By Phil Regan, research officer with the Traveller Movement
Jumping on the train with my son, Eli at 10.05 on the 7th of July, to make my way to London and the Drive2Survive rally, gave me time to reflect. Just some 7-weeks or so before Sherrie Smith and I had shared a conversation about how the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Police Bill) was literally going to wipe out the last of our ethnic nomadic communities, Romany Gypsies and Irish, Welsh and Scottish Travellers. Discussing what we could do oppose this, Sherrie explained she was going to chat with Jake Bowers later that day. From those initial very early conversations, and in such a short time, Sherrie and Jake had helped forge a collective of not only ethnic Romany Gypsies and Travellers from the UK, but members of other communities and races that in solidarity opposed this disgusting Police Bill.
As the train trundled to its destination, I was reminded by other passengers that this was also the day of the European semi-final match between Denmark and England. I started to wonder whether this would affect people turning up for the rally and what kind of numbers would attend. And being very blunt wondered, whether people would be better served coming to a rally that defended their human rights, than watch a match of 22 grown men kicking a football about. But hey, people are people and too many unfortunately are sheep, blinded to an inhumane reality by distractions like football.
Eli and I made our way from Euston to Parliament Square and arrived around 12 noon. It was so amazing to see the colour that met our arrival. Banners from all sorts of organisations – London Gypsy and Travellers, No Fixed Abode Travellers, Black Lives Matter, and many others; stalls selling Drive2Survive memorabilia; and just a rainbow collective of difference. Stunning. What an achievement in such a short time, steered by Sherrie and Jake though delivered by a group of around 20 members from across the UK. A real feat of teamwork. This was going to be a good day.
At around 1pm Jake opened the rally. The audience had grown to around 700 – 800 people and the day was also streamed to many, many more people online. In total there were over 20 speakers, which felt from an audience perspective as a little heavy, though on balance provided many people an opportunity to express themselves and to protest and dissent against the Police Bill and all that it stands for. For me of particular note was Andy Slaughter (MP) and Zara Sultana (MP), both drawing on how this Tory Government was leading us into an ethnic cleansing; were disregarding human rights in favour of profit; and fundamentally how this Police Bill was a reaction to the huge success of Black Lives Matter and Xtinction Rebellion protests last year. It was also very touching and saddening to hear Wolfgang Douglas, talk about the importance of Human Rights and how his dad was suffering, unlawfully imprisoned at the hands of the Dubai Government without committing any crime. It is only our Human Rights that stop the elites in society treating us like cattle.
At round 3ish the speakers stopped and a short march to the European Embassy begin. This was to hand in a letter condemning the killing of Stanislav Tomas by a police officer in the Czech Republic in very much the same way as George Floyd. By kneeling on him for more than 5 minutes and denying him of breath. As too often happens as this was a Roma man, there isn’t any coverage in the mainstream media.
After this Eli and I started to make our way home. We had been part of a truly rainbow day of peaceful dissent, protest and inspiration. Personally I hope this day is part of real Summer of discontent that is led by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller men and woman, and their supporters across the country. We all need change in this misogynistic, power grabbing, racist society, though ethnic Gypsy and Traveller peoples, experience the very worst of all of this. And by defending their rights and standing in solidarity against their oppression we are liberating ourselves.