temporary reprieve. It was only a small victory, but also a rare one - perhaps an indicator of the beginning of a wider rebalancing.

Tactically I see this as comparable to the Roads Protests in the 1990s. Almost all of the large protest sites were eventually evicted and the highways built. But as protesters claimed power, a wider societal shift took place and 77 proposed roads were scrapped. I don’t know if Dale Farm will live or not. I hope that it will. But to win the wider battle for human rights for the traveller community may take many more such confrontations. But I think with the attention Dale Farm is getting, things are beginning to change already.   
Pre- publication copies of Tim Gee’s book ‘Counterpower: Making Change Happen’ are available in the New Internationalist shop ( 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Arms Fair or Unfair? Films inspired by DSEi

It would appear that this little blog isn't the only place to have a look at last weeks arms fair. BBC One's 'One Show' took a surprisingly deep, light hearted look

and of course there is the brilliant 'Where is the Love' film from a few years ago - see what happens when young people find out what happens on their doorstep...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

From Discipleship to Direct Action at DSEi Arms Fair ( #stopdsei )

Hattie Hogson (Right), joins Rev Chris Howson,
Lizzie Gawen (SPEAK network) and Georgie Hewitt(Manchester SCM)
(Photo by Chris Wood/SCM)
What does your faith challenge you to do? Last week, my twitter feed exploded with protest as the bi-annual arms jamboree landed in east london.  Highlights included the immortal tweet from Rev Chris Howson explaining  

Briefly got to the entrance of DSEi by saying I had come to perform the official exorcism! Soon escorted by security to official vigil!
12/09/2011 19:16

Overall it was clear that Christians of all stripes were joining with people of no faith to make clear that people within the UK were not happy at this armed jamboree.

I thought it was time to look beyond fun stories and to find out what drove a young Methodist, Hattie  Hodgson, to use her whole being - both body and voice - to take non-violent action to challenge the arms fair....

"my main aim was to disrupt the fair as much as possible, in the hope that it would spur arms dealers and traders to think twice about the normality of their actions and trade"   Hattie
  • Could you tell us a wee bit about yourself...
I'm a student in Leeds studying Managing Performance, which is effectively arts management. I sit on the General Council of the Student Christian Movement. I also have a soft-spot for dancing, I can rarely keep my feet still!
  • ...and a wee bit about your faith
Well someone once asked if I was a 'Cradle Christian' and, although I have been attending church from a very young age, I had to say no. The story I have been told is that I turned around to my atheist parents aged about 8 and announced that I wanted to go to church and so I did! In recent times, I have become more denominational in my faith- recently becoming a member of the Methodist Church
A 'die in' outside the National Gallery,
which had a dinner for arms dealers occurring inside

  • I understand you spent some of last week in London, challenging an arms fair - what’s wrong with the arms fair?
It could be argued that the DSEi arms fair trades in death. It uses British tax payers’ money to normalise the sale of machinery that is designed to kill. There also seems to be little regard given to who arms are sold. This year the guest list included regimes such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia- regimes that have been known to use weapons against their own civilians. 

  • What did you do to highlight this?

Due to the distinct lack of press coverage the arms fair and resultant protests attract, I knew that our actions would have a relatively small media impact. Because of this, my main aim was to disrupt the fair as much as possible, in the hope that it would spur arms dealers and traders to think twice about the normality of their actions and trade. We went about this in many ways, from singing peace songs on the Docklands Light Railway, surrounded by arms dealers, to blockading the main road entrance for about 20 minutes, to handing out specially produced newspapers with messages of peace to those entering the fair. 

  • Have you had a chance to speak with those attending with the event to find out why they went to the fair - or indeed speak to those selling arms there to find out what they thought they were doing?

The contact we had with arms dealers was limited we did attempt to engage them in conversation they were not very willing to participate. However, the few people we did speak to seemed to be of the opinion that this was a necessary evil. I have experienced that people tend to focus on the positive effect the arms trade has on the UK economy as justification for its existence. 

I think it should be taken very seriously. The discovery of illegal cluster bombs being on sale at the arms fair is clearly a sign that, as much as they claim to be, the UK government is not enforcing UK law at the arms fair. When we bear in mind some of the regimes invited to do business there, there is an argument that this could lead to sale that are not only unethical, but also potentially extremely dangerous. 

  • Now to turn to you, how did you feel as you took part in the actions

Two gents front right are arms dealers,
being serenaded by protestors reading newspapers
I felt like what I was doing was very important. As I have already stated, if nothing else, I hoped our visible presence and actions would force arms dealers and traders to think twice about the normality of the trade they participate in. Obviously, there was a sense of nervousness as I began each action or blockade but the courage of the people around me affirmed the importance of what we were doing. 

"Obviously, there was a sense of nervousness as I began each action or blockade but the courage of the people around me affirmed the importance of what we were doing" Hattie

  • Had you taken part in anything like this before? 

This was really the first time I have felt the desire to participate in direct protest actions. Although I was in London when the decision on raising university tuition fees was made, my actions on that day mainly involved directly lobbying MPs in the Houses of Parliament and, luckily, I managed to avoid being kettled. I did not feel I could become more involved with the student fees demonstrations because I do not believe that violent direct actions, or those that adversely affect people not involved, are ever an acceptable form of protest. 

  • Did you faith play a role in taking part in this action, indeed did your Methodist background impact?

My faith was instrumental to my participation in the protests. Jesus is after all known as the Prince of Peace. As a young Christian trying to live out my faith, I felt that I could not stand by and let an event that so actively enables warfare be surrounded with such a sense of normality. One of the key messages of Methodism in the UK at the moment is the idea of discipleship. If I am truly attempting to be a disciple of Christ, then I feel called to oppose and disrupt activities that are so clearly opposing his message.

"If I am truly attempting to be a disciple of Christ, then I feel called to oppose and disrupt activities that are so clearly opposing his message" Hattie

  • Will you do it again - if so how can we join you? If not, what would you suggest?

I will most certainly be participating in direct actions again, although the next DSEi arms fair is not scheduled until 2013. In the meantime, I suggest that people who want to get involved in protesting the arms trade visit the Campaign Against the Arms Trade website at There are lots of different ways you can get involved, including a specific campaign to end arms industry involvement in universities and higher education- a campaign that the Student Christian Movement supports. 

  • Hear more voices of protest from the week on this video: