Now that was a carnival of the oppressed alright! Saturday 21st January.
3,000 ramblers on an 11 mile long demo called at two days notice. Now that’s a movement!
We may be forgiven for thinking that feudalism has returned to England with powerful landlords in the South West turfing serfs and vagabonds off their estates. Well, actually, it’s the Capitalists in the twenty-first century, continuing their drive to privatise and enclose every space.
Until now, the Dartmoor National Park, founded in 1951, was the only place in England where you can walk into the wild and camp for the night.
Alexander and Diana Darwall have won their legal challenge in the high court to end the right to wild camp on Dartmoor, and have now agreed to be paid by the tax-payer for wild camping on parts of their land.
They own the 4,000 acre Blanchford Estate. By comparison, the National Park Authority only own 3,500 of the total 236,000 acre (368 square miles) “park”. Darwall is known as an avaricious landlord in his own right with friends in all the wrong places.
Those who don’t live here may be surprised to hear that much of the Park is owned by landlords, notably the Ministry of Defence, Prince William’s Duchy of Cornwall and a Saudi Sheikh.
Multi-millionaire hedgefund manager, Darwall, takes great offence at the “commons” – the ancient and hard fought for protection of common land and the right to roam. Be clear, he hates Us. What’s his is his – land, life and ecology.
The millions of people, yes millions – some travelling across the world to suck-in the sensations of the high moor – who visit Dartmoor as a wild and untouched landscape with high tors and curved panoramas, are placed into an unwished for battle for space. Space to breathe, space to congregate, space to separate, space to challenge personal boundaries, and political space.
One of the side effects of the ideological and economic offensive of privatisation is the closing down of political space. By that is meant the space for self-determination as well as the space for collective organisation. The ideological drive is a belief in a preferred future where everything, every human product and natural resource is owned – as the private prosperity – of a human being.
These Neoliberals spin the notion that, in private ownership, individuals are accountable for the care and welfare of the entire material world. For them, collective custodianship denies personal liability, the commoners are the real planet-destroyers: the bracken tramplers, the sheep worriers, the open-air defecators, the pony rustlers, the litterers.
The media, keen to display the march of 3,000 as an bunch of well-heeled middle-class SUV-driving bohemians, ensured the same amount of airtime spent displaying historical pictures of uncleared barbecue sites and crisp bags as all the interviews with very ordinary people explaining their concerns about more erosion of human rights.
This is the Darwall Diatribe. He has the establishment on his side. Yet the truth is very different. Not only are ramblers and committed wild-campers intensely, yes obsessively, concerned with the protection of the wilderness and the tenet of “leave no trace”, but the landlords are precisely the opposite. They are the polluters and destroyers.
The farming is generally chemically induced, the land over-exploited to the point of infertility, maintained only by phosphates that leach into the high springs and rivulets, combining towards the poisoning of lower rivers and seas. So much more could be written here, but others, including George Monbiot, himself a Devon dweller and Dartmoor rambler, have fully documented.
But always, continually, all-but conspiratorially, the landlords drive with intent to take-over more-and-more of the land in their own interests, to exploit and damage in pursuit of private profit. And, as the High Court proved, those with wealth and power are in now way accountable for their actions. Their private property, status and class is all that should be protected, against all. There should be no surprise here. This is the System within which we all live.
Darwall himself knows all too well how to ensure his rights and privileges. He donates big-time to UKIP and the Conservatives, including to the Tory MP for the Devon town of Totnes, Anthony Magnall. They stand against our combination for political rights whilst combining together for total power and control. They display all the core attributes of the abuser.
The hastily made placards on recyclable cardboard last Saturday portrayed clear understanding of all this. It wasn’t so much a protest in defence of wild-camping as a mass howl against the absolute power of the ruling classes. Darwall & Co, we’re up for a fight, with or without court appeals.
Locals, visitors, schools and youth clubs, commoners all, are ready to return to the mass trespass protests to protect access rights and long-established community events including the internationally renown “Ten Tors Challenge”. Pitchforks at the ready, we won’t take this attack lying down.
It’s not just about the environment, it’s about liberty, justice and the Commons. We stand against the enclosures, the privatisation of all our needs, the usurpation of our common wealth (as opposed to their colonialist Commonwealth), the extortion of public funds paid into by our taxes, and the exploitation of people and ecology for the accumulated cash hoards of the petit few, and the denial of democracy, both constitutional and moral, by their courts staffed by their lackeys.
Oh, and we stand against hedge funds, everywhere, gambling with our very futures. We do not represent the entitled classes, we are the commoners, descendants of the ranters, the diggers, the levellers, the sans-culottes, the Chartists, the Communards and the international socialists.
Ultimately the Darwalls and Mangnalls of this world will remain in power until there is revolution from below. But Saturday’s spontaneous carnival of the oppressed, in the collective mood of the growing trade union strike action and climate activism, offers hope of this as a very real and present potential.