This Earth divided we will make whole, so it can be a common treasury for all. Runnymede Eco Village Lives On + Saturday’s Workshops by ecovillager In recent days there have been attempts to forcefully remove us from the disused land of Cooper’s Hill in Runnymede, Windsor. On Wednesday a High Court Enforcement Officer arrived requesting that we leave. After informing him of our intentions he decided to summon six security personnel who proceeded to carry us 40 metres away to neighbouring National Trust land. Once they had gone we returned to the Longhouse and continued with preparations for dinner. Thursday saw another attempt to remove us. This time by three security personnel, two Police Officers and a bailiff. Three of the villagers climbed onto the first floor of Longhouse. Some of the villagers were carried to the nearby National Trust land. After about 20 minutes the security and police gave up and left and we all returned to the Longhouse for a cup of tea. It is now expected that the land owner will pursue having a criminal element applied to the current civil injunction thereby giving police officers powers of arrest. Yesterday we uploaded 4 live video broadcasts via Bambuser: A report of Wednesday’s first eviction attempt: http://bambuser.com/v/2822559#t=58s the blog is HERE http://diggers2012.wordpress.com/
The Diggers of 1649, and the Runnymede Eco-Village of 2012
In the latest issue of Stir to Action, John Gurney, an historian of the Diggers of the 17th century, has some fascinating perspectives on the Runnymede Eco-Village, a squatters encampment that began in June near the site where the Magna Carta was signed by King John. In his essay, “The Diggers, the Land and Direct Activism,” Gurney reflects on the parallels between today’s encampment and a similar one that occurred in April 1649:
“It was in April 1649 that the Diggers, inspired by the writings of Gerrard Winstanley, occupied waste land on St George’s Hill in Surrey, and sowed the ground with parsnips, carrots and beans. For Winstanley, the earth had been corrupted by covetousness and the rise of privatge property, and the time was ripe for it tobecome once more a ‘common treasury for all’. Change was to be brought about by the poor working the land in common and refusing to work for hire. The common people had ‘by their labours … lifted up their landlords and others to rule in tyranny and oppression over them’, and, Winstanley insisted, ‘so long as such are rulers as calls the land theirs … the common people shall never have their liberty; nor the land ever freed from troubles, oppressions and complainings’. The earth was made ‘to preserve all her children’, and not to ‘preserve a few covetous, proud men to live at ease, and for them to bag and barn up the treasures of the earth from others, that they might beg or starve in a fruitful land’ – everyone should be able to ‘live upon the increase of the earth comfortably’. Soon all people – rich as well as poor – would, Winstanley hoped, be persuaded to throw in their lot with the Diggers and work to create a new, and better society. To Winstanley, agency was key, for ‘action is the life of all and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing’.
….Digging lasted for just over a year from April 1649. The Surrey Diggers abandoned their St George’s Hill colony in the summer of 1649, after having succumbed to frequent assaults and legal actions, and by late August they had relocated to the neighbouring parish of Cobham. Here they remained until 19 April 1650, when local landowners brought hired men to destroy their houses and burn the contents and building materials. New Digger colonies had, however, sprung up elsewhere, inspired by the Surrey Diggers’ example and by Winstanley’s extraordinarily rich body of writings.
Gurney traces the history of land activism in England inspired by the Diggers, including the “The Land Is Ours” movement in the 1990s. The Runnymede Diggers have adopted the sloan, “To make the waste land grow,” which seems like a nice riposte to John Locke and his claims that private property rights were the primary tool for encouraging the development of “waste lands.” Not necessary so. In Spain today, hundreds of jobless farmworkers are taking over vast tracts of land that their wealthy owners are leaving uncultivated, thanks to government subsidies and absentee owners, as the New York Times reports.
Gurney’s full piece can be read here. His new book, Gerrard Winstanley: the Digger’s Life and Legacy, will be published by Pluto Press in November. He also wrote the book, Brave Community: The Digger Movement in the English Revolution (Manchester University Press, 2007; reissued in paperback, 2012).
In the same issue of Stir, Derek Wall, the former Principal Speaker of the Green Party of England and Wales, puts forward a theme that is gaining increasing traction – the commons-based economy as a new way forward. In an essay, “Commons: Alternatives to Market and State,”
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