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Occupy London

Occupy London

By late evening on Saturday 15 October, Occupy London‘s prospects of even lasting the night weren’t looking too promising. After an ill-fated attempt to enter Paternoster Square, a couple of thousand people had been kettled by the police outside St Paul’s, with few provisions and barely 10 tents. By 11pm, a few more tents had appeared and a sweepstake was being held as to how long the camp would last before police would clear it out. The predictions were in hours rather than days. Yet, somehow, the tents clung on until the morning, by which time the police lines had all but evaporated. Happily, no one won the sweepstake.

Over the next few days, offers from the public of food, equipment and help flooded in and an infrastructure sprang up, not just of marquees, generators and recycling systems, but also a democratic infrastructure of working groups and liaison teams, all overseen by the daily general assembly, where all decisions are agreed by consensus. After two weeks, a new camp sprang up on the other side of the city in Finsbury — our green and pleasant suburb.

One month on and Occupy London is putting down deeper roots. As we have reclaimed a physical space in the heart of the city, so too have we created a new political space – where discussion and debate are welcome. We learnt a system of consensus, of twinkling “jazz hands” to signal agreement and crossed forearms to signal disagreement. We learnt to wait our turn before speaking, and we swallowed our fear of public speaking, stood up at the podium and started to make speeches.

Occupy London is at heart a campaign for economic justice. In an era of relentless globalisation, deregulation, privatisation, the Occupy movement is a global response to an economic system that is ideologically – and quite literally – bankrupt. Since the collapse of Lehman Brothers three years ago, banks have been underwritten by people in Britain to the tune of £1.3tn, or £21,000 for every man, woman and child. Ordinary people are paying for this crisis with the most swingeing cuts to public services for 80 years, growing job losses and rapidly diminishing incomes. Meanwhile corporate CEOs rewarded themselves this year with average pay rises of 49%, while the City gears up for another bumper bonus season.

But anyone visiting Occupy London will be immediately aware that our movement is as much about our democratic deficit as it is our financial deficit.

In a world where political debate is compromised by special interests, inertia and short-termism, our aim is to reclaim a space for an argument that is no longer censored nor circumscribed. Meanwhile, for the 1%, the political system runs like a well-oiled machine as they hire lobbyists to promote their special interests and get puppet politicians to pass only those laws that benefit them. Occupy allows the 99% our rightful place in the debate. We are our own lobbyist.

Our strength is in our diversity and unpredictability. We are made up of anarchists, anti-capitalists, deep green activists, libertarians – and plenty of everyday people who don’t categorise themselves politically, but get up everyday, unzip their tents and go to work. Any sentence beginning “Well, I think we all agree …” always ends with someone yelping dissent. If there’s one thing that brings together this disparate smorgasbord of hopes, fears and rage, it is power – the power that has been appropriated by the 1%t and systematically disempowered the 99%.

We all agree that the banks are defrauding the public, and need to be stopped. That rapacious corporations are out of control and need to be regulated. That we live in a world of corporate fascism. And that it is time we said, “No, more.”

Occupy represents not just the taking of space in our cities, but reclaiming the terms of debate in wider society. As the placard at Occupy Wall Street says “Apathy is dead.” This tiny slice of pavement is a catalyst for argument, causing by some strange alchemy strangers to stop and chat, passers-by to harangue and discuss. The most productive discussions, the most heated debates will always take place at the edge of the camp – where the passers-by meet the occupiers.

There is a concept in permaculture of “edge”. An edge will always produce the most fertile ecosystems, the most diversity, the greatest productivity. We find ourselves bordering not only the general public but the City of London, and inadvertently, the Church – all these fronts provide a challenging but highly productive space for dialogue and debate.

We find ourselves grappling towards a new way of doing things. We are fighting shy of issuing too many strident demands; we are feeling our way through the process of direct democracy, and we need to understand the characteristics of this corrupt and manipulative system we inhabit.

Of course, we have inevitably attracted criticism. We’re told that we’ve made our point and so should move on. We suspect that our critics are enraged by Occupy because we’ve made ourselves impossible to ignore. We have to navigate a narrow path between between being eminently reasonable in an unreasonable system, to maintain a radical edge that challenges wider opinion as much as it resonates. By creating a space in the City of London, we have been startlingly effective, but to bring about transformative change, we need to use the camp as base for bigger and more creative actions – and so we shall.

It would be a mistake to assume Occupy is merely a spectacle, but a spectacle we are. The onus is on us to ensure our many spectators feel empowered to become active participants. So we must take full advantage of this tiny vibrant space we have created to seize the imagination of the wider public with a better vision of the future. A future that we can all claim as our own. A future that puts people before profit.

Our process can be chaotic and interminable, but it also inspires and energises – everyone gets an equal voice, occupiers and passers-by alike are compelled by being asked for their opinions and knowing they count. So we ask you to come and visit us and make your voice count, too. Perhaps attend our general assembly – it’s at 7pm every day, without fail. Hang out in our tea tent and strike up conversation. Or wander round at the weekend and attend some of the lectures at Tent City University. You might find yourself returning, who knows you might even find yourself pitching a tent on a tiny patch of lawn outside Swindon council.

This Tuesday, the Guardian’s Comment is free website (“Cif”) is functioning as virtual slice of Occupy LSX and Occupy Wall Street, so we invite you here to engage in the debate we have every day down at the camp. We’d love to hear your ideas.

One thing is sure – you are the 99%. We are the 99%. And together, we are powerful. Let’s find out where we end up.

Chief Editor
Author: Chief Editor

Nigerian Community,News, Events and more

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Nigerian Community,News, Events and more

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