Gypsy, Roma and Traveller campaigners launched a summer of discontent with a rally outside parliament on Wednesday.
Some 400 people joined the rally, organised by the Drive 2 Survive campaign. They came to oppose the police and crime bill, voted through the House of Commons last week, which criminalises nomadic ways of life.
Danny, an Irish Traveller, told Socialist Worker he had joined the protest because the bill would mean, “our livelihood, our rights taken away.”
“We’ve got to get rid of this bill,” he said.
The bill would give the police powers to fine Gypsy and Roma Travellers up to £2,500 and even imprison them because of a lack of legal stopping places.
Willow, a Roma person, told Socialist Worker, “Councils won’t provide us with anywhere to stop. They’ve got the money for it, but they don’t do it. If we buy land for ourselves, they kick up such a fuss and don’t let us build on it anyway.
“What are we supposed to do? It’s been our culture for hundreds of years. Why should we stop?”
Speakers at the rally slammed the planned laws as racist. Many described how governments had persecuted Gypsies and Travellers for hundreds of years—encouraging racism against them.
Marian Mahoney, from London Gypsies and Travellers, told the rally, “We’re an ethnic minority, we’re not criminals. I don’t have a criminal record, I don’t want a criminal record, and neither do our children.”
Billy Welch, who runs the Appleby Horse Fair, said the persecution of Roma by the Nazis began with laws that criminalised them for travelling. “The beginning of the ethnic cleansing began with a law like this,” he said. “They’ve got to realise how dangerous these laws can be.
“We’re living in a society of casualised racism and it’s getting more powerful.”
Other speakers pointed to anti-Roma racism across the world. They held a minute’s silence for Stanislav Tomáš, who Czech police killed earlier this year.
They also marched behind a horse and cart to the European Commission offices nearby, demanding justice.
Steve Kennedy, a traveller and lawyer, celebrated the unity between different travelling groups in the campaign. They included Roma, Irish Travellers, New Travellers, boat dwellers and travelling show people.
Campaigners also linked their fight with the bigger battle to stop the bill—which criminalises protest—and fights against other forms of racism.
Marvina Newton from Kill the Bill and United for Black Lives said, “This is not oppression Olympics. They come for one, they come for all.”
She added that resistance to the bill would continue even if passed in parliament. “Even if they pass this bill, let’s see them try to govern it,” she said.
Weyman Bennett from Stand Up To Racism, said, “There’s only one way to keep your rights and that is to fight for them.”
The Drive 2 Survive campaign is set to continue, with a stage and PA system at the Appleby Horse Fair in August, to build support. It then plans a protest outside the Tory party conference in Manchester in October.
Jake Bowers, an organiser of Drive 2 Survive, said, “The power lies with the people, not with that sorry lot in parliament.
“Think how many caravans we’ve got, think how many horses we’ve got, think how many families we’ve got. We need to show we can mobilise that.”
He finished with a message for Tory home secretary Priti Patel, “If you come for us, if you come for our homes, if you come for our culture—we will come for you."