“The Policing, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill, which has provoked protests across the country, not only criminalises our right to protest & express dissent, but also criminalises Gypsy & Traveller communities for their very way of life.”Mish Rahman, Labour NEC member
The Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which has provoked protests across the country, not only criminalises our right to protest and express dissent, but also criminalises Gypsy and Traveller communities for their very way of life.
The PCSCB bill will disproportionally affect specific minority and ethnic communities and is likely to conflict with equality and human rights legislation. It also gives fines, prison sentences, making it a criminal offence for Gypsy and Traveller communities just for continuing the lifestyle of those nomadic, transient members of that community as well as allowing the Police to seize goods, homes, trailers, vehicles and encourages more state violence by the Police towards this community including evictions.
We have seen Sisters Uncut effectively form a coalition with other groups affected by the bill, including members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) community, and we must build on this inspirational model of solidarity to contest this draconian bill.
Now is the time for every one of us who sees themselves as an antiracist to stand up for GRT communities. Just because I have faced racism myself, as a brown, Asian, British-Bangladeshi man, it doesn’t automatically make me an antiracist. But as a socialist I aspire to be an anti racist and being an anti racist is dictated by my actions and not by my words. To be an antiracist I need to unapologetically and unequivocally stand against any form of bigotry and discrimination and with those who have faced discrimination and recognise that the struggle against racism is one shared across communities.
It was the great late legend Fred Hampton, the young 21-year-old leader of the Black Panther movement who famously built the Rainbow coalition to fight back against racism who said –
“We don’t think you fight fire with fire best; we think you fight fire with water best. We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity.”
If you stand up for what is right, if you stand up for a minority, it is automatic that you will have to battle against a majority. A status quo that thrives on dividing us. When anyone makes slurs or stereotypes towards the GRT community we must challenge them directly. We must understand why a nomadic lifestyle is so transgressive in a neoliberal society that treats property as a source of income and land as a source of wealth and status.
We must directly challenge the snobbery towards the traditions of Gypsy and Traveller communities and the notion that a settled life in bricks and mortar makes us culturally superior to that of a nomadic lifestyle.
We must understand it is the failure of politicians and governments, local governments and national governments all over the country that our Gypsy and Traveller communities are forced onto the roads and in some cases into unauthorised encampments because of the lack of transit sites to accommodate them.
We are happy to build houses and developments on a building site made from bricks and mortar but if that site was to become a legitimate transit or permanent site for travellers, there is immediate hostility. There is a complete lack of adequate provision and the shortage of sites is used to harass, intimidate and marginalise Gypsy and Traveller communities. The bill will make this even worse.
The best way to change people’s minds is not through confrontation but with humility, to confront our perceptions, reflect on our views, our language and our behaviour and to educate.
It is also important to be educated about GRT communities, to learn about their ancestry, culture and history, and understand how entwined the heritage of GRT communities is with other racialised people. How despite all this they are still one of the most oppressed communities in the world and face ‘the last acceptable form of racism’.
There is a great power in collective action and unity, especially when we are united in our stance, we have numbers amongst our collectivism, we are committed to creating the change required and have the diversity amongst us to make things happen. That’s how we fight back against all injustices and that’s why we need to collaborate with GRT communities, amplifying their voices and uniting in their fight for equality. The bottom line is that the GRT community are part of our community. They are not a different entity to any one of us.