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Life In The Fast Lane - No M11 campaign
(Film/Video, Neil Goodwin, April 1995)
PAL
The No M11 Story

This feature length documentary presents the inside story of the No M11 Campaign, recounting 15 months of direct action against one of the most controversial schemes in the history of British road-building.

"Excellent..." JOHN PILGER

"Brilliant. It both inspired me and gave me a much needed boost in energy and commitment." STEVE PLATT, New Statesman (from 10.00)

Featuring the music of The Levellers, Zion Train and The Clash, this film is a celebration of dignity in the face of oppression, providing a lasting testament to the strength of people-power and the resilience of community spirit.

Drawing on personal testimony and nearly 200 hours of front-line footage, LIFE IN THE FAST LANE features the battle for Wanstead's George Green, and the subsequent eviction of its 250 year- old Sweet Chestnut tree. It re-lives the days of the Independent Free Area of Wanstonia, and highlights the celebrated rooftop protests at Westminster and the home of the then Transport Secretary, John MacGreggor. Against a backdrop of growing resistance to the Criminal Justice Act it charts the emergence of CLAREMONT ROAD as an extraordinary symbol of cultural defience, and for the first time tells the story of what became the most expensive eviction in British history.


THE CLAREMONT FEW

"The struggle of people against power, is the struggle of memory against forgetting." MILAN KUNDERA

On the rooftops of Claremont Road, 300 protesters waited for the start of what was to become the most extraordinary eviction in British history. Nearby, two diggers stood poised to demolish the last remaining houses in the path of the M11 Link Road. By 1:30 pm a convoy of 120 vehicles containing 700 police and 400 private security guards had arrived in the area. By 2 pm Operation Garden Party had begun.

For 7 months the campaign had held the street in open defiance. We lit fires on the tarmac, built stages and cafes, and put a smile onto the face of a condemned community. We launched actions on the roofs of Westminster and the High Court, and unfurled a symbolic motorway titled: "RETURN TO SENDER" from the Minister for Transport, John MacGregor's roof. Throughout this time, behind the sculptures and painted brickwork of Claremont Road, we prepared to repel the Eco-war machines of the Department of Transport (D.O.T.).

When the "Big One" arrived in late November it was like throwing a party with a thousand gate-crashers all dressed in black. Whistles and cheers signaled the first sightings. Techno from a 100 foot scaffold tower (Codenamed: DOLLY, after Claremont's oldest resident) accompanied the steady flow of riot police encircling the street. No briefing could have prepared them for such a bewildering spectacle of cultural defiance. "Welcome to Claremont Road - The State of the Art", came a shout. "What you are about to experience will affect your head-space forever."

As the road was cleared a pensioner was pushed to the ground and hauled away in tears. A disabled man, his fingers prised from the wheels of his chair, was dragged outside the cordon. Campaigners lock-on to holes in the road were kicked and punched.

By dusk, huge floodlights towered above the rooftops. This was to be a 24 hour gig. Acts of individual bravery and reckless pursuit charged the atmosphere. Brandishing a chain, a lone protester challenged a digger from an airiel walkway. A young woman slipped through the netting that spanned the road and fell 25 feet.

Inside Number 42 a group of local residents, including three pensioners and a nursery school teacher, ate peanut butter sandwiches by candlelight. Overhead, we prepared to seal ourselves into a heavily fortified loft. We took advantage of the temporary lull to communicate with other sections of the street via an internal phone. During the night film had been smuggled out along a secret tunnel in the back gardens (Codenamed: VICKY, after the Viet Cong), and one of four underground bunkers had been discovered.

Dawn on Day Two. They attempted to take the first floor. After 4 hours they gave up on the windows, the door and the stairs, and came in through an adjoining wall. They were greeted by a former Squadron Leader waving a plackard proclaiming: "DIGNITY IN THE FACE OF OPPRESSION". Towards nightfall they started on us. As the roof began to buckle under a succession of thunderous blows, we prepared to lock- on. Moments later they came in. Then, amazingly, having inspected our D-locks and posed for photographs, they retired for the night.

TIP: Never throw your D-lock keys away. You never know when the bailiffs are going to unexpectantly sign-off and leave you shackled to an iron railing all night. Luckily, my keys were found precariously balanced on the edge of a large crack and snatched to safety.

Outside we were confronted with an urban nightmare. Under the glare of arc lamps, cold and hungry people clung to smashed roofs. Dog handlers patrolled the perimeter fence. Riot police clustered around the slashed remains of Claremont's rare lime trees. The road had been stripped of the front-line art that had attracted thousands of visitors throughout the summer.

On a flat section of roof, Keith had left his concrete lock-on barrel to build a fire and rustle up some baked beans on toast. With a pair of striped boxer shorts on his head he proudly announced that the Flat Roof Cafe was open for business.

At 4 am they began to cut the last of the nets. In a highly dangerous manoeuvrer, sheilded from cameras by the glare of powerful torches, they rose beneath one man in a cherry picker (airiel platform) and slashed the net, before dragging him away like an entangled insect.

When the bailiffs returned at dawn we had resealed the loft and reapplied our D-locks. While we waited to be cut out I asked one security guard what he thought of the eviction. "It's the best work I've had for a long time," he replied. "All the lads want you to keep it up for as long as possible." The campaign had become the largest source of temporary employment in the area.

From the roof I could see the riot cops storm the wooden tower on Old Mick's house. It seemed fitting that the first house to be barricaded on Claremont (indeed throughout the entire route), was one of the very last to be taken. Who could have forseen, all those months ago, that a £2 million operation would eventually be required to evict 56 year-old Mick Roberts and his cat Ginger?

I was taken out through Dolly's home of 93 years. Her roof had been the first to be trashed. On the rubble-strewn landing I caught a glimpse of London in the Blitz. The drone of war planes had now been replaced with that of D.O.T. diggers. Having lived through both World Wars and seen a Zeppelin shot down in the cemetary opposite, Dolly felt the random destruction of that time was less devastating than the total and inevitable destruction brought by the road.

At the Flat Roof Cafe Keith was being drilled from his lock-on barrel. His broad smile said it all. Eighty nine hours since the start of the eviction the last person was removed from the tower on Claremont Road. Against enormous odds we had made them fight for every brick and branch. We had shown them that destroying 100 years of history actually means something. That it would take more than the swipe of a digger arm to eradicate this East End community.

NEIL GOODWIN
(C) Copyright - Publish at will.

directed by: Mayyasa Al-Malazi, Neil Goodwin

Running time 1 Hour 25 Minutes