Friday 22 February 2013

The Land

THIS DRAWING I made for the current issue of the marvellous Land Magazine ~ written by and for people who believe that the roots of justice, freedom, social security and democracy lie not so much in access to money, or to the ballot box, as in access to land and its resources
I think the drawing probably doesn't need very much explaining, but it was designed to fit in with Issue 13's theme of Land Grabs, whereby global corporations and wealthy nations buy up huge swathes of land in "less developed" countries to make money from biofuels, agribusiness, industry, and other ecocidal delights, thereby ousting those human, animal and plant communities living on that land. 
Land is such a fundamental thing to all of us. It would take a certain kind of unimaginable stupidity, short-sighted greed or off-the-scale insanity to believe that destroying the land upon which you stand, your only home, is somehow sustainable. Access to land is the thing which keeps us alive, rooted, fed, watered, and sane, which is why uprooting these communities is such a terrible thing. Not so very different from what happened in this country in earlier centuries.

My drawing in Issue 13 of The Land Magazine - somewhat cropped, for some reason

As The Land's manifesto states:

Demands to “make poverty history”, and the responses from those in power, revolve around money: less debt, freer and fairer trade, more aid. Rarely will you hear someone with access to a microphone mouth the word “land”.

That is because economists define wealth and justice in terms of access to the market. Politicians echo the economists because the more dependent that people become upon the market, the more securely they can be roped into the fiscal and political hierarchy. Access to land is not simply a threat to landowning élites — it is a threat to the religion of unlimited economic growth and the power structure that depends upon it.

The market (however attractive it may appear) is built on promises: the only source of wealth is the earth. Anyone who has land has access to energy, water, nourishment, shelter, healing, wisdom, ancestors and a grave. Ivan Illich spoke of "a society of convivial tools that allows men to achieve purposes with energy fully under their control". The ultimate convivial tool, the mother of all the others, is the earth. 

The timeline of civilisation has mapped a continuous robbery of land from the poor, the indigenous, the non-human, to bring us to the point where those holding the power own or control a vastly disproportionate area of land to their numbers; for example: Queen Elizabeth II, current monarch of this tiny green-grey island in the North Sea, "owns" 6,600 million acres of land, one sixth of the earth’s non ocean surface.

So, in the face of this sickenly unfair system, what choice do we have but to grab the land back? As Gill Barron points out in her excellent article on land-reclaimingThere is an honourable tradition worldwide, and strongly so in Britain, of small-scale land acquisition by stealth. These historic precedents suggest that even more of us should be actively following in the noble (if a bit scruffy) footsteps of our cotter & squatter forebears. [The Land - Issue 13]

Alongside the many admirable land-reclaimers, guerilla gardeners and squatters mentioned in Gill's article, a group of folks off the western shoulder of London's sprawl decided last year to occupy some disused land on the Runnymede Campus of Brunel University, which has lain disused since 2007 when Brunel University sold the land to a private property developer to turn into luxury homes, to much local concern. The property owner stalled, however, and so in between the apocalyptic gusts of tumble-weed blowing through the empty overgrown university buildings, watched over only by the sinister eyes of  CCTV, the Diggers2012 walked in, planted vegetables, put up tents and shelters, begun building a cob longhouse, and lived. The site is significant, being so close to the Magna Carta Monument, heralded as the "birthplace of modern democracy", where the Magna Carta was signed 800 years ago, introducing, alongside democracy, ideas such as freedom through law and limitations on authority. The Diggers2012 take their name from the original seventeenth century Diggers who planted crops on St George's Hill in Surrey in order to make the land a "common treasury for all". You'll all know the folksong telling their tale:

World Turned Upside Down
written by Leon Rosselson
recorded by Dick Gaughan

In 1649
To St George's Hill
A ragged band they called the Diggers
Came to show the people' s will
They defied the landlords
They defied the laws
They were the dispossessed
Reclaiming what was theirs

We come in peace, they said
To dig and sow
We come to work the land in common
And to make the waste land grow
This earth divided
We will make whole
So it can be
A common treasury for all.

The sin of property
We do disdain
No one has any right to buy and sell
The earth for private gain
By theft and murder
They took the land
Now everywhere the walls
Rise up at their command.

They make the laws
To chain us well
The clergy dazzle us with heaven
Or they damn us into hell
We will not worship
The God they serve
The God of greed who feeds the rich
While poor men starve

We work, we eat together
We need no swords
We will not bow to masters
Or pay rent to the lords
We are free men
Though we are poor
You Diggers all stand up for glory
Stand up now

From the men of property
The orders came
They sent the hired men and troopers
To wipe out the Diggers' claim
Tear down their cottages
Destroy their corn
They were dispersed -
Only the vision lingers on

You poor take courage
You rich take care
The earth was made a common treasury
For everyone to share
All things in common
All people one
We come in peace
The order came to cut them down

I visited the Diggers2012 camp last autumn, following a path through the woods and a wheelbarrow track through the dewy grass to a hole in the chicken wire fence.

And found there a friendly and diverse group of people sat around a fire in the main cob longhouse, talking unhurriedly about the day's plans, and cooking breakfast.

There were escapees from London, who had found no way to live the expensive life the city demands, nor been able to afford housing. There were activists and foragers and visiting families with children and dogs. Fifteen people were living there permanently, and as we sat and drank our fire-cooked coffee, they referred, with despairing seriousness, to the sprawling city which we could see in the distance from our hill as Mordor.

As well as growing vegetables and running workshops, they had set up a rudimentary water system from a spring higher up in the forest, which carried the water down through a long blue pipe via a home-made filter suspended between the trees.

I felt a great deal of purpose in the people I met there. They had had several evictions served against them but were fighting on, with a great openness to engage with the local and wider community, and challenge the deeply embedded idea of land ownership. The day I was there they were leading a foraging walk, and visitors gradually arrived to join us on the hunt for wild foods and medicines growing on this patch of "disused" land.

We found various edible and useful mushrooms, this one below is Chicken of the Woods

Not all fungi were in easy reach

We returned to the camp to make tea, and I had to leave before getting the chance to share in the meal of foraged foods.

But I did learn a new plant - this is water pepper - which has amazing spicy-tasting seeds!

It seems to me that we have been so disconnected from the land beneath our feet by so many tools of modern civilisation, that we no longer are able to tend it and speak to it, live with it and love it and know deeply that we cannot live without it. And because we have had our earthen umbilical cords which tie us to our ancestral place cut so brutally, for so long, we cannot stand up for our land when it is threatened, either. As Derrick Jensen says: "It's no wonder we don't defend the land where we live. We don't live here. We live in television programs and movies and books and with celebrities and in heaven and by rules and laws and abstractions created by people far away and we live anywhere and everywhere except in our particular bodies on this particular land and this particular moment in these particular circumstances."

Activists take to the trees to stop the Keystone XL pipeline in Texas and Oklahoma
as part of the Tar Sands Blockade

There are those still fighting for their land, though, like the Combe Haven Defenders, who have been standing in the way of the UK government's new road building program, by protecting the trees and hedgerows of the soon-to-be-annihilated tranquil and beautiful Combe Haven Valley in Sussex. Or the Unis'tot'en Action Camp in unceded occupied Wet'suwet'en territory of "British Columbia", where the land's indigenous people are standing in the way of massive pipelines for transporting tar sands oil and shale gas from fracking being built through their territory. In France right now Europe's biggest post-capitalist land occupation La ZAD (Zone À Défendre) is fighting a new airport in the most inspiring ways, which I really recommend you read about here: part 1 & part 2. There are countless other warrior projects across the world taking place right now where people have decided that enough is enough, and that they are prepared to fight to the death for the only thing that gives them life: their sacred and beloved land. To all those stopping in their flight from the enormous pustulent grabbing hand of progress, and turning back to face it and say: no more! I offer this fantastic rousing song by the Oysterband ~ We'll Be There! The last impassioned lines Leave this land alone always make me cry.

I've walked this hill a hundred times
To hear the river talking
A murmuring, a secret sound
Never found
And times I've leaned into the wind
To smell this earth I'm walking
With the song of the wind my heart is wound
All around
It's holy ground


You can bring your JCBs
You can bring your drills and your 'drivers
You've got the might
But you've got no right
We'll be there, we'll be there, we'll be there

We've wandered under winter stars
To trace them in their courses
Summer nights at standing stones
We stood alone
We took the water in our hand
We rode the chalk-white horses
We dreamt one day they'd understand
We share this land
This holy ground


Leave this, leave this land alone
Leave this, leave this land alone
Leave this, leave this land alone
Leave this, leave this land alone
Leave this, leave this land alone
I said leave this, leave this land alone
Leave this, leave this land alone
Leave this, leave this land alone


Charlotte said...

Although I am a house bound, city dwelling soul, I weep for the disconnections that happen daily to all around. We live in an age that seems to have blinkers holding out the facts of finite resource, dying species; an age that thinks acquisition and commerce is more important than a single human life.

I applaud those with the courage to fight against the carpetbaggers of our time. I am not a good fighter and am ashamed of the inertia that I partake of sometimes. Instead I try to battle through teaching and education. I hope that I inspire my children to think bigger and see wider than the barriers of the streets they live in and the city that surrounds them.

We need a radical rethinking before it is too late.

Rima Staines said...

But warriors come in all varieties, Charlotte, it's important to recognise what kind of role we're good at as part of a wider resistance movement... teachers are vital too! :)

Charlotte said...

Thanks, sometimes I wonder how much help I am allowed to give in our current political climate. However I can alert the children to the world around them and show them the possible roads.

julie said...

fantastic an very interesting

ann @ studiohyde said...

Love your drawing, so fitting. Pity it was cropped in the magazine, but still makes it's point. Lovely blog, I am so glad I came across it......ann.

Ms. said...

The market has us by the throat for breath! Has had us for decades, but now, with world wide recessions and planet wide Hunger, greed has increased to suck up the last of the resources. Our farmers are being forced out of business by huge corporate conglomerates and their market traders manipulating prices to suit the investors and at the expense of millions. Your "diggers" remind me of the communal movements all over this country in the sixties and seventies. Then the multiple assassinations, and somehow the movements collapsed over time. Some few still exist, but off the grid and mostly in silence. It saddens me so. Recently I visited a COSCO store while with friends in Massachusetts, and was struck dumb--a warehouse the size of a small city...endless isles of goods stacked to the ceiling and people looking like ants by scale, pushing shopping carts full of bulk buys. I thought of children in poverty as we gathered our few items. Once home to their place, I went out and searched the stars imagining another world, more innocent and direct. Meanwhile, I hear on the news that we are planning to exploit the resources of other planets. I turn to poetry for solace. I turn away.

Unknown said...

I have always enjoyed your blog thank you for always bringing awareness to many causes and people of many societies.

Nanita said...

Dear Rima, your drawing speaks a thousand words. When I stop and look around, I am overcome with such deep sadness. The land were I live is exhausted, and it angers me to think that those who have the might, don't care whether they have got the right or not. We managed to exhaust and abuse the land here, in such short time. I feel a deep-rooted nostalgia for this land in the way it is now only alive in the memory of my grand-parents. It makes me feel helpless and very small indeed...
I hope you don't mind I share part of a song here too:
"La tierra tiene fiebre
tiembla, llora, se duele
del dolor más doloroso
y es que piensa que ya no la quieren"
-- "The Earth (or Land, it is the same word in Spanish) has a fever,
she shakes, she cries, she hurts
the most painful pain
for she believes that she is no longer loved."
(Bebe - Ska de la Tierra)
Thank you for bringing awareness!

Lynn said...

A wonderful post, Rima.
And I agree completely with your words to Charlotte:
teachers are absolutely vital. They hold a unique position with the potential for influencing young minds and spirits in ways that can lead to change.

Karolina said...

Beautifull post dear Rima,such a meaningfull painting you have done,it really does speak a thousand words.Such a great sadness overtakes me and my family because of what is happening to our planet and us as a human beings,we lose all that is human within ourselves and soon enough there will be not much to save...

Flotsam said...

I have seen the way in which people in power screw the system and warp justice to suit their own needs. It seems access to money is not dissimilar to having a personal truncheon.

Hearing that 'people will always need gold' when talking about investments the other day, I am left thinking our world is run by madmen. People need food, water and warmth - in other words, power over our own destinies.

The hierarchy would like to see folk boxed into high rises taking benefits or working for crucifying-poor wages. It is good to hear there are still people willing to think differently. Good luck to them.

Maggie said...

Hello from the land of urban sprawl in America. In my short (perhaps long to you) life, I have seen the apricot and cherry orchards fall to housing I will never be able to afford. I have seen some of the best farm land in the world paved over for miles of fast food restaurants, malls, and car dealerships. It makes my heart ache, and I wonder what will happen to us when the last of the planet has been made into luxury apartments, internet companies, and Disneyland.

I'm glad to know there are still some who try to live simply, and who value the land more than their own security.

Sue said...

I don't think it is coincidental that every.single.comment on this post has been by women.

We are rising up, girls. We're the ones with the cojones to effect the change the earth needs. I do not like making broad sweeping distinctions but I just simply can't deny that what the earth is screaming out for now is for the vision that seems more inherent to women than to men.

Time to redress the balance.

I find living in these times totally exhausting (not least because of health issues, but also because I can *see*. Like so many others, I can see what's going on and what needs to be done, but despite the exhaustion, by golly I reckon we're gonna get there, too :)

Rima Staines said...

Thank you friends for offering your deep emotions here. I think the first step to action is truly feeling the grief of it. Sue, you are right - I think women are standing up more and more against the destruction. This is so significant, because of course civilisation's ability to destroy the earth has its roots in hatred, domination and fear of the deep feminine. We must stand together against abuse and rape of all female bodies and souls, including the most sacred and important feminine body of them all. Happy to be in solidarity with you all :) Community building makes such a difference too.

Cordelia Earle said...

Hi, I was wondering if I could share your picture, with credit of course, on my Facebook page with a link back to your blog.

I often see you have posted and then I save it for when I am comfortable and devour and savour every word and image.

Your life is the life I would lead if I was brave enough.


Suzy Fieldhouse said...

This is exactly what I've been becoming aware of more and more of late. I find myself wondering what would happen if we suddenly had no more electricity or internet or anything of the things we depend upon, and how we'd have to find a way of coming back to the land again. Chick Palahniuk said something in Fight Club that I found weirdly comforting about how the city would return to jungle and there'd be vines all over the skyscrapers in a decade if we weren't here...I often think about that.

Time to buy John Seymour's Complete Book of Self Sufficiency again, I think!

Kerry O'Gorman said...

Right now, as you mentioned, B.C is in a terrible battle between land rights and the environment and the pipeline project. In fact the people of B.C have been fighting against mining and logging companies for decades. The government in charge is in it for the $$. To them land is a business.
My husband and I live on 5 acres and although our names are on the deed, we always feel that we are just stewards and only borrowing it for now, so we take good care and allow all creatures great and small to know that even though all around us people are cutting the forests down, this is one place which will be kept relatively wild while we are here.

Bibis Pyewackett said...


Anonymous said...

What humanity does to the planet breaks my heart. Its always great to see people keeping up the good fight. You are an inspiration, Rima!


Angela and Melinda said...

Your drawing is just wonderful and certainly timely.

Your post reminds me a bit of a statement in William Jennings Bryan's famous 1896 "Cross of Gold" speech: "You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard. I tell you that the great cities rest upon these broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country."

Bryan was a true liberal in his youth, but sadly he ruined his reputation much later in his role as prosecutor in the infamous "Scopes Monkey Trial" in Tennessee.


Michelle Barnett said...

A heart-pulling post, Rima. The problem I have is that I see all this happening, especially now I'm becoming more aware of what to look for, but have no idea what to do about it. Or indeed if it's possible to do anything. I realise that I've been brought up an inducted into a system I don't agree with, but now it feels like there's no way for me to get out of it. Where would I even start?
Btw, I don't actually expect anyone to answer that question. I doubt it can be answered now, but I at least want to go down fighting - whatever that means for me.