Common environments, Diggers, and climate campers

This Diggers’ Song video was posted during the summer Climate Camp in England –

With that song, these Climate Campers have affiliated themselves with previous attempts to share and maintain "a common treasury for all" — which some simply would describe as a "commons."

Like the Diggers, the Climate Campers rally around common environments — protected or claimed through civil disobedience, and other activism. At a very basic level, their goals and tactics are similar.

But the Climate Camps and the Diggers have approached these common environments from different angles. While the Climate Campers have been more inclined to approach fields as meeting places, and as launching-off points for nearby protests, the Diggers attempted to claim lands that could be farmed in common. They mainly were after agricultural lands which they might have used to sustain farming collectives. Food concerns have not been central at Climate Camps, but food issues are not completely off the ‘map’ at Climate Camps either — as this Climate Camp TV video about fruit smoothies indicates. Yet, as Climate Campers have focused on greenhouse gases, and on other fossil fuel pollution released into our common atmosphere, it seems that they haven’t devoted much attention to emissions from industrial agriculture, and other mainstream food systems. (Here is a post that addresses interconnections between food systems and greenhouse gas emissions — approached through generalized statistical estimates.)

I’m raising those points about distinct focuses and limitations to compare the two approaches to common environments.

Even as the Diggers and the Climate Campers have focused on different aspects of those environments, these two approaches to activism are alike in that they involve opposition towards forms of private property and commerce. The Climate Camp slogan "capitalism is crisis" is a more radical example. More often, the Campers target commercial operations more selectively. Protestors brought the Diggers’ Song to a Royal Bank of Scotland blockade during the summer Climate Camp in London (as you can briefly hear just before the middle of this Telegraph TV video).

That Diggers’ Song is a late twentieth century account of seventeenth century English direct action against land enclosures. The song actually is titled "World Turned Upside Down," but it often is called a "Diggers’ Song," to draw comparisons with a seventeenth century ballad. As the twentieth century lyrics sung at the Climate Camp indicate, the Diggers challenged property enclosures which entailed appropriating former former common lands that had been shared between peasants. As those lands were fenced off and claimed by new ‘owners,’ the Diggers challenged these new property rights by attempting to form agricultural communes on the former common lands. Their efforts could be considered a form of civil disobedience.

As the "World Turned Upside Down" Diggers’ Song lyrics tell us –
"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"

The Diggers’ pursuit of agricultural autonomy was a lot like contemporary calls for "food security" or "food sovereignty"—as well as comparable perspectives and goals (such as the "Fallen fruit" manifesto).

The lyrics sung by the Climate Campers present such a vision by alluding to a society in which –
"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"

Although Climate Campers have not stressed food autonomy issues (beyond the Diggers’ Song recording), they set up camp at the Blackheath site — a rallying point during an English Peasant Revolt in 1381. This Camp site clearly was chosen to affiliate the Climate Camp with a history of rural uprisings. Presumably the Camp organizers were viewing those uprisings as additional resistance from common people — without paying much attention to the peasants’ roles in food cultivation. Even so, the comparisons drawn between the peasants and the Climate Campers entail links (albeit a more indirect ones) back to a form of agriculture.

However, as I’ve said above, the Campers tend to approach fields as rallying points. One Climate Camp blog post (which I recommend) highlights the importance of parks and other public spaces. Those goals are a little more compatible with food projects that promote the growing and harvesting of fruit and vegetables from public spaces (as in an organization in Toronto that focuses on fruit trees). That sort of approach to public food certainly could be linked into Climate Camping sites (through workshops, or otherwise). In terms of outside targets and actions — beyond their rallying grounds — I expect that the Campers would approach food issues by opposing an industrial agriculture company or policy.

Basically, I’m saying all of this to point out the basic significance of the Diggers’ Song video from the Climate Camp. The video resonated with me, so I decided to explain why I appreciated it.


Here are the lyrics that were sung in the Climate Camp video:

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

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