Gypsy, Roma and Traveller campaigners from across Britain are uniting in a grassroots-led campaign.
They are resisting the racist provisions in Home Secretary Priti Patel’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
We are set to gather in Parliament Square, central London, on Wednesday of this week, to launch a Summer of Discontent against the bill. This bill intends to completely outlaw nomadic Gypsy and Traveller culture.
The launch of the Drive 2 Survive campaign comes as the bill continues its way through parliament. Its main aim is scrapping Part Four of the bill.
Much has been made of the bill’s intention to restrict the right of protest. But much less has been made of the fact that it seeks to culturally cleanse nomadic Gypsy, Roma and Traveller culture from the British landscape.
Part Four of the bill is the single biggest threat to the traditional way of life of Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers in our lifetime.
If passed it will entirely eradicate nomadic life in Britain and give police the power to seize Gypsy and Traveller homes.
Police will also be able to fine Gypsies and Travellers up to £2,500. And police can imprison those needing to follow a nomadic way of life because of a lack of safe legal stopping places.
In Parliament Square campaigners were to outline how a Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Summer of Discontent will roll from Westminster to Appleby Fair in August—the world’s largest Gypsy horse fair—in Cumbria.
Then it will roll to the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester in October 2021.
We have unified to fight the bill, but we desperately need help to stop it.
Chris McDonagh is an Irish Traveller activist. He says, “As nomadic people that have roamed the lands we have lived on for our whole recorded history, to suddenly be told our way of life has no place in society is totally wrong and hurtful.
“We have been part of society for generations and for somebody to decide we no longer fit is absolutely disgraceful.
“Prejudiced opinions should not have the power to destroy entire ethnic minorities. We all live in a country that is supposedly proud of its acceptance and equality for all ethnicities and minorities, but we now see this is a lie.
“We are people, and we deserve to live our lives as we always have. We deserve to exist.”
The draconian powers within the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 already lock nomadic Gypsies and Travellers into a cycle of trespass and eviction.
These powers do not need strengthening, but repealing.
Roma activist Virgil Bitu explained how Gypsy, Roma and Travellers simply cannot find any sites to live on.
“Strengthening eviction powers won’t make them disappear but just brutalise and marginalise them further,” he said.
Kicking off their campaign in Parliament Square, the campaigners were set to be joined by allies from inside parliament and across society.
Speakers include Zarah Sultana MP, Bell Ribeiro Addy MP, Andy Slaughter MP, Ian Byrne MP, Olivia Blake MP and Kate Osbourne MP.
Activists from Friends of the Earth, Liberty, Stand Up to Racism and Amnesty International will express solidarity with the Drive 2 Survive Campaign. The threat of the new legislation means that the first Romani Kris, or council of elders, has been organised in decades.
It will debate and decide a unified response to Patel’s bill at Appleby.
Hereditary Appleby Fair organiser Billy Welch says, “The people I represent are anxious about these proposals and with good reason.
“They are reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, and the start of the process of ethnic cleansing in which Gypsies were forced off the road by fines and imprisonment.
“There are still many Gypsies alive who lost their families in that Holocaust, and they have not forgotten—this is how it began.
“All of what was done to them was legal in the eyes of the Nazis. But history teaches us clearly that just because something is legal, doesn’t make it right.”
This summer we will show Patel that we will not go quietly into the history books, in fact we will not be going at all.
Cops’ new powers restrict our rights
The Tories’ bill will hand the police more capacity to restrict the rights of ordinary people.
The police are already institutionally sexist and racist—so extra powers will only intensify the oppressive attacks they inflict.
Cops will be given the “automatic right to search those who pose the greatest risk” and the bill allows for “known criminals to be stopped at any time”.
As black people are already nine times more likely to be stopped and searched, these increased powers will only see racism worsen.
And the right to protest will come under attack. Any demonstration—whether of a crowd of 10,000 or one, will be labelled “criminal” if it makes too much noise.
An offence of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance” will be created. But the scope to which a protest reaches this threshold will be entirely in the hands of police.
“Causing harm through annoyance”—another vague term—will also be decided by senior police officers on duty.
Cops will be able to implement limitations to prevent “disorder, damage, disruption, impact or intimidation”—which looks to restrict the purpose of a protest.
And after statues of racists were torn down during the Black Lives Matter movement, a new punishment for attacking them will be set at ten years in prison.
The bill also looks to toughen sentences for “serious criminals”.
But locking people up for long periods doesn’t stop people falling into crime.
Life sentences could be handed to 18 to 20 year olds for acts of terrorism that result in mass loss of life.
This catch-all definition could include actual attacks, but also posts on social media.
Additional powers will be also created to closely monitor offenders released from prison.
These, rather than preventing crime, will be used to unfairly target Muslims.