Saturday, April 21, 2007
Today and Sunday, people will gather to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout.
Much is being made of this anniversary. Indeed, there are several guided walks, exhibitions as well as a 'celebration' evening at New Mills Town Hall tonight. The Trespass is rightly celebrated as a hugely important event in a struggle in which ordinary people strove to reclaim land which was once held in common, that which has been stolen by the ruling class and policed and treated as if it were their own back garden, leading eventually to the creation of National Parks.
The local MP, Tom Levitt, is making the most of the limelight at tonight's event. You wouldn't expect anything else from such an opportunist, always eager to be seen in the foreground at a photo opportunity.
But if Benny Rothman (one of the best known Trespassers jailed for riotous assembly in 1932) were here, I'm pretty sure he'd have cause to object to Levitt's presence. Putting to one side the issue of Levitt's lick-spittle like (continued) backing of the Labour Party's war in Iraq plus his advocacy for the spending of countless billions on the replacement of Trident Nuclear weapons, he is a leading advocate of the Longdendale Bypass. But doesn't an MP love a contradiction? It's called having your cake and eating it: the man who will be introducing tonight's soiree, celebrating the trespassers and the National Park, is also the man who is declaring war on that same Park. He's brought the Environment Minister with him especially. As if we need our noses rubbing in it.
Why am I sure that Benny Rothman would object? Because he dedicated his life to society's struggles, not least that of the destruction for the environment by the forces of conspicuous consumption and capitalist accumulation. He played his part in objecting to and campaigning against many of Manchester's road schemes, as well as the destruction of Ashton Moss byTameside MBC. But in 1994, at age 83, he took part in another Mass Trespass, this time upon what remained of Twyford Down, where construction of the M3 motorway was underway after protests and mass actions against it. At the time, he wrote an article for publication in the Countryman magazine about his day. He saw no need to make a fuss about his actions - for him, this protest was the natural thing to do and he was energised by the then nascent radical environmental movement whom he regarded as comrades in the same fight, a parallel that went completely over the heads on many so-called radicals on the left.
Although Benny's presence at the 1994 Trespass is not widely known, the relevance of this event to the situation we face in the Longdendale Valley andGlossop could not be clearer. Just as the Tories carved up many of the green places in this land in the 1990s to built pointless and ultimately fruitless roads, the Labour government and their Barons in local government are proposing a new wholesale onslaught on the countryside, and all of this at a time when they preach to us about preserving the environment, curbing carbon emissions, and consuming less. This road and others will fundamentally contradict each of those so-called priorities. It's a lie -Greenwash masquerading as 'business as usual'.
The Mass Trespass was a tactic in the strategy of reclaiming the land from those who accumulated it as conspicuously as they did their wealth. In the times of the 6 day week, Sunday held a chance to walk the wild land in order to defeat spiritual poverty and leave aside material poverty, even if only for one day. 75 years later, the struggles we face are about preserving what we have fought for as well as the land itself, and about advancing a movement to change a mode of production that threatens our very existence as a viable species.