We r i people

By Tommy Lusk

Ma legs were shakin’ under the table as the community hall filled tae capacity in front a mae. A wiz reminded a midnight mass in the seventies except that a wiz at the tap table, and the priest wiz among the congregation. This memory came back tae me as a read wan a the flyers blowin’ aroon’ the car park where the lock up garages wir bein’ demolished. "NO SHERIFF OFFICERS" wiz the bold message they told, n it star'l'd me ae think how long they'd been layin there undisturbed.

It aw began wan Saturday mornin’ in January 1990. An urgent rattle on the letterbox disturbed ma long lie n a opened the front door tae Andy the postman, standin’ there wae a pile a white envelopes in eez haun 'n' a serious look n eez coop'n.

“Hauf the scheme’s gitin’ these le'ers Tommy. We need tae dae somehin' here, we need tae defend wursel' against these bams."

When a saw "Strathclyde Regional Council" on the envelope ae haunt mae, a knew right away it meant a lot mer people than expected wurnae piyin’ the poll tax. That meant a lot a people wae the Shiriff Officer efter them. In they days Shiriff Officers hid the power tae auction aff yir stuff tae piy aff debts - includin' poll tax debts.

The nervous energy in ma legs turnd tae excitement as the meetin' unfoldit. There wiz a buzz aboot the place, n people wir expressin' thir defiance or askin' questions. Lotsa people, lit George n Danny, joined us efter that getherin' so we could take the next step; tae organise an early warnin' system.

Doors wir chapped 'n' people wir incouraged tae join thir street's telephone tree. In they days, afore mobile phones, this amountit tae everybudy hivin' a list a their neighbours phone numbers up n their wa'. If a shiriff officer turned up at sumdae's door unannounced, they could quickly ring roon fur support. Whit we wir dain' in Bellsmyre wiz replicated in hoosin' schemes across Dumbarton District.

Wur District Cooncil gave us a' empty buildin' tae coordinate wur activi'eez. They also gave us grants tae print leaflets informin' people a their rights. The whole thing grew 'n' soon Bellsmyre Anti Poll Tax Campaign became wan wee part ae Dumbarton District Anti Poll Tax Federation.

The anticipation a confrontation wae shiriff officers created a lot ae adrenaline fuelled creativity. Lit banners, t-shirts, a concert 'n' a rally. Soon we wir confident inuf tae take the fight tae the authorities. A got a phone call wan mornin' telling me the Shiriff Officers office hid been occupied by protesters. They needit me tae go 'n’ get them some’in tae eat. The polis officer standin' guard didnae mind me takin' orders fur filled rolls 'n' cans a juice, fae the group a bodies crammed in tae the wee room bayhin' the glass panil't coonter. They wir aw in good spirit. Well chuffed wae their day's work, but serious inuf tae explain tae Reportin' Scotland the purpose ae it. This wiz followed up a couple a months later wae another sit in.

Alang wae aboot forty odd folk fae places lit Casahill, Silv'r'n, 'n' The Vale, a anxiously made ma wiy tae Dumbarton cimi'ry wan bright June mornin'. Fae there we meandered in wans 'n' twos up the road tae the Cooncil buildins. We spread wursel' aboot the corridor ootside the office in wee groups, casually ignorin' each other. When the time came, Andy opened the door n we aw followed 'im in. It took a few momints fur the penny tae drap as we announced we wur occupyin' thir office. A relaxed a bit as the bemused staff slowly walk'd oot 'n' left us ae git on wae phonin' roon the media. The authorities conceded no long efter that, and so it wiz time fur us tae move on.

In July we held a rave against the poll tax. A obviously didnae get this new form a rebellion, as a offered tae dae an infirmation stall at the rave. Realisin’ on the night how daft a looked, a wiz happy tae be relieved a ma role as treasurer a the district fed, 'n' retreat back tae Bellsmyre. We’d continued tae haud regular meetin's in the community hall uptae wur final meetin’ in September. Fifteen people attended that night, so there wiz nae need fur a tap table.

While a wiz mo'ivati'd tae join a new community led hoosin’ association (that turned oot no tae bay community led at aw), other folk challenged whit wiz seen as a clique on The Tinants Association.

I do'no know why a didnae pocket the flyer that jogged ma memory that day, but it might a been because o a better reminder a could see oot ma back windae. When we started oot, the tinant's association hid a bench that sat up a hill. Despite great views, naebody used it as the hill wiz too steep tae climb. Shortly efter new blood wiz injected on tae the committee, a noticed the bench hid shifted tae the play park at the high flats. Here it wiz well used bay perints sitin bletherin while their wains played.

The bench disappeared a year or two ago, when the high flats wir dimolished. Am noo lookin’ on tae a new high school. Strangly inuf, that's a good reminder a people staunin up tae authority as well. The cooncil wanti't tae build that school next tae a popular park n it caused a uproar. Wan campaign later n the cooncil backed doon again.

scots, community, solidarity, protest