John Gulliver: Rollie’s tale from the tunnel demands social justice

Rollie at NLCOP

STOP HS2’s occupation of Euston Square Gardens in January 2019 was one of the most audacious protests I can remember.

The campaigners lived during a freezing January month in a network of tunnels dug under the very noses of HS2 directors’ corporate offices.

One of them was Rollie, then 17 years old, who grew up in one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country and was the granddaughter of a miner from the north east.

At our North London COP event in Conway Hall on Saturday she spoke movingly about how the driving force behind all her activism was social justice.

“You remember the programme Benefits Street? Well, that was where I grew up. I remember when police would come into our estates and raid our homes, we would all come out en-masse to stop them – because it was unnecessary. “So how direct action fits into everyday lives is really important to me.”

She talked about how the law was cracking down on the “completely legal” squatting movement that was more often than not providing a “mutual aid” service.

She said: “I think what is lost in a lot of activism is the mutual aid aspect. “That was what was really important with the HS2 campaign. We would live there on the land and defend the trees and battle the police. But we were battling to defend our homes. Euston was home to hundreds of people.

“A lot of NFA [no fixed abode] and homeless people there. It was like a community space, until HS2 decided to come along and take that away.

“I got involved in that campaign not because of the environment aspect, but because HS2 was making thousands of people homeless – and it was a gentrification programme, it was driving working-class people out of working-class areas.”

She added: “Something not being spoken about on climate campaigns is the class divide. I find that also being from the north east, the north south divide is not spoken about.

“A lot of activism is entirely London-centric. It’s been really difficult for me to come into these situations when there’s a lot of people from London, who are raring to go but lack understanding of what it is like to grow up in a place like the north east.

“My granddad was a miner in the miners’ strike. They did direct action and it was effective and it inspired generations.”

She added: “Some of us don’t have to take direct action to be put in prison. I’m a mixed race person myself. There’s a lot of people like me in prison for things that a lot of middle-class white people don’t even get arrested for.

“It’s really important to recognise that we are all fighting in our own way and support each other, but without social justice there will be no justice.

“I cannot sit here and pretend and I’m going to fight for a world where we save white middle- class people and nobody else.”

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