It is now nearly thirty years since the so called ‘Battle of the Beanfield’, the shocking and brutal suppression by Wiltshire Constabulary of the last major attempt to hold a Free Festival at Stonehenge. The event was to coincide, almost simultaneously, with the first anniversary of the so called ‘Battle of Orgreave’, where no less brutal and oppressive Police tactics were used against striking miners; as part of the Thatcher Government’s crackdown against organized union opposition to its so called ‘reforms’. These two major social and political events, although seemingly world’s apart to the casual observer, unaware of what was really going on, were to effectively destroy or alter the lifestyles of large numbers of now largely socially disenfranchised people irrecovably; and were to lay the foundations of the subsequent and still on going Neo Liberal restructuring of the U.K. Labour and Housing Markets.
Although film of the brutality of ‘The Battle of Orgreave’ was transmitted nationally and internationally by mainstream news networks, video of ‘The Battle of the Beanfield’ was not. It would be some years before the suppressed footage shot by an ITN news crew on the day would eventually resurface, much of it already having disappeared to places still unknown, this time in a Channel Four documentary entitled ‘Operation Solstice’. Amongst those interviewed in the film as part of their campaign to get legal redress, for the vicious and brutal way that they had been treated by those in authority, were Helen Reynolds, Alan Lodge and Mo Lodge; three names that may well be familiar to many of those who are still involved in the still on going Stonehenge Festival Campaign and its other related campaign group, O.A.T.S.: more generally known as ‘Open Access to Stonehenge’.
In an interview with the makers of ‘Operation Solstice’, Mo Lodge described the Stonehenge Free Festival, its organizers and its participants as being an effective ‘threat to the State’. The fact that the numbers of people involved were ‘doubling every year for four years…’, to use her exact words, demonstrated to the Authorities that those involved were perfectly capable of managing their own affairs without the excessive interference, or indeed demands, of either Central Government or Big Business. Indeed, as she was also to point out in her own personal summing up of the reasons for the Free Festival’s suppression, ‘…once it became to be a month long it functioned perfectly well, it had its own economy, it had its own system for everything and was so successful in that sense that it must have been a huge threat to the state…’ The biggest threat of all however was the fact that it epitomized what Mo herself was to describe as ‘anarchy in action and it worked’.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, on September 17th 2014, some three months and one day after the thirtieth anniversary of ‘The Battle of Orgreave’, and amid tight security, Occupy Wall Street marked its third anniversary. In an on-line CNN iReport to coincide with the third anniversary celebrations, reference was made by the media mainstream as to how the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations had drawn thousands together in Zuccotti Park and nearby areas to protest against the problems engendered by the 2008 Financial Crisis. Little attention was paid to the fact that on this side of the Atlantic at least the foundation of the Occupy Movement marked the thirtieth anniversary of the onset of the 1978–79 “Winter of Discontent”. A series of crippling strikes that had largely come about as a result of another previous Labour government’s inability to manage the economy and deal with large scale unemployment. Indeed, it was Conservative attacks on the then Labour government’s unemployment record that were to give rise to perhaps its best known political slogan “Labour Isn’t Working” during the 1979 General Election that brought Margaret Thatcher into office.
Like Occupy in its purest form the Stonehenge Free Festival Movement represented a return to the true and primitive democracy to which the Seventeenth Century Diggers and Levellers aspired. Aspirations that were recently re-invoked during the latest round of Occupy London’s ‘New Putney Debates’. The second programme of discussions aimed at moving Britain forward towards a more democratic and socially enfranchised society inspired by the original Leveller Debates of October and November 1647. Like Occupy, the Stonehenge Free Festival Movement also looked towards such new innovations as the development of renewable energies and alternative economic models; long before many of the present active participants in the current wave of protests and occupations that it has engendered were even born.
For more about ‘Occupy Stonehenge’ check out the group on Facebook or follow the Stonehenge Festival Campaign newsletter soon to be available on Issuu.
This post originally appeared in the Stonehenge Festival Campaign 2014 Winter Solstice Newsletter.