Special Report | Dale Farm: the time for action is now

When film maker and activist Dean Puckett joined the Dale Farm protest camp, little did he realise he would become the subject of personal attack by national newspapers and news networks. After having lived there for five weeks, he explains, in an exclsive article, what he has discovered and why he thinks "you should get your arse down there immediately."

New in Ceasefire, Special Reports - Posted on Thursday, October 13, 2011 19:10 - 3 Comments

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“The history of progress is written in the blood of men and women who have dared to espouse an unpopular cause.” – Emma Goldman

The last time I wrote about Dale Farm for Ceasefire I had been living there for four days and it had felt inspiring to be a part of ‘Camp Constant’ and the Dale Farm Solidarity Campaign, trying to resist the eviction of the largest Traveller community of its kind in Britain. I am now writing this six weeks later and after an aborted eviction attempt and a short respite as another appeal has gone through the courts, eviction is once again imminent.

It is not my intention to interrogate the facts around the council’s pretext for the eviction as I already laid down in my previous article my argument for why I believe it is unjust and based on prejudice. After having lived there for five weeks, the following article represents just a small part of my personal experience of being at Dale Farm, the wider context of what I have discovered and why I think you should get your arse down there immediately.

The Wider Context

We are seeing something very worrying in the UK, a Conservative government that is losing control. We have converging global food, climate and energy crises. Unemployment, economic instability, rising costs and crumbling public services. We have seen civil unrest on the streets of London and a government that is struggling to know how to react in the face of a collapsing neo liberal capitalist system.

The usual, knee-jerk reaction for a regressive government in this situation could be a rallying call in the face of a common enemy, the ‘bad guy’, a war, but we have been in Afghanistan for 10 years now and everyone has grown weary, soldiers and the general public alike. Didn’t we go there to ‘get’ Bin Laden? He’s dead, so what are we doing there? Fighting the Taliban doesn’t seem to really have an end in sight.

Libya? Well, on the surface it looks like a war but it’s complicated. Are we at war? Are we supporting the rebels? In the context of Dale Farm, in what appears to be an effort to tap into the spirit of nationalism, the Conservatives seem to be going to war on their own citizens. They are attacking the youth, attacking the travellers, using fear of ‘the other’ to rally the country towards regressive domestic policies which will inevitably lead towards more civil unrest and more fear. This is all because they are not dealing with the root causes of ‘problems’ like Travellers, only the symptoms.

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Displacing the Travellers will not solve this issue, it will just move it. This is why we must stand up in the name of truth and justice and defend communities like Dale Farm. You can talk to me about technicalities of planning law if you like, or we can talk about trends and drastic actions taken throughout history that resulted in the vowing of ‘never again’. This eviction is senseless from whichever way you look at it and I believe there is a deeper and wider context behind this issue than just the occupation of greenbelt land. This is why we have to act.

‘The Beast’ explained

Since my last article, some of you may have seen me on television on the 19th of September with my arm locked inside ‘The Beast’, a large oil drum full of concrete sitting in the centre of the main access route into Dale Farm.

I was locked into the drum with my friend Emma who also had her neck chained to the main gate, something which seemed to scare quite a lot of people, including many of the travellers at first. Most importantly, however, it also provoked a strong reaction on the part of the bailiffs. It was in fact a last minute, pragmatic solution to the problem of how to stop the bailiffs from just pulling open the gate.

Much of the media has sensationalised our actions, claiming we concreted our arms into the barrel, which as anyone with a semi-functioning brain could tell you, would be highly dangerous as concrete is corrosive. When we would eventually have been cut out, we would have had nothing left but a skeletal arm.

So in the interest of public safety, just in case you feel that you want to create you very own ‘Beast’ to help fight injustice, I’ve drawn a little diagram showing how it works.

September 19 2011 – The Bailiffs knocking on the door

On the morning of the 19th, everyone in the whole country, including Travellers, activists, bailiffs, the police and the media, thought that the residents of Dale Farm were going to be evicted. I hoped that, in forcing the bailiffs to cut us out of the ‘The Beast’, we would slow down the process as best we could, putting our bodies in the way using non-violent actions and somehow revealing something profound, an act of transgression which would tear away, just for a moment, the mask that covers this inherently violent and unjust system.

But what actually happened was a little different.

“I’m not from Basildon and neither are you”

I was asked to do an interview, live on Sky News, almost as soon as I had opened my eyes. I had been up all night getting The Beast into place (I hadn’t even had a cup of tea!) and after explaining some of the reasons I believed what was happening at Dale Farm was wrong, I got a bit over excited and ended up declaring an all out non-violent war against the state, which was a little off message.

One of my friends from Camp Constant said to me after the interview “They are going to target your family now, you know that, right?”. Well actually I hadn’t even thought of it.

Then I was asked to do a live feed with Eamonn Holmes on Sky Breakfast. This interview went slightly better. I put it to Eamonn (and also the audience at home) that if he was to spend some time with the children that live at Dale Farm, who felt the shadow of eviction looming over them, that even he might consider locking on, to which he replied “Yes, but I’m not from Basildon and neither are you Dean”. Apparently, according to some people you are only allowed to stand up to oppression if it happens near to the geographical location in which you were born.

It was all getting a bit mental.

I decided after that not to do any more interviews but it was a bit too late really. On reflection I think that talking to the media was a mistake. It cheapened what I was doing, the corporate media for the most part are only there to commodify peoples suffering, but in an adrenalised state when you have the cameras of the national media in your face, it’s hard to always make the right choices.

Then, at 4pm, after 11 hours locked on, we heard the news that there was a reprieve in the courts and that the eviction would not go ahead that day. It felt like a victory. A direct result of civil disobedience. The general consensus from the Travellers was that the activists at the site, combined with the media circus, had prevented the bailiffs entering that morning, just long enough for the people working at the court to save Dale Farm, for now. This, of course, was not acknowledged in the press.

And then the right wing media went into attack mode.

We are the Anarchist Robot Zombies

(be afraid, be very afraid)

Reading some of the right wing media reports has been almost surreal at times. The Daily Mail ran an article titled ‘Lentil stew and hatred among the rag-tag anarchists’ where journalist Arthur Martin claimed to have infiltrated the camp and that,

“During animated discussions with my fellow comrades over bowls of lentil stew by the camp fire, the plight of the 400 travellers who face eviction was rarely mentioned. Instead, the rag-tag mix of professional activists, benefit claimants and students had just one thing on their minds: Anarchy.” – Daily Mail

Also The Sun sent in an undercover reporter called Nick Francis, who claims he had to “tip-toe round stinking bags of human waste ready to throw at police”. I actually noticed Mr. Francis and thought he was either an undercover bailiff, police officer or reporter but was so exhausted I just didn’t have the energy to confront him. Just so you’re aware, Mr. Francis, you weren’t fooling anyone in your lumberjack top you big numpty.

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.” A quote by Edward Bernays, ‘father’ of modern public relations (PR) for government propaganda.

It goes without saying that both of these articles are complete nonsense, the question is: does the media have a direct collusion with the state? Or do papers like The Daily Mail, The Times, The Sun and all the other right wing rags have a standard operating procedure with regards to protests such as this? One thing is for sure, they are not journalists, they are propagandists. The question is: for what agenda?

Also, as predicted by my friend, they did ‘go for our families’. Details were printed of my father’s income, his background and where he lived, so that, just in case a racist nutter decided he hated me, he could pop round to the Puckett household. Thanks, ‘The Times’, nice one! (I’m not going to link to it for obvious reasons.)

And there were many more attacks like this on activists. I guess when they can no longer attack your ideas it is necessary to attack your private life.

Justice system fails Dale Farm community Once again

The High Court has rejected the Dale Farm residents’ application for a judicial review, threatening 83 families with homelessness. This paves the way for Basildon Council to pursue an eviction which will leave Dale Farm as a patchwork of concrete and fences, along with a few isolated residential plots. Even though a full eviction has been proven to be untenable, the local council is doggedly pursuing its goal.

I am in a personal conflict, as I have had to leave Dale Farm and I am now in Austria at the Elevate Festival gearing up to the world premiere of my film ‘The Crisis of Civilization’. I have been working on the film for a year and now, as I am about to screen it, the events at Dale Farm are really making me reflect on what is actually important. What is the point of art, music or films? Do we really need another documentary? They certainly have their place, but what we really need right now is sustained civil disobedience.

I have spent time with the families and made friends with the children that live at Dale Farm and now the local council and the state is coming to bulldoze their homes. The time for intellectualizing through films or tweets or any other bullshit is over and the time for action is now. So get your arse down there.

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Dean Puckett is a filmmaker and ‘anti anything’ activist from London and the director of the new feature length documentary‘The Crisis of Civilization.

3 Comments

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Isabel
Oct 13, 2011 21:04

Dean!

I loved reading the article! I am in South Africa now, but I am with you in spirit. The decision of the court broke my heart — even if I did expect it. And I agree with you, if you can get to Dale Farm now — DO. You really, really, really, won’t regret it. I am in South Africa now, and it’s much harder to be away than it is to be there.

All my best,

Isabel

lesgibbo
Oct 13, 2011 22:47

well said Dean respect – if you can get down there be and just be witnesses, nonviolent resisters, food sharer’s, you do something important – be involve – send money if you have surplus for something worthy. People can co-exist with differing beliefs, cultures – the people at Dale farm matter – enuf said.

Mad Thatcher
Oct 17, 2011 13:54

Jetting off to Austria. Lucky you ! Raking up those air miles again. How does this square with your eco-credentials?

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