Monday, 14 May 2012

Gatecrasher: Benny Rothman and the Mass Trespass

Although it's great when radical history makes it into the mainstream, it is pretty much always revised to suit a much less challenging narrative. Think of how people only ever talk about MLK Jr's "I have a dream" speech and never his support for striking garbage collectors. This has also been the case with the Mass Tresspass of Kinder Scout (which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year) and the life of activist and leader Benny Rothman.

The Mass Trespass was devised at a meeting of the British Worker's Sports Federation, an offshoot of the Young Communist League after members were beaten by gamekeepers employed by private landowners for simply walking on grouse shooting land. They felt that civil disobedience was the only legitimate response to this injustice, with Rothman emphasising that working class people did not receive equal protection under the law.

Although trespassing (or peaceful protest for that matter) is not a criminal offense, police turned up in large numbers, standing by as gamekeepers attacked the ramblers and arresting several ramblers on charges of 'incitement to riotous assembly'. Sounds familiar, huh?

The Mass Trespass has been embraced by the mainstream as simply a triumph for everyone to enjoy the natural beauty of Britain. The Rambler's Association was set up on the back of this event but you would struggle to find even a hint of the Communist roots in any official literature.

It is important to remember that this was the action of a group of radical young working class people who set out to challenge the rights of the privileged on their own territory. It was born of the belief that the poor and working classes shouldn't have to rot in the inner-cities, living with the pollution of industrialisation at work, at home and in their minimal free time. It was one of many moments in history where poor people put their bodies on the line, at the mercy of the rich and the police, to fight against inequality.

When the injustices behind the historical events that force society to progress even a little bit are constantly erased, those injustices are forever perpetuated.

A biography of Rothman detailing all the amazing activist work he was involved in can be read here.

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