New Internationalist

The waiting game on Dale Farm

Photo by Save Dale Farm under a CC Licence.

‘I hope you’re not going to waste your weekend,’ says my taxi driver as I climb in and ask for Dale Farm. ‘They’re all scum up there I tell you. I’m fed up with do-gooders telling me I’m racist. I’ve had tools nicked from my shed and I know it was them.’ I ask my taxi driver if he believes in collective punishment. He says that in the case of the Irish travellers he does.

The dominant social attitudes towards travellers have become all too familiar recently as I have divided my time between London and the Dale Farm traveller site in Essex. Blog comments boxes filled with bile comparing travellers to animals. Twitter users demand that travellers leave the country. Even some otherwise liberal friends repeat negative stereotypes about travellers in conversation.

This is lived experience for people on the site. One younger resident told me that people called her ‘gypo’ and ‘pikey’ and refused to sit next to her at school. Older residents have had to live through accusations of being child-stealers. And now the council has voted for their eviction and is spending millions on bailiffs and police support to drag people out of their homes and destroy what remains.

The mood on the eve of the council’s stated eviction day – 19 September - was one of grim determination. In every corner teams of activists and residents met to discuss what they would do to defend the land. All around the clanging of metal continued as last minute additions were made to barricades. Elsewhere, legal observers and human rights monitors received their briefs. Residents and supporters shared tears together. The atmosphere of the plot inhabited by supporters – dubbed Camp Constant - was one of solemnity.

No-one slept very much that night. Every bump could have been the bailiffs. Every sound of motors could have been the bulldozers. If Basildon Council were to have their way, the cabins that constituted the roofs over our heads – and some people’s homes for up to a decade - would no longer exist 24 hours later.

We were woken by the growl of heavy machinery. The sound was real enough. There, rising above one side of the site was a scissor truck with a camera on the side – ‘Sky News’ emblazoned on the side. A helicopter buzzed overhead and landed in another neighbouring field - ITV news. The whole world was watching. Live. Bizarrely we could even watch the front gate from our caravans – like an internal CCTV system. We were all in position. Then the waiting game began.

In the late morning, Basildon council leader Tony Ball went on television promising that the eviction would take place that day. The bailiffs appeared at the gate. Vans of riot police lined up. But the defences were too strong. A brave activist literally put her neck on the line by attaching herself to the scaffolding gate with a bicycle D-lock. Behind her were vehicles, barricades, lock-ons and a tripod. The council began to peddle the rumour that all the residents had left. On hearing this claim traveller women climbed the defences to show that they were very much still there.

Meanwhile a parallel process was going on in court. After losing case after case over the years, things started taking a rather different tack. With the subject of the case in full public light a judge ruled that proper procedure had not been followed by the council and ordered an injunction on the eviction until Friday 23 September while it was clarified exactly what could and could not be lawfully removed from different plots. As the information filtered back to site a cheer went up. The news spread like wildfire as people ran to the front gate, hugged, cried, danced and smiled as a sound system pumped out celebratory music.

It may only be a temporary reprieve, and may only last a few days, but it is nevertheless a rare victory in the struggle for human rights in the traveller community - achieved through dedication and persistence. But much more of that spirit will be needed if the campaign as a whole is to be won. Alternative appropriate accommodation has still not been found. Up to 18 million pounds is still earmarked for the eviction when finding somewhere else would cost only a fraction of this amount. Meanwhile the lives of working class families, children in education and sick people are being disrupted.

No-one knows who will win the battle of Basildon, nor how long it will be until travellers rights are respected more broadly. What is clear though, is that as resistance reaches new heights, a diversity of tactics is slowly and tentatively beginning to bear fruit.


Supporters of the Dale Farm residents can get further details on how to show their solidarity here.

Tim Gee is the author of the New Internationalist book Counterpower: Making Change Happen.

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  1. #1 Jason 23 Sep 11

    I don't think they should be called Travellers as they have built house and settled there for over 10years. Maybe 'Settlers' is more appropriate.

  2. #2 Alan Dale 23 Sep 11

    A message to Tim Gee: Please outline your view of the rights of the owners of the adjoining properties to Dale Farm? Do they have any in your opinion? Would you be prepared to host a travelling family in your garden (if you have one)? Simple questions....

  3. #3 Levi Boswell 24 Sep 11


    Fancy driving a Merc?
    Dealing only in cash?
    Flytipping local lanes?
    Paying no taxes?
    Using local schools and hospitals free of charge?
    Running around in a lowloader stealing things out of peoples gardens?
    Doing shoddy tarmac jobs for the elderly at huge prices?
    Ignoring the Local authority planning laws?
    Fancy playing the race card and gaining immunity from the police and anyone else that thinks they are in charge?
    Well first you gotta be a traveller...preferably one with a house in Ireland who has stayed in the same spot for 10 years...secondly I suggest you come and join us at the Dale Farm holiday camp!
    DO AS YOU LIKEY!!!!!

  4. #4 jennyhenderson 24 Sep 11

    it stands in our time,to acknowledge a way forward for the human race to accept each another from our nations and heritage,to share a need for understanding and love..its unity we should become one and ,and better future our world a way forward....?

  5. #5 luke 25 Sep 11

    to the poster calling himself levi boswell
    have you ever heard of racial profiling? are all black people in your opinion criminals just because you hear of more crime being comitted by them? are all muslims jihadist terrorists? you need to broaden your horizens my friend and get to know the full picture before you comment because you only make yourself look foolish with a post like that! your stereotypical views and the people who share them are the reason we are in this mess in the first place.
    did you know that each borough council is supposed to have a quota for how many sites they are to build and almost 80% fall short but then people like you complain when we buy our own land legally PAYING all the TAXES associated with that and building our own because the council have fallen short on theire obligations

  6. #6 william_hart 30 Sep 11

    Please outline your view of the rights of the owners of the adjoining properties to Dale Farm? Do they have any in your opinion? Would you be prepared to host a travelling family in your garden (if you have one)?

    Your questions conflate two issues, ’adjoining your property’ is not the same as ’in your garden’ now is it? I imagine that all neighbours have pretty similar rights to each other to quiet enjoyment of their property. I don't think the sociological category or race of the people alters that. Perhaps you do? I can't speak for Tim, but yes I do have people live in my garden. The Earth is a common treasury for all to share after all.

  7. #7 Nick 19 Oct 11

    what a sadly deluded crowd you are. You clearly have zero first-hand experience of the misery and damage that the vast majority - yes the vast majority - of so-called travellers cause.

    Anyone who chooses to live outside the system and the law can expect to be treated accordingly.

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About the author

Tim Gee a New Internationalist contributor

Tim Gee is the author of Counterpower: Making Change Happen, shortlisted for the Bread and Roses Prize for radical nonfiction. He has campaigned with Occupy, Climate Camp, the Traveller Solidarity Network and the National Union of Students amongst others. He works as a grassroots trainer and has an MA in politics from Edinburgh University.

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