Inter|national section writer
Tesni is a Human Geography graduate with an interest in political ecology, indigenous land rights, degrowth, alternative communities, ethnography and storytelling. She comes from the Shire of West Wales and spends her time trying to grow things and trying to ignore her (metaphorical) itchy feet.
(23.03.21) Bristol Riots: The Bigger Picture
Sunday’s events in Bristol have made headlines. Predictably, however, mainstream media has fallen into the trope of shortsighted reporting, indulging in simplistic, one-sided narratives of protestors as ‘mobs of animals’ who ‘attacked’ and ‘badly injured’ police officers. Whilst they make good headlines, these intentionally inflammatory discourses, alongside powerful images of burning vans, serve to eclipse the bigger story.
For those who don’t know – and there are many who don’t, because the press have been worryingly silent on the matter until recently – there are a number of small, self-organised communities of activists living in tents and treehouses between London and Birmingham, along the proposed route of high speed railway HS2. The railway, and the protest camps, thread through some of this country’s last remaining pockets of ancient broadleaf woodland. Whilst many have been evicted, some camps have been there for over a year.
As part one of this series warned, the Conservative government are pushing to make trespass a criminal offence, rather than a civil one. This iron-fisted extension of the long arm of the law would not only endanger – and indeed criminalise – certain groups and their ways of life, but it would also serve to stifle our collective sense of curiosity and affinity with the natural world which surrounds us. It has the potential to jeopardise our age-old freedom to roam.
Something strange is happening. Certain ways of life are slowly, quietly being enclosed, along with the land on which those lives depend.
Last year Priti Patel opened a consultation on ‘Strengthening police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments’ ; in short, the government hopes to criminalise the act of trespassing when setting up an unauthorised encampment in England and Wales. The consultation is now closed and responses are being reviewed. The decision came as no surprise, considering Patel’s draconian desire for control over minority ways of life, along with the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto commitment to ‘make intentional trespass a criminal offence’.
It’s not an original idea: opportunistic, peripatetic capitalism works by capitalising on its own crises. The idea rings even truer for neoliberal capitalism. It’s what Naomi Klein has dubbed ‘disaster capitalism’. Amidst public disorientation following a crisis, control is achieved by the imposition of economic shock therapy, or in other words, economic liberalisation – public spending is withdrawn, large scale privatisation occurs, and disaster is transformed into a shiny new investment. Private contractors move in, gobble up funding for their efforts to ‘clean up’, and billions get cut from government budgets.