Appeal of the peasants – protecting the wilderness to ensure that environmental education is based around a social and cultural ecology that understands the root cause of economic exploitation is the misappropriation of land. Through a deliberate policy of enclosure and privatisation that seeks to prevent economic self determination.
This April 17th, International Peasants Struggle day, Protect the Wilderness are joining in solidarity with the struggle for economic self determination of peasants around the world.
On the 17th of April Protect The Wilderness will have their appeal hearing with regard to the lawful occupation of The Wilderness Centre, in the Forest of Dean. On the 6th January Protect the Wilderness reopened the centre with the intention of disclosing a process of learning the skills and techniques required to move towards a home founded upon the principles of economic autonomy and ecological resilience. Re-appropriating the term sustainability in its full ecological sense to refer to an attitude that seeks harmony between the relation of forces upon which we depend.
This current cabinet of Gloucestershire county council believes it has the right to sell education resources that have been built upon over 40 years of investment. The council have forgotten that they are Trustees of the public purse. The Beneficiaries of property and capital held in trust by a county council are the people. They have no right of sale without fair and proper consultation with the Beneficiaries. This they have not done. By coming here to secure the Centre, we have continually offered them the chance to open an honest and respectful dialogue concerning these matters. They have failed to take this opportunity with the proper solicitude and humility we should expect from a public body. They have wilfully and belligerently refused all offers of mediation.
However through our honourable intention to protect the wilderness much has been revealed. Although the county council is an elected body it is also registered as a corporation- a harmless legal technicality, some would assume. Not so. We now have grave reasons to doubt such an assumption.
Gloucestershire County Councils CEO and other unelected agents within the council have active (and undeclared) interests in property development.
Should we not have a democratic process that formulates a policy of development that benefits the whole of society? How can we expect a small minority of individuals to truly know what the best course of action is for a social ecology as diverse as ours?
We identify our struggle with that of peasants around the world
Equity and The Peasants
The argument is quite simple; the county council had a legal obligation to make an equality impact assessment before making any decision to evict us from the wilderness centre. Their attempt to follow this requirement exposes their negligence, carelessness and complete misunderstanding of the situation. We are going to argue that the county council has not shown due regard to take into account our statutory needs as part of the decision making process. In doing so they have discriminated against us and our beliefs as a socio-economically deprived group.
Under the public sector equality duty contained in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 the county council is legally obliged to make an Equality Impact Assessment. Section 149 refers to the statutory needs that public bodies must regard when exercising their functions. The equality duty ensures that an authority must have ‘due regard’ to the need to:
Eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the Act.
Advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a ‘relevant protected characteristic’ and others who do not share it; and
Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not share it.
The public sector equality duty is intended to advance equality of opportunity to the extent that disadvantages suffered by persons with a “relevant protected characteristic” should be minimised or removed and encourage persons who share a “relevant protected characteristic” to participate in public life or in any other activity in which participation by such person is disproportionately low. Having due regard to the need to foster good relations involves having due regard (in particular) to the need to tackle prejudice and to promote understanding.
The protected characteristics to which the duty applies are age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation, also marriage and civil partnership. In respect of their requirement to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination.
Having due regard to means consciously thinking about the statutory needs as part of the process of decision making, when the proposals are still at a formative stage, and before a decision is reached. This means that consideration of those equality issues must influence the decisions reached by public bodies. The equality Duty must be exercised in substance, with rigour and with an open mind.
Indirect discrimination occurs where a condition criterion or practice is applied which would put people with one of the protected characteristics at a disadvantage, and the imposition of that condition, criterion or practice is not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, i.e. it cannot be objectively justified.
So where did the county council go wrong.
They said that they have to secure vacant possession of the site to enable the planned sale of the property in accordance with a decision taken by the council to sell it in order to generate capital receipts to support its “meeting the challenge” programme. The “challenge” of course being how to privatise everything without anyone noticing.
Unfortunately for them on the 6th of January we came along with the intention of “disclosing a process of learning the skills and techniques required to move towards a home founded upon the principles of economic autonomy and ecological resilience.” These are our signifies. Basically we believe that environment education has to inform action and right now it is action that is most urgently required. We don’t want to use labels and identities that would make further distinctions and discriminations. We want to create a style of political discourse that is inclusive, based in substance, rigorous and open minded. We believe that the concept of the Home can be used to enlighten such a discourse draw from intentions and affectations of a lived experience we all share namely being at home.
But the council needs labels. It needs to make distinctions and discriminations, direct or indirect. So for them we are squatters and trespassers local and non local environmental activists. They state in the assessment that, “none of the activists are homeless or from any vulnerable groups.” How did the council come to this conclusion? Well, all their actions so far have been managed in accordance with the Unauthorised Encampment protocol. The protocol as supplied in appendix 1 of their case bundle does not actually define an encampment. One would assume it would refer to temporary or mobile structures like tents or caravans- but we are living in buildings. Anyway they have their protocol and their rubber stamps at the ready. Gloucestershire County Council had a meeting on the 20th January to which we were not invited but the outcome of the meeting apparently ‘focused on ‘the welfare of the squatters” before pursuing any other form of action’.
So on the 24th January a group of council officers came to visit us. One of them was a man in tracksuit who wanted to make individual welfare assessments with a form he had brought with him. He wanted to do this immediately but we were concerned that this would take up too much time so we suggested that we would complete the forms for collection the following day. When one of the council agents returned the next day we hadn’t filled in the forms because we thought they were inappropriate and demeaning’ why did we think this? This was a question the council never asked, but in the equality impact assessment they refer to this as such; ‘the detailed assessments have been refused’. Why were they refused? Well the form was of such poor quality we couldn’t be sure as to whether or not it was some kind of joke. Of the 10 questions there were two blatant errors one of which referred to education they corrected this error in the copy they later gave to the judge, in the court bundle it reads...
Do you need any help with education?
The forms the guy in the tracksuit gave us read:
Do you need help any education?
Not the most severe error but enough for us to question the professionalism of this so called public body.
I’ll spare you the details of the rest of meeting, they were mostly concerned with the adventure playground and the compost toilet. No the officer didn’t want to use them they were concern that the use of such facilities would engender gross health and safety violations. We tried to calm them down and get them to talk sense. At one point we tried to change the subject by suggested that these situation presented an opportunity to challenge this compensation culture that caused them so much concern. The lead officer took this very seriously and expressed his doubts as to whether reopening the wilderness centre was the best way to approach this issue. He even noted it down and presented it in their case against us. We did eventually explain to them the reasons we were here. However this was not noted down and it is this failure to listen that constitutes their neglect of duty and subsequent indirect discrimination against us.
The following week the council and other ‘interested parties’ had a final ‘welfare’ meeting to decide how to get rid of us. We came along and managed to sit down before they realised who we were and asked us to leave the building. We promised them we would be available to answer any questions with regard to our welfare and the going concern of the wilderness centre. Needless to say they yet again ignored us. Satisfied with their protocol and impact assessment they made there decision and began their barrage of paper.
The impact assessments has to identify where any particular group is affected differently by a policy (namely the “Meeting the Challenge” programme) in either a negative or positive way. It lists each of the protected characteristics, other groups e.g. rural isolation, long term unemployed, health inequality, carers; socio-economically deprived groups; and finally any issues concerning community cohesion.
So here goes, the authorities need a label then a label we shall give them.
We are peasants.
Protect the wilderness (Peasants) vs Gloucester County Council (Evill councillors (as referred to in the Bill of Rights 1688))
Gloucester County council made no attempt to assess our beliefs and socio economic rights as defined in the equality act 2006 of which they have a duty to do so.
We have a right to pursue a livelihood that does not contradict our beliefs.
We refuse to participate in a system that is exploitative and unsustainable.
As homeless peasants we re opened the wilderness centre to initiate a movement towards the foundation of home that ensures the conditions of a livelihood in accordance with the principles of economic autonomy and ecological sustainability. We share the struggle for economic autonomy with peasants around the world.
We believe that environmental education is a necessary condition of a society built upon the principle of ecological sustainability.
Our beliefs can be articulated through these principles and the values which inform them. The principle of economic autonomy is that a home should be able to support and maintain all of the relations of production on which that home depends. The value which informs this principle is freedom albeit in its negative sense as a freedom from. The principle of ecological sustainability is that a home should be able to maintain a balance with the resources and relations of forces on which it depends. The value which informs this principle is that of harmony or balance.
The Peasant struggle is fully applicable to the framework of international human rights which includes instruments, and thematic mechanisms of the Human Rights Council, that address the right to food, housing rights, access to water, right to health, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, racism and racial discrimination, women’s rights. However these international instruments of the UN do not completely cover nor prevent human rights violations, especially the rights of the peasants. We see some limitations in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as an instrument to protect peasants' right. Also, the Charter of the Peasant produced by the UN in 1978, was not able to protect peasants from international liberalization policies. The other international conventions, which also deal with peasants' rights, can not be implemented either. These conventions include: ILO Convention 169, Clause 8?J Convention on Biodiversity, Point 14.60 Agenda 21, and Cartagena Protocol.
In articulating our rights with reference to and in solidarity with the Peasant struggle we refer to the Declaration of Rights of peasant – women and men proposed by La Via Campesina. the Declaration of the Rights of Peasants was formulated through the process of a series of activities, including the Workshop on Peasants' Rights in Medan North Sumatra in 2000, the Conference of Agrarian Reform in Jakarta April 2001, the Regional conference on Peasants' Rights held in Jakarta in April 2002 and the International Conference of Via Campesina also held in Jakarta, in June 2008. La Via Campesina are calling for this document to form the basis of an International Convention of Peasants Rights, to be elaborated by the United Nations, with the full participation of La Via Campesina and other representatives of civil society.
The full text of the declaration is attached to this document. The following are specific articles that are relevant to our case;
Definition of peasants: rights holders
A peasant is a man or woman of the land, who has a direct and special relationship with the land and nature through the production of food and/or other agricultural products. Peasants work the land themselves, rely above all on family labour and other small?scale forms of organizing labour. Peasants are traditionally embedded in their local communities and they take care of local landscapes and of agro?ecological systems.
The term peasant can apply to any person engaged in agriculture, cattle?raising, pastoralism, handicrafts?related to agriculture or a related occupation in a rural area. This includes Indigenous people working on the land.
Declaration of Rights of Peasants ? Women and Men
The term peasant also applies to landless. According to the UN Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO 1984) definition, the following categories of people are considered to be landless and are likely to face difficulties in ensuring their livelihood:
Agricultural labour households with little or no land;
2. Non?agricultural households in rural areas, with little or no land, whose members are engaged in various activities such as fishing, making crafts for the local market, or providing services;
3. Other rural households of pastoralists, nomads, peasants practicing shifting cultivation, hunters and gatherers, and people with similar livelihoods.
Article II Rights of peasants
3. Peasants (women and men) are free and equal to all other people and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular to be free from discriminations based on their economic, social and cultural status.
4. Peasants (women and men) have the right to actively participate in policy design, decision making, implementation, and monitoring of any project, program or policy affecting their territories.
Art. III Right to life and to an adequate standard of living
1. Peasants (women and men) have the right to physical integrity, to not be harassed, evicted, persecuted, arbitrarily arrested, and killed for defending their rights.
Right to land and territory
3. Peasants (women and men) have the right to toil and own the non?productive state land on which they depend for their livelihood.
8. Peasants (women and men) have the right to manage, conserve, and benefit from the forests.
9. Peasants (women and men) have the right to reject all kinds of land acquisition and conversion for economic purpose.
11. Peasants (women and men) have the right to agricultural land that can be irrigated to ensure food sovereignty for growing population.
Declaration of Rights of Peasants ? W
13. Peasants (women and men) have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining their right to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State.
Article V Right to seeds and traditional agricultural knowledge and practice
4. Peasants (women and men) have the right to conserve and develop their local
knowledge in agriculture, fishing, livestock rearing.
Article VI Right to means of agricultural production
1. Peasants (women and men) have the right to obtain funds from the State to develop Agriculture
6. Peasants (women and men) have the right to be actively involved in planning,
formulating, and deciding on the budget for national and local agriculture.
Right to information and agriculture technology
1. Peasants (women and men) have the right to obtain impartial and balanced
information about capital, market, policies, prices, technology, etc, related to
Right to the protection of agriculture values
2. Peasants (women and men) have the right to develop and preserve local knowledge in agriculture.
Right to biological diversity
1. Peasants (women and men) have the right to the protection and preservation of
Right to preserve the environment
1. Peasants (women and men) have the right to a clean and healthy environment.
2. Peasants (women and men) have the right to preserve the environment according to their knowledge.
3. Peasants (women and men) have the right to reject all forms of exploitation which
cause environmental damage.
Article XII Freedoms of association, opinion and expression
4. Peasants (women and men) have the right not to be criminalized for their claims and struggles.
5. Peasants (women and men) have to right to resist oppression and to resort to
peaceful direct action in order to protect their rights
Right to have access to justice
1. Peasants (women and men) have the right to effective remedies in case of violations of their rights. They have the right to a fair justice system, to have effective and nondiscriminatory access to courts and to have legal aid.
2. Peasants (women and men) have the right not to be criminalized for their claims and struggles.
3. Peasants (women and men) have the right to be informed and to legal assistance.