Dr. John J. Gurney, via Energy Bulletin, discusses the history of the landless Digger movement in England, and how we can apply their tactics to our contemporary social and economic crises. Thanks to Anarchy Pony for the link.
The Runneymede Eco Village has, at the time of writing, continued in being for seven weeks, despite the bad summer weather and the frequent and inevitable attempts by the authorities to move the Diggers on. The action began on 9 June, with a march from Syon Lane Community Allotment towards Windsor, where activists aimed to set up a self-sustaining community on disused land belonging to the Crown Estate. Eventually they settled on land surrounding the former Cooper’s Hill campus of Shoreditch College of Education and Brunel University, and it was here that they began building a long house, complete with wattle and daub and cob. The published demands of the participants in the venture were simple and direct. Everyone should have the right to live on disused land, to grow food and to build a shelter: ‘no country’, they claimed, ‘can be considered free, until this right is available to all’. As so often in the past, the question of access to land, shelter and livelihood had led people to articulate demands for a radical shift in society’s attitudes, and to engage in constructive and imaginative direct action to advance their cause.
The Runneymede activists’ demands might, at first sight, appear to present something of a paradox. On the one hand, they address very real twenty-first-century problems, among them today’s serious housing shortages and the reluctance of politicians of all major parties to take action to bring rents and house prices down to affordable levels. Allied to this is the issue of how best to promote viable strategies for sustainable living on an increasingly crowded planet. On the other hand, the activists’ demands very deliberately invoke those of the original, mid-seventeenth-century Diggers, a group of activists whose world was very different from the one we now inhabit. What possible relevance could the example of seventeenth-century Diggers have for activists today?
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 private property, and the time was ripe for it to become 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’.
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