Drive 2 Survive rally to protest anti-Traveller law ‘makes history’
The Drive 2 Survive rally kicked off with an explosive start in Parliament Square last week as campaigners warned of a ‘summer of discontent’ against the new racist police bill which will “wipe out” Gypsy and Traveller and other nomadic cultures by criminalising trespass with the intent to reside in a vehicle.
(All photos above (c) Huw Powell)
Over 500 people came to the rally on 7th July, 2021, at Parliament Square, London to demonstrate against the police bill in front of the heart of British Government. Every GRT community and nomadic community was there to make history, including Romany Gypsy, Kale, Scottish Travellers, Irish Travellers, Showmen, New Travellers, Van Dwellers and livaboard itinerant Boaters.
(All photographs above (c) Huw Powell)
The crow cheered rousing speeches from politicians, campaigners, lawyers and representatives of anti-racist groups including Black Lives Matter and Stand Up To Racism.
(All photographs above (c) Hugh Powell)
The new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was voted through in Parliament last week and looks set to be passed through the House of Lords and become law by the Autumn. The bill doesn’t only contain an attack on GRT communities, it also gives the Government and the police new powers to restrict peaceful protests, include a ten-year sentencing tariff for damaging a statue, increases the powers of police to stop and search with no evidence and introduces more secure institutions for young people.
(All photographs above (c) Mike Doherty)
The rally started when John Doe set off with his horse and cart from Stable Way Traveller site in nearby Shepherds Bush and drove to Parliament Square. Main Drive 2 Survive organisers Sherrie Smith and Jake Bowers were already at Parliament Square starting to set up the rally which was set to kick off at 1pm.
VIDEO: Watch the Drive 2 Survive interview with John Doe:
Jake Bowers kicked off the speakers and introduced Drive 2 Survive as the crowds began to arrive. “Let me give you a warning Priti Patel,” he said. “We will not be walking into the history books. If you come for us and you come for our homes and you come for our culture – we are coming for you.”
Jake Bowers was then followed by 26 speakers. They were (in order):
Andy Slaughter MP for Hammersmith and co-chair All Party Parliamentary Group for GRT.
“There are 250 different groups opposing this bill from Friends of the Earth to XR to Liberty,” said Andy Slaughter. “Your fight is their fight.”
Billy Welch, Shera Rom and the Romany Gypsy representative of the Appleby Horse Fair organising group.
“I am a Romany Gypsy and I am extremely proud of that fact,” said Billy Welch. “I come from a nomadic people and I have travelled all my life. We have got to realise how dangerous these laws will be. Just by being somewhere I can be arrested, put in prison, my home and my vehicles can be confiscated from me and my wife and family left on the side of the road.”
VIDEO: Watch Drive 2 Survive interview with Billy Welch:
Bell Ribeiro Addy MP for Streatham.
“An attack on one is an attack on all of us,” said Bell Ribeiro Addy MP. “The UN have said the GRT community across Europe are one of the most persecuted groups in the world. And this country likes to wax lyrical about how other countries treat their minority groups, but instead of defending this community this government is persecuting them more with this bill. The government has got an eighty-seat majority, but the early protests against the bill slowed it down. We have to understand that this fight will not be won in (the Houses of Parliament), it will be won out here on the streets.”
Alison Hulmes from the GRT Social Work Association.
“I’m a Welsh Gypsy, I’m a Kale, that’s my tribe,” said Alison Hulmes. “Our culture and our history our ethnicity will not be erased by this government because of this racist bill. We will continue to gel the rom because that’s what we do. We will refuse to be herded into cul-de-sacs, estates and sites that should be condemned because they are unfit for human inhabitation. We will refuse to allow you (points at the Houses of Parliament) to rip our homes from under us, to criminalise us, and to take our children into state care.”
Lou from No Fixed Abode Travellers (NFATs) collective.
“I generally tend to live on squatted land and on land attached to abandoned buildings, if trespass had been criminalised when I first started living on the road 20 years ago I wonder what my charge sheet would look like now?” said Lou. Would I have spent time in prison? Would I still be able to work as a key worker supporting the vulnerable? Would I still be on the road? The land we squatted was always disused and neglected, waiting for the property developers to get planning to build more houses. We made it our home, clearing rubbish, growing gardens and putting on events. Then we would get evicted (and) often replaced by one solitary caravan for the security guard to reside in keeping the land safe from the likes of us.”
Sam Grant from Human Rights campaign group Liberty.
“Liberty is proud to stand with you against this legislation,” said Sam Grant. “If this bill is passed as it currently stands, it will dramatically re-shape civil liberties in this country and will push the balance of power further in favour of the Government and the Police. Not only does this bill hand police more say about where, when and how people can protest. But for the Traveller community it not just a crackdown on rights it represents an existential threat.”
Howard Beckett from the union UNITE.
“We cannot look at this piece of legislation in isolation,” said Howard Beckett. “We cannot look at this legislation in isolation of the Trade Union Act, or the Home Office ‘refugee go home’ vans, or the Windrush scandal, or deporting refugees in the middle of the night. All of these things taken together are a racist endeavour on behalf of the establishment. We have a responsibility to stand up for our rights as generations have stood up for them before us. We have a responsibility to pass those rights on.”
Ruth Sullivan from Traveller Pride
“The current Tory Government has form about trying to frame rights of various minoritised groups as a debate and a thing they can legislate out of existence,” said Ruth Sullivan. “We have seen this. We have seen this with this government with immigrants, our Trans siblings and the narrative they have written about the Traveller community (…) Remember that Pride was a protest.”
Delia Mattis from Kill the Bill campaign.
“For hundreds of years under-represented communities have used protest as a way to have our voices heard,” said Delia Mattis. “For hundreds of years organised workers have use protest as a way to make their demands clear. For hundreds of years the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community have had your traditions. This racist Government have no right to try and take your rights away from you and we will not let them. We will continue to protest. One part of the bill the government say they are going to measure the decibels of protests. Have you ever heard such s***? This Government is a disgrace.”
Virgil Bitu, Roma and Human Rights activist and Drive to Survive.
“I am here today to stand with my brothers and sisters against the fascist legislation,” said Virgil Bitu. “I consider this bill fascist because this is how the fascist regimes start in the beginning – they took away peoples political and civil rights and rights of expression and assembly and they abused the most vulnerable groups. I am here to stand against the bill today before it’s not too late.”
Nicu Ion, Newcastle Labour Councillor – the first ever Roma elected as a councillor.
“I came to day to show solidarity,” said Cllr Nicu Ion. “And not only my solidarity but that of my community (…) The racists are back and they come in the form of Priti Patel, Boris Johnson and the Tory Government. Trying to ban the traditional lifestyle of a community, trying to ban the right to protest and trying to ban our political freedoms and we will not sit quiet and do whatever they want. We are here today to say we are many, we are powerful and we are not going to be silent.”
Thomas McCarthy, Irish Traveller/Pavee traditional singer and campaigner.
“Travelling is in our DNA. It’s is as simple as that,” said Thomas McCarthy, who then launched into a song – ‘I’m a rambling man.’
VIDEO: Watch Thomas McCarthy sing ‘I’m a rambling man from the Drive 2 Survive stage (video by Ludovic):
Anne McLaughlin Scottish National Party MP for Glasgow North East.
“Greetings from Scotland,” said Anne McLaughlin MP. “You have got our support. One of the reasons we are fighting this bill is because of the impact on Travelling communities. We are absolutely disgusted with what they are trying to do and we are absolutely disgusted about some of the things they have said about Travellers. In Scotland it’s a very different approach,” said Anne McLaughlin, adding that the SNP Government’s approach was about improving the lives of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. “This bill will do nothing but damage the lives of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and I am so sorry that this is happening to you.”
John Lloyd from campaign group The People’s Assembly.
“You know what the Tories hate? They hate people who are different,” said John Lloyd. “They hate people who live differently. They hate people who look differently. They hate people who worship a different god. Who come from a different country and don’t have the money and the power that they have. But that is precisely what unites us. No matter what we look like no matter how we live. No matter where we come from, none of us have wealth and none of us have power unless we stand together. Because that’s all that ordinary people have ever had. Their numbers and their organisation.”
David Landau from the Jewish Socialist Group.
“The Jewish Socialist Group comes from what is known as the Bundist group of Jewish thought and action,” said David Landau. “We did not seek to form a nation state or control territory, drawing borders around us (…) But the Holocaust changed all that. The Bundist slogan is ‘we are here’ and this was the slogan of the first Roma Congress 50 years ago and this was repeated at this year’s Jubilee Roma Congress. We are in a dangerous period. The far right is gaining ground across Europe and Roma are one of the primary targets of the far right.”
Luke Wenman from Socialist GRT.
“This bill does nothing to address the needs of our community,” said Luke Wenman. “It does nothing to address the fact that we die 12 years younger than the rest of the population, it does nothing to address the fact that we have been put into prisons for decades. It does nothing to address the fact that they are criminalising a form of homelessness. If you want to solve homelessness provide people with somewhere to live. It’s as simple as that. This bill criminalises the 20% of our community who are still nomadic.”
Marvina Newton from campaign group Black Lives Matter.
“Can I just say that I stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters,” said Marvina Newton. “I stand here with my sister (looks at Sherrie Smith) and I fell your pain and I will stay silent no longer. This is not the oppression Olympics, they come for one, they come for all. We stand united in everything we do. We don’t have time for any of this fighting each other. They try to make us come and fight each other but they didn’t know that instead we find family with each other (…) We are protesting this bill to live. We are protesting this bill to survive.”
Marian Mahoney from London Gypsies and Travellers.
“We don’t want to trespass, but there is nowhere for us to go,” said Marian Mahoney. “Councils are letting us down, they are not making sites or stopping places available for our culture. Putting Gypsies and Travellers under this new law is wrong. We should not be under this law. We are an ethnic minority. We are not criminals. I have no criminal record I don’t want a criminal record and neither do our children or our grandchildren or our generations to come because we will not stop.”
Zack Polanski London Assembly Member Green Party.
“I am a Green Party London Assembly Member and Chair of the Environment Committee, but I am not here to say that politics will get us out of here,” said Zack Polanski. “We know that politicians have exacerbated the climate crisis. We know that politicians of successive generations have not listened to the voices of Jewish people, Black people, to the GRT community, to so many vulnerable communities. We are going to have to do this ourselves. We are going to have to be loud, we are going to have to be clear and we are going to have to stand in solidarity.”
Wolfgang Douglas from the Free Albert campaign.
Wolfgang raised the plight of his father Albert Douglas, a Romany Gypsy businessman who has been detained and tortured in the United Arab Emirates for a crime he didn’t commit. He urged the crowd to check out the #freealbert campaign. “Our Government does nothing to support him or protect him, said Wolfgang Douglas. Why? The answer to this I fear is the oldest crime on earth. I have conversed with MP’s, diplomats and various influential people in that building the Houses of Parliament, the answer is an awkward one for them and one that I have lived with for my entire life. As soon as the dirty word is used, all the support, all the emotion, all the enthusiasm stops. ‘Gypsy’ – the word that closes all doors, stops all discussions and brings debates to an abrupt and awkward halt every single time.”
Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, civil rights campaigner and top lawyer.
“I stand here today in solidarity with all my Gypsy, Roma and Traveller brothers and sisters,” said Shami Chakrabarti. “There has been a little bit of nonsense, in Parliament and in the press, about this slogan – what’s this slogan?” (The crowd shouts back ‘Kill the Bill!’). “Let me make it clear to anyone who is in doubt about what that slogan means. This is not about targeting police officers for abuse or violence. A bill is a piece of legislation that is introduced into Parliament, and in this case it is one of the most odious and racist pieces of legislation in a long line of such nonsense in recent times.”
Joe Brown Chair of the Traveller Movement.
“The Irish worked it out long ago what they were trying to do and we had a slogan which was united we stand, divided we fall,” said Joe Brown. “And we must let them know that we stand united forever.”
Wayland Bennings from campaign group Stand Up To Racism
“I am so proud to stand today with the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities and I want to say this – we want to kill that bill,” said Wayland Bennings. “What is this bill about? It is about enabling racism against the Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities and are we going to stand for it? (Crowd shouts no!). And when we talk about racism. The key element to defeating it is unity. And its not the first time they tried to do this. And the truth is, if they come to try and take away our rights there is only one way you keep your rights – and that is to fight for them.”
Zara Sultana Labour MP for Coventry South
“We are here today to show we are proud and defiant in our resolute opposition to this authoritarian police bill and I am here in unwavering solidarity with the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in the face of this new attack,” said Zara Sultana MP. “And that what this is, it is a racist political attack by the Conservative Government and we have to stand up against it.”
Flo Bristol Van-Dweller and activist.
Flo spoke about the police violence at the 2nd Bristol Kill the Bill protest and then a a song and got the crowd to join in:
“We are the people, the places that we see
If we have nowhere to go, who will we be?
Please protect my home, please protect my right to roam
Lay down your arms and walk with me”
Steve Kennedy criminal defence lawyer
“The Brexit scam, the Covid scam, the hostile environment, our divided nation, are all political devices deployed by the Tories to deploy fear and control the people whilst they rob the nation blind of all its assets,” said Steve Kennedy. “The GRT road is an open road and everyone is welcome to travel with us.”
The rally then ended peacefully at 3pm as the organisers vowed to continue the campaign against the police bill into the summer with their new allies and supporters.
Speaking to the Travellers’ Times after the rally Drive 2 Survive co-Chair Sherrie Smith said that she the rally had been a success.
“It was an amazing day and a great start to the Drive2 Survive campaign to beat this racist and unjust bill,” said Sherrie Smith. “Because of the nature of the bill, because that is contains attacks on civil liberties, Drive 2 Survive has managed to forge alliances with many other communities and campaigns as we head into a summer of discontent to bring this bill – and if it is passed – this new law down.”
“One moment will always stick in my mind, and that was when we had a representative from all the different GRT ethnic groups and cultures up on stage alongside Marvina Newton from Black Lives Matters. Together we are powerful. Friendships and alliances were made at the rally that will last this Government out. Together we are grassroots and we are powerful and that’s important because, as many of the speakers said, the battle against the new law will be won on the streets as well as in Parliament and in the courts.” Sherrie Smith added that Drive to Survive had a number of plans in the pipeline, including a 'Applebys got Talent’, a Romani Kris , a photography competition which will be exhibited at Appleby Horse Fair, followed by films and talks to further raise awareness among GRT communities about the new laws and the effect it will have on our cultures going forward. There will also be a Drive 2 Survive online event to mark the International Roma and Sinti Holocaust Day on August 2nd.
“We are also planning a weekend of localised actions this summer, so people can do something for themselves, if they can't make Cumbria or London and It will kick off on Friday," said Sherrie Smith. “We want to show the best of our people, and show what we stand to lose. The Government who are pushing this new law through don't seem to know or care. More details will be released soon from the Drive 2 Survive core team, so watch this space and follow our website.” www.drive2survive.org.uk
Follow the Travellers’ Times for regular updates on the police bill, what Drive 2 Survive are going to do next, and how to get involved.
Mike Doherty for TT News
(Lead photograph: Billy Welch addresses the Drive to Survive rally © Huw Powell)