Gypsies, Roma and Travellers unite in their ‘Drive to Survive’

17 June 2021
Gypsies, Roma and Travellers unite in their ‘Drive to Survive’

A summer of campaigning against the new anti-Traveller laws kicks off with a rally in Parliament Square on July 7th

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller campaigners from across the UK are uniting in a grassroots led campaign to resist the racist provisions in Home Secretary Priti Patel’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (the Bill).  On July 7th at 1pm they will peacefully gather in Parliament Square, London to launch a Summer of Discontent against the Bill and its intention to completely outlaw nomadic Gypsy and Traveller cultures across the UK.

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The launch of the Drive 2 Survive campaign comes as the Bill continues its way through parliament.   Opposed by the opposition Labour Party because of the way it restricts the right to peacefully protest, it is highly likely that because of the Government’s parliamentary majority within an outdated electoral system, that the Bill will progress into legislation.

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In the shadow of the statues of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and suffragette Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, community campaigners will 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 to the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester in October 2021.  Much as Gandhi, Mandela and Fawcett used direct action to fight for equality, Gypsy and Traveller community members will outline their plans to resist the outlawing of their cultures.

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Drive 2 Survive co-chair Sherrie Smith said: “The Police Bill is the single biggest threat to the traditional way of life of Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers in our life time.  If passed it will entirely eradicate nomadic life in the UK, give police the power to seize Gypsy and Traveller homes, fine Gypsies and Travellers up to £2500 and imprison those needing to follow a nomadic way of life because of a lack of safe legal stopping places.  This would not be tolerated by any other ethnic group and we will not stand for our culture being targeted in this way.”

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The campaigners have accused Patel of attempting to culturally cleanse ancient cultures from the UK landscape. “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.” said Irish Traveller activist Chris McDonagh.

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The Drive 2 Survive Campaign first aim is the scrapping of part 4 of the Bill that creates a criminal law of trespass and dramatically increases police powers over anyone residing on land that they do not have permission to be on. It is the campaigners’ view that the draconian powers within the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act  that lock nomadic Gypsies and Travellers into a cycle of trespass and eviction do not need strengthening but repealing.  “They represent the most vulnerable part of the 600,000 strong Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community that simply cannot find any sites to live on.  Strengthening eviction powers won’t make them disappear but just brutalise and marginalise them further,” says Roma activist Virgil Bitu.

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Virgil Bitu (c) Alunica Lepadatu

“Priti Patel cannot ignore the fact that police powers are already too excessive.  It’s not just Gypsies and Travellers that are resisting these new powers, but representatives from the National Police Chiefs Council.  In evidence to the committee stage of the Bill the community and the police have been united in calling for a better way of resolving the conflict around a lack of stopping places.” says campaign Co-chair Jake Bowers.

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(c) Hannah Poppy

Kicking off their community campaign in Parliament Square on July 7th, the campaigners will be joined by allies from inside parliament and across civil society.  Confirmed 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.

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(c) Melissa Gunessa

“From Parliament Square the campaign will head to Appleby Fair, the World largest Gypsy Horse Fair where up to 30,000 Gypsies and Travellers have met for over 500 years.  A stage and PA system will be set up to educate the community about the threat coming its way.  One of Europe’s largest projectors will project films about the Bill onto the Cumbrian mountains next to the fair,” says Romany activist Mattey Mitchell. 

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Billy Welch at Appleby Fair (c) Mike Doherty

The community takes the threat of the new legislation so seriously that it has organised the first Romani Kris, or council of elders in decades to 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. Their horses  and vehicles were confiscated, which eventually led to them being sent to death camps or murdered on the side of the road. 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 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.”  

TT News/D2S press release

(All photographs unless otherwise credited (c) Natasha Quarmby)

For more information about Drive 2 Survive contact:

Sherrie Smith 07852 916912

Jake Bowers 07966 786242