Place Waste Dissent by Paul Hawkins

Place Waste Dissent by Paul Hawkins

Title: Place Waste Dissent

Author: Paul Hawkins

Report by Thivija Sabanathan

Place Waste Dissent by Paul Hawkins describes the protests against the proposed M11 link road and specifically, the occupation of Claremont Roada road planned for demolition.

The protagonists of this story are the squatters and their voices offer new dimensions to the often generalised perceptions and preconceptions of this situation. For example, Hawkins explains how the squatters made the houses habitable through a list of very brief terms, such as ‘we fixed broken floors’ and ‘shared skills’. The words themselves are informative, and the style with which they’re presented creates the feeling that these actions are simple and natural, contradicting the notion that the squatters’ life is a hardship or abnormal. This list was follows with ‘let the houses breathe, become warm’ which shows that these little things created something bigger – something beautiful – and something worth fighting for.

The police brutality is clearly portrayed through the squatters’ perceptionsAt one point, the squatters are described as handcuffing themselves to the buildings and ‘hold[ing] hands’ with their mate’, a loving act. The peace in their actions provides a vivid contrast against the authorities. The riot police and bailiffs, and their actions in particular, are frequently described in negative terms. For example, they enter the homes by ‘splintering and splaying the front door’ and are described as having ‘screaming eyes, dark uniforms’; this imagery blurs standard distinctions of hero versus villain

The brutality is more clearly expressed through the words: ‘my nails begin to splinter as I’m ripped along the floor, but cuffed onto Ben we slide in protest together’The pure gore in this action makes us clench our own hands as we experience their agonyand encourages feelings of hatred towards the police. The police are viewed as savages compared to the squatters who demonstrate unity and peace despite the torture of the police – they hold a moral high-ground.

Despite the bias of portraying events from one viewpoint – that of the squatters – Hawkins provides a thorough insight into a squatter’s life by also describing the more negative aspects, such as the excessive drinking and drugs, or the violence. His experiences bleed through the pages and the stories of others, including Dolly Watson, Old Mick and Flea, especially their hardships, add a particular realism. Flea’s story had the biggest impact on me; she was a young girl from a violent family and, despite being surrounded by the heroes, nobody saved her.

Fragmented poetry

Hawkins’ approach in expressing this story, however, is what distinguishes this bookThe pages are filled with photographsfragmented poetry and the occasion legal document, each placed upon the page to perfection, creating an experience rather than a story. The disjointedness of the collage provides an atmosphere of unease and the absence of colour creates the feeling of dread, which resonates with the difficulty of the squatter lifestyle. However, the content of the photos could add degrees of optimism, with painted houses and smiling faces often bright lights in the darkness.

The photographs play as great a role in the storytelling as the words; they often emphasise the text in the page. The photos of the police in their uniform and visors accompany the words describing their violence, and the scene is easier to visualise due to this collaboration. There is also a page that explains Dolly’s final moment in Claremont Road and her subsequent death; the photograph in the background is the tower that the squatters built and named after her, to represent her goodness, power and positive influence. The photograph also provides the optimistic afterthought that Dolly will never be forgotten.

There are typically multiple photographs and sets of text per page, and they collaborated, but they also added contradictions. I found this to be an incredible technique because it created infinite possible interpretations, allowing a more intimate relationship with the book.

Knowledge

Having no prior knowledge about these protests, I was confused at points. It is not a story in the typical sense where you are given much context. The book focuses more on the emotions, characters and events that comprise the story with very little filler sentences to glue these together. Howeverconsidering its style and the presence of photographs to provide extra knowledge, I wouldn’t say that this is a disadvantage.

I live right by the A12, and I pass through Leytonstone every day on the train, so I was aware of many places that were mentionedI learnt that the road I’ve known since I first moved here was once a plan that the community protested against. Not only is it surreal to think of a time before it existed, but my mind cannot fully comprehend that I’ve taken full advantage of something that I also would have protested against had I the opportunity. Since reading Place Waste Dissent, I’ve researched and even watched news reports regarding the protests. 

I’m excited to read this book again in a few years, for I will be able to take something different from it. This first read provided me with passion, inspiration, information, an appreciation of community and the gentle reminder that life is a balance of good and bad. It is a truly beautiful book and a worthwhile read.

Review by Thivija Sabanathan

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