#3 QofR: The Sholing Diggers

A self subversive lifestyle: As a family we have been intercepting food for nearly 6 months now, often with members of Curb (The Real Junk Food Project Southampton) and after many discussions in our kitchen with a coffee about living a self sufficient lifestyle without relying on supermarkets, we decided that the first step to making this a possibility would be to grow as much of our own food as possibly while simultaneously intercepting or swapping food. We aim to go against the ‘norm’, undermining the capitalist systems that repeatedly tell us to buy more and eat more by making a conscious decision about where (if we need or want to) spend our money (e.g independent cafes, restaurants, ethically and environmentally friendly beauty products, clothes etc).

We will be creative with the way in which we…

Grow food: Permaculture methods, using reclaimed materials to build beds, hanging baskets, trellis, swapping seeds and reusing seeds from fruit and vegetables or that we have grown before or intercepted.

Use the food: Cooking vegetarian and vegan food (unless we intercept meat and dairy), baking, making and sharing new recipes.

Distribute excess food: Donating excess fruit and vegetables to Curb to use for pop up cafes, food boutiques or events or distributing it to our friends and family directly or hosting dinner parties using intercepted and home grown food.

Dress and Clean ourselves: Clothes swaps, charity shops, ethical and environmentally friendly products.

Form a Community of ‘Diggers’: Kate Chorley, one of the directors of Curb has her roots in Wigan and informed me about the history of the 17th century British social and political movement led by Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers. This inspired us to start our own Digger community for those that share the same ideas about living a self subversive, anti-capitalist life style, growing and sharing our own food.

Who were the Diggers?

“Human history boasts two important traditions: one of control, harmony and discipline and another of expression, liberty and the pursuit of justice. The Diggers were intimately associated with the latter of those schools of thought, though the reality of implementing such ideas would push them in the direction of the former.

A loose social grouping, the Diggers emerged between 1649 and 1650 as a radical response to the post-civil war insurrection in 17th-century England. Their beliefs, desires and deep-felt hankering for liberty from the mythical ‘Norman yoke’ were something radically new – the product of a revolutionary epoch in which the traditional order of English post-conquest society had been undermined. It is in the Diggers that some modern commentators have seen the roots of modern socialism and even communism…

A ‘Digger’ in our context was any member of this group of agrarian Utopians who existed around 1649-50. These men, and women, were led by one principal chief: Gerrard Winstanley, assisted, at first, by William Everard. During the sober spring of 1649, on All Fool’s Day, about a score of poverty-stricken souls assembled at St George’s Hill, Surrey, and embarked upon a slow and laborious cultivation of the common land there: a curious exhibition of eccentricity characteristic of the times. Such a fresh attempt at ‘alternative living’ has been inspirational ever since, stimulating the production of a whole range of Digger songs and literature – more recently, even websites and a film. Somewhat ominously, there is even a plaque dedicated to Winstanley in Moscow’s Kremlin Wall.”

Sandell, B. (2011). GERRARD WINSTANLEY AND THE DIGGERS. History Review, (70), 9-13.

“The idea of the Norman Yoke is based on the belief that before 1066, England was a free country with self-governing institutions. After the Norman Conquest – where Harold was defeated by William at the Battle of Hastings, dethroning the English monarchy – the country and its power structure was greatly altered and these lasting effects of William’s reign have become obvious in this term.” 

HistoryLearning. (2015). The Norman yoke. Retrieved October 19, 2016, from http://historylearning.com/medieval-england/the-norman-yoke/

Subversion: Radical response to post-civil war insurrection, radically new, product of revolutionary epoch, undermine the traditional order of English post-conquest society.

Creativity and Practice: Cultivation of the common land, an exhibition of eccentricity, alternative living, inspirational, Digger songs, literature, film and websites (I intend to carry out more research about these creative responses!).

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“Gerrard Winstanley, (baptized Oct. 10, 1609, Wigan, Lancashire, Eng.—died 1676) leader and theoretician of the group of English agrarian communists known as the Diggers, who in 1649–50 cultivated common land on St. George’s Hill, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, and at nearby Cobham until they were dispersed by force and legal harassment. They believed that land should be made available to the very poor.

Of Lancashire origin, Winstanley was a cloth merchant in London until his business failed. In April 1649, in the revolutionary atmosphere of the Commonwealth period, he and William Everard took the lead in establishing the Digger colony, a timely project because of the unprecedented height of food prices in England. Although the colony ceased to exist in March 1650, Winstanley remained prominent as a pamphleteer, foreshadowing later communist and materialist ideas in his vigorous and racy prose.

The Law of Freedom in a Platform (1652), his sketch of a communist society, was dedicated to Oliver Cromwell. Winstanley believed that the English Civil War had been fought against the king, landlords, lawyers, and all who bought and sold, these being enemies of the landless and labouring poor, and against priests, whose preaching of heaven and hell diverted men from asserting their rights on Earth and who were an instrument of class rule. He was an advocate of universal religious toleration, and he would have replaced sermons by lectures on the natural sciences and on the English constitution. He died a Quaker in 1676.”

Gerrard Winstanley. (2016). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Gerrard-Winstanley

Some Examples of Creative Responses to The Diggers

Source: Diggers (2016). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diggers

– 1966 San Francisco Diggers – Hippy Community in Haight-Ashbury. Strongly anti-establishment, handed out free food in Golden Gate Park.

– ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ by Leon Rosselson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCXnol8NGbg A song about the Diggers and their activities on St. George’s Hill in 1649.

– Winstanley, a fictionalised 1975 film portrait of the Diggers, directed by Kevin Brownlow, based on the novel Comrade Jacob by David Caute.

– Caryl Churchill’s 1976 play ‘Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, named after the Digger pamphlet and set in the English Civil War, charts the rise and fall of the Diggers and other radical ideas from the 1640’s.

– Jonathon Kemp’s 2010 play ‘The Digger’s Daughter’ tells the tale of the Diggers and quotes much of Winstanley’s teaching directly.

Who were (are) The San Francisco Diggers

‘The Digger Archives is an ongoing Web project to preserve and present the history of the anarchist guerrilla street theater group that challenged the emerging Counterculture of the Sixties and whose actions and ideals inspired (and continue to inspire) a generation (of all ages) to create models of Free Association.

The Diggers were one of the legendary groups in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, one of the world-wide epicenters of the Sixties Counterculture which fundamentally changed American and world culture. Shrouded in a mystique of anonymity, the Diggers took their name from the original English Diggers (1649-50) who had promulgated a vision of society free from private property, and all forms of buying and selling. The San Francisco Diggers evolved out of two Radical traditions that thrived in the SF Bay Area in the mid-1960s: the bohemian/underground art/theater scene, and the New Left/civil rights/peace movement.

The Diggers combined street theater, anarcho-direct action, and art happenings in their social agenda of creating a Free City. Their most famous activities revolved around distributing Free Food every day in the Park, and distributing “surplus energy” at a series of Free Stores (where everything was free for the taking.) The Diggers coined various slogans that worked their way into the counterculture and even into the larger society — “Do your own thing” and “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” being the most recognizable. The Diggers, at the nexus of the emerging underground, were the progenitors of many new (or newly discovered) ideas such as baking whole wheat bread (made famous through the popular Free Digger Bread that was baked in one- and two-pound coffee cans at the Free Bakery); the first Free Medical Clinic, which inspired the founding of the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic; tye-dyed clothing; and, communal celebrations of natural planetary events, such as the Solstices and Equinoxes.

First and foremost, the Diggers were actors (in Trip Without A Ticket, the term “life actors” was used.) Their stage was the streets and parks of the Haight-Ashbury, and later the whole city of San Francisco. The Diggers had evolved out of the radicalizing maelstrom that was the San Francisco Mime Troupe which R.G. Davis, the actor, writer, director and founder of the Troupe had created over the previous decade. The Diggers represented a natural evolution in the course of the Troupe’s history, as they had first moved from an indoor milieu into the parks of the City, giving Free performances on stages thrown up the day of the show. The Digger energy took the action off the constructed platform and jumped right into the most happening stage yet — the streets of the Haight where a new youth culture was recreating itself, at least temporarily, out of the glaring eye of news reporters. The Diggers, as actors, created a series of street events that marked the evolution of the hippie phenomenon from a homegrown face-to-face community to the mass-media circus that splashed its face across the world’s front pages and TV screens: the Death of Money Parade, Intersection Game, Invisible Circus, Death of Hippie/Birth of Free.

The Diggers broadcast these events, as well as their editorial comments of the day, pronouncements to the larger Hip Community, manifestos and miscellaneous communications, through broadsides and leaflets distributed by hand on Haight Street. These Web pages are my attempt to present the story of the digger movement as it developed in the mid-to-late sixties and early seventies (and evolved in various directions even to the present). I have been collecting this Archive for forty years, and see the Web as a way to display the materials and make them available both for researchers and for all diggers past and present who want to preserve and participate in this history.’ (“SF diggers (1966-68, beyond),” n.d.)

SF diggers (1966-68, beyond). Retrieved October 19, 2016, from http://www.diggers.org/top_entry.htm

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