Festival for Democracy

Villagers will explore how UK citizens can write a 21st-century Magna Carta

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 10 June 2015

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod


Villagers from Runnymede eco-village have been served notice for a court hearing in proceedings to evict them. The date coincides with the Queen’s arrival in Runnymede – which is considered the historic birthplace of democracy – to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

The Queen will arrive on Monday 15 June and will be just a few hundred yards from the settlement of self-built homes in Coopers Hill Coppice.

‘The Magna Carta is a universal symbol of individual freedom against the arbitrary power of the state. Yet it appears that the state is conspiring once again with rich landowners to remove ordinary people who have chosen to live in common on the land.

‘Magna Carta’s companion, ‘Charter of the Forest’, gave rights to commoners to subsist on the land. While they will pretend to celebrate the Magna Carta this weekend they will actually be acting in direct contradiction to its very spirit.’

Phoenix Rainbow, defendant

Bad timing?

The hearing, at Guildford County Court, is set for 10.30 on 15 June. This is the same day the Queen will unveil a statue of herself as part of the official Magna Carta celebrations.

Villagers think the timing is suspicious, and have questioned whether the authorities are trying to draw people away from the village at a time when the Queen will be a few hundred yards away.

At the previous court hearing on 9 April, Judge Kubiak ruled in their favour by saying ‘It appears to me that there is some arrangement in place in some shape or form to occupy this land.’

‘An aspirational address’

The plaintiff in the case is Orchid Runnymede Limited, though it seems the site is being developed by luxury property developers Art Estates, which is part of the Royalton Group. According to its website, the development will provide ‘grand living’ at ‘an aspirational address’, and will be ‘set in 67 acres of beautiful parkland … with close proximity to Windsor Great Park [and] Royal Ascot’.

Residents at the eco-village have taken inspiration from the Diggers who, in 1649, went to set up a communal village on the land. They too were evicted by wealthy landlords.

‘We demand the right to subsist on waste ground as the Charter of the Forest provided for.’

Phoenix Rainbow, defendant

Festival for Democracy

The Runnymede eco-village community, in partnership with supporters of Occupy Democracy and The New Putney Debates, has organised a ‘Festival for Democracy’ (12-15 June) as an alternative to the official Magna Carta 800th anniversary celebrations.

As well as serving as the community’s annual festival, the event will explore how citizens can write ‘their own Magna Carta’ (or constitution) and make it fit for the 21st century.

‘At the same time as celebrating the sealing of the Magna Carta 800 years ago, David Cameron wants to roll back UK democracy by scrapping the Human Rights Act, giving the state increased powers to snoop on its citizens, criminalising certain types of political belief and action and handing more of our democracy over to corporations by signing the secretive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.’

Festival of Democracy

A rebuke to arbitrary power

Guy Standing, Professor in Development Studies at SOAS and author of The Precariat Charter, will be speaking at the event, as will Anthony Barnett, founder of OpenDemocracy and author of This Time: Our Constitutional Revolution will be speaking at the event.

‘The official celebration of the Magna Carta is designed to make it into a harmless ‘designer event’. But it stands as a rebuke to arbitrary power as judicial review is under attack; as a call for access to the law for all as legal aid is decimated; and as an inspiration to write down our constitution.’

Anthony Barnett, founder of OpenDemocracy

Due process for all

The Charter of the Forest allowed people to subsist in the commons, which can be seen as providing protection equivalent to today’s welfare state. The Charters also provided protection from ‘cruel or unusual punishment’ or punishment that robbed a person of their livelihood.

Yet today people claiming welfare benefits are subject to arbitrary sanctions without recourse to due process.

‘To counter the false libertarian perspective of the Runnymede Tories, we need a Runnymede Progressives’ perspective, recognising that the Magna Carta only came into existence when integrated with the Charter of the Forest in 1217, comprising a constitutional commitment to preserve the commons against private property and to guarantee the right to subsistence of all free men and women. Today, a Precariat Charter must include protection of the commons and due process for all, contrary to the regime of arbitrary sanctions and unlimited privatisation.’

Guy Standing, Professor in Development Studies at SOAS

Festival highlights

The festival will include workshops, skill-sharing, speakers, music and dancing. Speakers on democracy and constitutional issues include Anthony Barnett (OpenDemocracy), David Graeber (author, The Democracy Project), Guy Standing (SOAS) and The Artist Taxi Driver (producer, Westmonster).

There will be daily workshops on how to make your own charter, an introduction to charters through the ages and presentations of ideas about what should be in a new charter (or constitution).

Kurdish women will talk about democracy in Rojava and there will be a talks about Republican Democracy, the principles and practice of ‘the commons’ The Charter of the Forest and Robin Hood.

On Monday at 5pm there will be a ‘Folk-moot’ gathering at the 2,500-year-old yew tree Ankerwycke where the Magna Carta was sealed 800 years ago. Anthony Barnett will speak on ‘The four principles of the Magna Carta our democracy needs today’ and participants will consider the elements they would like to see in a modern charter.

The Runnymede Eco-village was set up in Coopers Hill Coppice in 2012 by people from Occupy London. Click here to find out more.

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