UK rave clampdown 2002
"Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less. New age travellers? Not in this age! Not in any age!" - John Major, 1992.
It was ten years ago this month when Castlemorton Common became home to the largest free festival this country had seen since the Stonehenge celebrations in the early eighties.
Travellers heading for the Avon Free Festival found themselves up against Avon and Somerset Police's all-new fun-stopping information-gathering 'Operation Nomad' with "dedicated resources...to gather intelligence in respect of the movement of itinerants and travellers and deal with minor acts of trespass."
So people found themselves across the border heading for the picturesque Malvern valley where a truly amazing free festival sprung up with around forty thousand people partying for seven days and nights.
The Free Festival scene had been happening up and down the country since the early 70's, and this new explosion was a fusion of old style traveller culture and weekend ravers attracted to the soundsystems of DIY, Spiral Tribe, Bedlam and a host of others.
One leaflet at the time explained "To be at one of these gatherings is to feel a surge of energy; to feel a people free from the restrictions of rip-off clubs, crap pubs, dumb shit security, money-mad promoters."
Of course the authorities didn't exactly share this view and with the press whipping itself up into a frenzy ("Hordes of Marauding Locusts" and "These Foul Pests must be Controlled" being a couple of classic headlines) - new laws we were warned, were just around the corner.
The authorities in particular seemed to be going gung-ho for a group of people who had pushed the free party boundaries for the past two years - Spiral Tribe.
13 people were nicked and put on trial for 'conspiracy to cause a public nuisance' with the judge promising two years in prison if they were found guilty.
Thankfully they weren't despite a trial that lasted four and a half months and cost the taxpayer £4 million.
As a result of the free festival scene, mixing with the first stirrings of the road protest movement at Twyford Down and the M11, the Tory Home Secretary ranted about getting "Tough on rapists, tough on armed robbers and tough on squatters" a hotch-potch of a Bill was introduced into parliament - the most draconian ever to be aimed at alternative British culture.
It's name - the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (which SchNEWS was a part response to, but that's another story).
Pig Posse Payout
Fast forward 10 years. This year's Welsh Green Gathering has been cancelled for the second year running - thanks to objections once again from the cops.
Last year Dyfed Powys police objected on the grounds that festival land would be contaminated with "human waste, diesel and cannabis."
This year the gathering, in the planning since June last year, was to take place in Margam Country Park, South Wales and all seemed to be going well.
Until the Detective Inspector of Port Talbot police stuck his oar in and said he feared serious public disorder so £60,000 to police the crowd of just four thousand had to be coughed up. The Council, fearing a riot, cancelled the booking.
Er, public disorder at a Green Gathering? Maybe if you count people overdosing on lentil flapjacks or being trapped in dozens of deadly dream catchers or perhaps a pack of pedal-powered powder peddlers pelting police with a barrage of crystals.
In fact, the event was going to be so riotous members of the Welsh National Assembly were planning to take part in green forums and the Centre For Alternative Technology along with other such axe-wielding maniacs were to busy themselves at the event promoting sustainable living.
Not to mention the festival helping to restore the park and converting to solar power the presently disused road-train.
The Welsh Green Gathering is now seriously out of pocket and threatening to sue the Council. Organisers reckon the decision was linked to a yearlong direct action campaign against an incinerator in Swansea. Yesterday the incinerator was given the green light.
Green Party spokesman Martin Shrewsbury commented "Port Talbot council are supporting an incinerator to poison us all and cancelling a festival about alternative sustainable energy."
Glastonbury has now gone to the Mean Fiddler dogs, with licensing regulations stating that the same sort of surveillance techniques ironically first used against travellers ten years ago now will now be used at this year's event. So it's watch towers and CCTV and infra-red cameras for gatecrashers and ticket holders alike.
So what are we gonna do about it? Isn't it time to rediscover the free festival spirit? Perhaps keeping our shit together and looking after each other at Stonehenge again this year can be a start to build on.
As Tash, a free festival veteran, told SchNEWS "People nowadays expect to pay their money and for everything to be provided. In the old festival days, people had to do things for themselves such as sorting out the infrastructure such as toilets and welfare."
Of course, the state has now all the laws it wants to deal with any unregulated fun, so we've got to be cunning and we've got to be organised. But if we are to once again break away from the bureaucrats, cops and corporate leeches then what other alternative is there?
* For more on Castlemorton and the history of free festivals http://tash.gn.apc.org/
* Party and protest throughout the summerwww.schnews.org.uk/pap/guide
* Festival Eye out soon. Send £3 to BCM 2002, London WC1N 3XX (out end of May).www.festivaleye.com
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