article from an unknown journal gives an excellent impression of what
things were like inside the festival itself and is a huge
contrast to the general press coverage . This is because the writer
had some insight as to what the festival represented.
The music was incidental,
it was the gathering and the possibilities of what the gathering could
achieve that was important to those that attended. But of course the
mainstream press had no concept of this and simply lumped the event
into the same genre as the commercial festivals, such as Knebworth and
Reading, which were fun, but not spiritual gatherings . Which was ultimately
what Windsor aspired to be and occasionally managed to become .
Half Free at
nine o'clock Friday evening, we certainly weren't half a million strong
(as the song tells us they were at Woodstock). We weren't even a hundred
thousand. In fact, I doubt if there were more than two or three thousand
of us up in the wood, spilling down over the Windsor hillside.
The atmosphere was boy scout plus acid; surreptitious drags on king-sized
spliffs -bush and tobacco nicely mixed, all courtesy of Rizla; and aromatic
acridity of Afghani Black, campfire smoke, sandalwood joss.
The feeling was: there's strength in
numbers. If just enough of us get it together and withdraw our consent
from straight society, then there's nothing that straight society can
do. And this feeling grew and grew until we all felt what power we could
have. Outside the perimeter the "pigs" patrolled in their blue uniforms;
roaming with their torches like strange predatory beasts: ready to fall
on any one of us that - straggled; aching for the opportunity to carry
out an anal or vaginal search, or preferably both. Within the fences,
in the protected domain of .the Free Festival. Secure in
our magic circle, we moved and mingled with one another, safe from external
threat; able to work out our differences and similarities for ourselves.
There was a genuine willingness, on the
part of the drug dealers not to rip off their customers. It is an aspect
of the conventional wisdom (or idiocy) of straight society to assume
that drug pedlars are big, organized-crime, Mafia types, "who never
touch it themselves"; but this simply isn't true. The vast percentage
of dealing goes on among friends, or between groups who have achieved
some sort of affiliation through action. One day this person will
have dope in excess of his needs, and will sell off the remainder. Another
day, another person. At Windsor Free Festival it was case of an individual
sitting down at a camp fire with a group of strangers, getting to know
them, accepting the joints they were passing round. Eventually perhaps
he would make a purchase, or perhaps not; it didn't really matter.
Sooner or later he would bump into a guy on his milk round, doling out
the grass in quid deals. Or he would meet someone in a red shirt with
shoulder length blond hair, innumerable tabs of acid hermetically sealed
in plastic strips hanging from his belt, scissors in hand to cut out
the green micro-dots, 50 pence a tab, just a shaving shaved off with
a razor is all you need. (And in fact, on the bank holiday Sunday. the
Windsor Freek Press carried a dope report warning. "Green micro-
dot, strong, mixed opinions on this one; brown micro-dot, very good,
half tab recommended.") At any rate, it seemed as if everyone was tripping
that night; there were objectively aimless, but subjectively significant
perambulations across the field of the cloth of gold, among the encamped
legions of some Arthurian, Tolkienesque army.
I contented myself with the role of not
quite participant observer, and passed the night talking to people,
getting to know why they were there, what had brought them. They heard
it through the grapevine --Bill Dwyer, one of the organizers, holding
meetings at Hyde Park corner on Sunday afternoons, the media picking
up the whisper, amplifying it. Posters sticking to walls but not many
posters and not many walls.
Some had been there the year before or
knew someone who had. For others the Windsor Free Festival - which has
now been held "illegally" three years' running in the Great Park - had
something of the aura of a legend, a folk myth. They had come along
to see if it was real. Certainly the music wasn't the major attraction.
No one that I met there was labouring under the delusion that acid rock
was going to change the world; no one was even talking music very much:
they were talking politics; and the Free Festival for them represented
an acting out of their political persuasions.
There was a positive desire
to come together and create something: create values.
Standards, construct meanings. A sheer exhilaration in social construction,
so long absent in straight society. And in the beginning, there on that
first night, on the eve of the bank holiday, you could see it happening;
so many diverse elements flung together, already negotiating and building;
predicting the more detailed organization that was to take place later
in the week. .After the first long night, dawn came up, followed by
broad daylight, followed by mid-day. Mid-day Saturday, the first full
day, and still no music to speak of, no bands playing. A general tiredness,
and a storing up of energy for the new evening, was in the air. I had
come partly for fun; partly to see if this experiment of anarchy in
action would work; partly in the hope that it would work; and now sat
outside my tent resting, watching the world go by.
Mine was one of the
tents near the huge old tree that was set on fire.
I was fairlypissed off about that tree.
was a beautiful tree, and there was no need to burn it down. There were
better things to burn. The first fence that was put up was, historically,
the beginning of private property, and there were fences to burn. There
were pathologically huge houses around, with ready-cut piles of firewood
visible in their forecourts. there were dead trees. All this availability
of fuel, and some stupid freak had to go and gratuitously light a fire
in the hollow part of this beautiful living oak. and turn the whole
thing into a raging, blazing absurdity. Later, in fact, the fences were
attacked; and, in all fairness, the ruined tree was used. It was used
as an oven for cooking and, during two cold nights, as a comforting
fire to sleep by: shared among many.
The police came and stood by, and kept
people clear as branches began to fall, and kept their cool. A pre-festival
briefing had obviously been well drummed into the constables: don't
cause any trouble in the enclosure. So in the enclosure, they were models
of personal relations; all big -smiles and jokes, no matter what
happened. Outside - but in sight - they continually frisked, busted,
and took away for probing, lone individuals and small groups.
This corporate Jekyll-and-Hydism they betrayed, this geographically
demarcated schizophrenia, this blatant hypocrisy, was vividly clear
in the way the constables behaved as the oak burned , surrounded as
they were by hundreds of freaks. For a start, there were only three
of them- unobtrusive village bobbies one and all -and for a follow-up;
they were all young. with soft faces - no flat hats or drug squad heavies
And the tree did burn, a flaming torch
attracting like silly blind moths a cluster of journalists fresh from
Fleet Street in their belted safari jackets, light-blue denim slacks
and sneakers. Casual but uneasy. Could have been models in a "what the
trendy, liberalish, sartorially elegant young-man-about-the-Festival
should wear " advertisement. They snapped their predictable "hippies
burn down tree" shot, to put with their pics of "long-haired freaks
being busted for drugs." When I asked them why they weren't a little
more innovative in their photography; why, in fact, they were so boring
and uncreative, they said it was because they worked for boring, uncreative
newspapers , a facetious remark which I nevertheless did not see the
need to dispute.
I wanted to point out to them that there
were real issues at stake at this Festival, groups of people intensely
concerned about the sort of world in which all of us live.
contrary to the gloomy prognostications of the local populace, by its
third day, the Monday, the Festival had begun to organize itself, as
on previous occasions - organize sanitation, water runs, stages, percussion
groups. A constantly self-critical organizational form in which the
status of any emerging leader was always in jeopardy, and in which the
status of organization itself was never left unquestioned. I wanted
to say that if they looked hard enough through all the flux and
the to and fro and the mistakes and the difficulties, they might
see certain possibilities emerging.
But I didn't tell them -I don't
suppose it would have made any difference if I had: and the newspaper
reports, from that Friday beginning to that police confrontation on
the following Thursday, were the same old dreary reports again. Infinitely
depressing, because they illustrate so clearly that the flat, one-dimensional
world the editors imagine the public want to read has -
through a simple process -become the world that the public (who are
not actually where the event is taking place) actually experience. A
world in which vicious Arab terrorists murder innocent planeloads of
tourists for no reason whatsoever (how can a newspaper reader
experience the desolation of Palestine?). A world in which irrational
hippies burn down trees, take drugs, and do nothing else (how can a
distant newspaper reader experience the stirrings and longings
of an itinerant society, momentarily come together in a process of
social construction, developing even at the instant of genesis its own
folklore's and customs and sanctions).
the journalists left, Hemingway beards blowing in the wind, zooming
off in their c-registration Lotus Elans and Triumph
Spitfires, to a really super pub that one of them remembered from
the year before. Their presence as outsiders had led me into a
conversation with one of the Wallys. He told me that at the Free
Festival the year before, a group of old friends smoking dope
had been asked by the police for their names. They had all
replied "Wally" and they had gone on from there, a sort
of travelling commune. For the last seven weeks they had been
"occupying" Stonehenge, attracting new friends. Previously
I had been a little suspicious of the Wallys on the grounds
that religion and liberation do not mix. They had always
struck me as too prone to worship, too Jesus Christ and
Buddha and flowers and the Sun. Now, however, I learned that they
do have a coherent land policy, and something very definite to
offer in political terms. Furthermore, they are willing
to go out and occupy privately held acres and live in them,
and fuse them. The land belongs to no individual.
are made in such beliefs and such actions.
Decisions can be taken
at the community level against big business and bureaucracy, and our
sick inheritance of private wealth.
This realization was probably the most
important of all for me at the Free Festival. The realization
that it can be done; that even in the face of the brutality and
ignorance of an established society which will not tolerate change,
something new can emerge.
As I write, the newspapers are
headlining ,the events of Thursday 29 August, when 600 police moved
in around dawn. "100 arrests in pop raid clash." "Fans" and "hippies"
being subjected to due process of law, five days after the laws were
first contravened. The police, of course, waited
to exercise their powers of legalized violence until the numbers at
the Festival had dropped from the maximum of 12, 000 to manageable proportions;
until the point was reached where they could afford to take apart this
threat to every habitual and unexamined assumption they operate with.
As a result, fortunately, questions are beginning to be asked. What
did the police think they were doing? Are they as benevolent as they
have always been thought to be? People were remembering the death of
Kevin Gately when we went to oppose fascism in Red Lion Square; and
were looking forward with apprehension to the anti National Front demonstration
in Hyde Park due this Saturday.
As a result also, the Windsor Free Festival
was prematurely ended; but it doesn't really matter. It's too late.
People can come together in a spirit of generosity and love.
This was a spirit that grew and
grew as the hours went by. It grew as the music began to roar out. It
expanded and developed and consolidated thereafter, with free food for
those who needed it, and every stall on site that the Festival participants
themselves had arranged. selling goods at the absolute minimum price.
No one ripping off the value of another person's labour, and no one
charging absurd prices for his own.
The only serious note of discord, in
fact, till the police moved in on Thursday, was the presence of commercial
traders, the flocks of ice-cream and hot-dog vans. Even they, however
had to put up with a community that would not consent to commercialism.
to the extent that prices quickly grounded at an acceptable level. One
hamburger merchant had a good pitch near a stage. and was quietly soaking
the audience for three pence more than the established acceptable level
for Coca-Cola. Suddenly, spontaneously. his van was invaded ,his supplies
of Coke laid out on the grass, and the cry sent up, "Free Coke. free
Coke." His was not the only business that I actually saw being "nationalized."
The black market in drugs was also subjected to attention. The few people
who were out to make a profit were heavily discouraged. The morphine
dealers, the real bloodsuckers of any drug taking community, were warned
off in one of the news sheets and reminded that, in Chicago, the Black
Panthers used to shoot anyone they discovered trying to push this particularly
In this context, community action is
liberation from oppression. The Windsor Free Festival, no matter what
happened to it this time, subject as it was to the caprice and
violence of the police, does demonstrate that oppression can only last
while the people are split up and separated. It demonstrates the possibility
of an alternative society, organized around values entirely opposed
to those of materialism and personal gain. When the people come together
and share a common aim, they can't be stopped.
have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.
My ten cents worth .
this is not a lesson that most of us took any further. In fact, Britain
and most of the western world, embraced wholeheartedly the noxious Thatcher/Reaganite
concept -" that
there is no community, only individuals "-
which swept theworld in the 80s and 90s and which has lead to
the rich getting MUCH richer and much social division.
the majority of us seem to have accepted the concept of endless growth
and rampant materialism as the only way to go and have sorely neglected
both our Earth and our own spiritual development ( and I not talking
in an organized religious context here, rather the way in which
we we relate to each other and the flora and fauna of the Earth ) -
meanwhile global warming accelerates and BIG BUSINESS - with right wing
politicians in its pockets - does its best to hinder any efforts to
slow down the damage.
a passage at the end of the " Electric Cool Aid Acid tests" - where the
Pranksters state - We
Blew It .
I think that his about sums it up for the majority of my generation -
we did have a chance to change the direction of society towards
a more caring , equitable, earth nurturing and sustainable future
- but not enough of us actually DID anything positive towards achieving
those goals. Instead ,because the hippies so clearly blew it, negativity
became the main force in youth culture rather than optimism .The punks
were too busy being self pitying and spitting at the Sex Pistols to do
any more to really change the structure of society than the hippies
had done and meanwhile the majority of the baby boomers have drifted towards
middle age having made some superficial changes ,but these have been mostly
entertainment based . Our collective consciousness has remained rooted
firmly in short term gain mode .Most of us have not been prepared to make
the sacrifices needed for us to transform our waste based and greedy society
into a sustainable and more equitable one.
ASK YOURSELF, are you really
happier being part of this rat race we all have opted into over the
last decade or so ? . If not, then try to do something
to change things for the better. If Windsor proved anything , it was
that numbers do matter- they only broke up the festival when most people
had left - they were afriad to take us on when we numbered in the thousands.
So write to politicians and tell them you don't agree with their short
term, business as usual plans , join a union , community or environmental
group and fight for Environmental, Human and Animal rights before the
Plutocracy takes over completely and its too bloody late !
an optimistic view of where we COULD go if we had the resolve to do
something about cleaning up our mess ,visit the
Rocky Mountain Institute,
read this transcript
or listen to real audio of Amory Lovins excellent
lecture, it does give hope for the future if we are prepared to act.
Mountain Institute is an entrepreneurial, non-profit organization that
fosters the efficient and restorative use of resources to create a more
secure, prosperous, and life sustaining world."