Where Do We Go?

September 7th, 2010.  Dale Farm.It was approaching midday by the time we got to the travellers’ site, located just off the motorway leading to Southend.  As soon as we turned onto Hovefields Avenue, we could see the towering bulldozers, the blue-jacketed bailiffs and, of course, the police.

The rain had been pouring for the entire journey there, so huge puddles turned the grassy ground to muddy water.  Fences had been erected to stop people going in or out of the site, and as soon as we tried to do so, ten of the bailiffs’ heavy men came over to firmly inform us that we would not be able to get in.  You could be forgiven for not knowing that it is the travellers who actually own the land.

I saw a young girl in a light blue tracksuit walking from inside the camp, jumping from stone to stone to avoid the puddles.  Some ominous looking men, also wearing blue jackets, but with “Security” instead of “Bailiff” written across the back, let her out of the newly-erected gate, and she came over to greet us.

She told me that her name was Cathlin, she was eleven years old, and that she could show us another way to get into the site.

As we waited around the corner, observing the bailiffs movement from behind a fence, Cathlin started talking to us about her community’s plight.  “We’ve lived here for years,” she began, “and now they want to kick us all out.  Today I went to talk to a man living in one of the houses across the road, and I asked him if he was happy that the council were getting rid of the travellers, and he said ‘Yeah, I’m 100% happy’.  They’re just being racist towards us; we’re human beings too, but they treat us like we’re rats.”

The community had been facing threats of eviction for years, but only now were their worst nightmares finally becoming a reality.  I thought back to my experiences in East Jerusalem; the parallels were too strong to ignore.

“The council offered a few of the families here hostels or flats to live in,” Cathlin continued, “but that isn’t our way of life.  And what would happen to us there?  We’d just get even more racism against us.”

We were told that pubs in the local area had put up “No travellers” signs in their doors. Authentically apartheid, in a “democratic” setting.

Cathlin was meant to be in school that day, but when she had seen the police and the bailiffs arriving at 8am, she decided not to go in.  Laws were past a few years ago to prevent travelling communities from driving in convoys, so families at Hovefields seemed to have settled down to an extent; Cathlin’s generation are amongst the first in their families to attend school.

But now, they are being uprooted again.  “If it’s illegal for us to travel, and it’s illegal for us to live here,” Cathlin asked, “then where do we go?”

Surely, this is the question we must all ask ourselves; where do we go from here?  Surely, now more than ever, it is essential that our struggle takes on a new sense of urgency.  Cathlin and her family are amongst the unwanted in our society, the victims that will always remain forgotten.  If we are serious about demanding equality, then their struggle is our struggle too.

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