|STRONG EMOTIONS EVIDENT AT GLOUCESTER
After the planned big anti-cull demo scheduled for 20 October in London was cancelled, due to security concerns at this time, local activists decided to hold a march in Gloucester.
Astrid Goddard reports...
Saturday 27 October 2001...
Watery autumn sunshine illuminated the Asda and B&Q car parks, as I looked around for fellow protestors. Aha, that small group by the bandstand must be our demo.
Funny, doesn't look like thousands. Is that a TV camera? Banners and costumes became visible as I drew nearer to the motley crowd. A sprinkling of pale and interesting young people in black or in costume mingled around the bandstand with some "respectable looking" folk who might be farmers. In all around 100.
Hector Christie was dressed in a priest costume, which he told us he had worn at Genoa, where he risked death to stand in the street and tell everyone about small farmers in the UK. Had he not been dressed as a priest, he would not have lived to tell the tale, he felt sure.
Someone pressed a "Stop the War" leaflet into my hand, advertising a demo on 12 November, in London. (I have since mislaid it, having juggled leaflets, a reporters notebook, pen, Shaun the sheep and a copy of Private Eye's special report - not to mention my camera, all afternoon!)
Is this it? Someone asked, as we gazed around at the small crowd. "Move up close", someone else shouted, "Make it look like there are a lot of us, the way they do it in the Houses of Parliament."
An elegant lady in a tweed hacking jacket spoke to us from the stage. Tracy Ward, Marchioness of Worcester (right). Tracy outlined the importance of buying local produce and of fairness to both farmer and consumer, and informed us that a new union was being formed to genuinely represent the people as an alternative to the NFU and CLA.
No, she could not tell us any more, since the press release in about 2 months time would then be something of a damp squib! When pressed she reluctantly told us that it had some connection to a backer working with The Ecologist.
Richard Lawson (left, at microphone) of the Green Party paid tribute to UKIP and SWP and remarked with a wry grin that it was the only time we would hear a politician giving his opposition such credit, yet they were the only other political parties to have fielded a coherent opposition to the Governments policy on Foot and Mouth disease.
Standing on a platform with banners in front of him that humorously implied certain supermarkets did not care about anything but profits, he explained this fact to those assembled, and made the connections between the FMD crisis and globalisation, waste, and war.
Illegal movements of livestock, taking all possible precautions, of course; by all farmers, to save stock, could be the only answer, but it would have to be carried out wisely. Civil disobedience may indeed be our only option.
Hector Christie (right) spoke briefly about his own recent and painful experience of being barricaded on his farm for months, saving his animals, and facing 3,000 in High Court injunction costs, yet recently having to give up some piglets to culling in a "welfare disposal scheme" since he could not feed them or sell them on.
Clearly, as he described the past 8 months of being too involved in the fight to give family or work the attention they deserved, and with his "Business down the drain" - we could see that here was a man who had been pushed to his limits by this scandalous policy.
Hector spoke of children who had become physically ill as a result of the pyres, and a newborn baby who had developed chronic asthma. When police asked him "Why are you doing this" he explained the physical and environmental damage being caused. For example, dioxins from imported railway sleepers can cause cancers.
We heard of a man who had held out for 21 days, signed a paper presented by MAFF, and all his Limousin cattle were dead by 9.30am. "With bailiffs hounding you, it's like fighting a war."
Someone had told Hector about horrendous live exports from South Africa to the UK. There is no aviation fuel tax charged, and no pesticide tax. Farmers had even demanded a tax on pesticide, but the NFU and pesticide manufacturers had stopped it. Gloucester farmers can't sell their apples to the supermarkets, they are imported from NZ instead. Not one local apple could be found in local supermarkets.
Over a billion had been spent to clean up the rivers, we suffer from cancers, from Chronic Metabolic Disorder. The average vegetable travels 600 miles to reach our supermarket trolley. "I strongly recommend a revolution, it's the only way small farms will survive, but as Richard says, it has to be done sensibly, not within 3 months of FMD in any area".
Next-door neighbour Morris Dart had been in tears as he had given up 100 fat lambs to the welfare cull, because he could not keep them. Thousands of sheep a day are now being given up in this way.
Hector continued: "Farmers are waiting for a knight in shining armour to come galloping over the hillside." Well, let me tell you, the only thing on the horizon is the likes of Monsanto..."
Hector mentioned the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, and Kuwaiti oil. "I want my children to grow up in a world of honour, integrity, truth and love." (AMEN to that, I thought!).
Hector spoke about how it seems Bob Marley was right when he said that 'Total destruction is the only solution, no man can stop it now'...
He talked about how we cannot do it on our own devices, and that the stock market should collapse irrevocably for all the good it does, and he expressed the hope that the 5,000 lives lost in the US and the people killed at Bhopal would not have died in vain...
"Now I'm going to do something symbolic, and it is purely symbolic: I am going to set fire to this flag..."
As he spoke, Hector produced a large Stars and Stripes (left), and doused it in petrol, as some of us struggled to keep up!
Perhaps miraculously the lighter would not work. As those assembled regained their powers of speech, shouts were heard - "Stop, don't do it, please, Hector", "It won't help, it's not the solution."
Hector expressed his anger and frustration: "It's great you guys have turned up, but it's a poxy waste of time."
Voices were heard: "No, don't say it's a waste of time", "An eye for an eye makes everyone blind", "If we are united..."
Mark Barratt from Gloucester spoke up: "We need 'Government by the people of the people', that is true democracy."
The local farming lady who had remarked that we would all be blind and toothless went on to say "This will go over the heads of the local farmers, you would be alienating them."
Someone then said "This is deeply offensive to farmers, I don't want anything to do with it."
We held a vote, which went against burning the flag. Hector then spoke: "Everyone, we're not going to burn the flag, but we have stimulated a good debate (picture right), and that's what it's all about. We will march on Shire Hall (local Government offices) and sing the version of Jerusalem that has been handed to you." (Which I reproduce here)
2nd last line of next verse:
May God help us save the unnecessary, unlawful killing of healthy animals and rescue our small farmers and rural communities from EXTINCTION. (Amen and Amen, thought I!)
BUY LOCAL -- BOYCOTT SUPERMARKETS
In spite of the lack of cohesiveness within the group, many useful contacts and connections were made that afternoon, and the public in Gloucester given pause for thought by our presence.
Some tips on organising an effective demonstration here.