After spending over a week at the Occupy LSX (London Stock Exchange) protest camp, Young Academic’s Features Editor gives his view on the issues surrounding the Occupy movement.
The protest camp in the City of London is a camp made up of people from all walks of life, of all ages and from all cultures. The one thing they have in common is that they believe the system we live in no longer works. They are angry about corporate greed and million pound bonuses for the people who forced the country into recession.
They don’t believe it is fair that banks, businesses in the City and the wealthiest 1% of the population have so much influence and lobbying power over our democracy. They want transparency, an end to tax evasion by big business, economic equality, free and fair democracy and politicians who represent the interests of the people, not the banks and big business.
With that said, what is it like in the camp itself?
Two things immediately strike you as you approach the Occupy LSX camp in the City of London for the first time. One is the beauty and majesty of St Paul’s Cathedral. Its broad steps, huge pillars guarding the entrance and the famous domed roof proudly standing out in the London skyline makes for a spectacular sight. It is easy to see why it is such a popular tourist attraction and a famous religious landmark.
The other thing that instantly hits you is how developed and organised the protest camps infrastructure is and just how many people are involved in the camp. Neither the mainstream media, nor the Occupy LSX media team have successfully portrayed to the public quite how advanced the camp has become.
The kitchen is better supplied than your average army mess tent. Hot food is served throughout the day and there is a constant supply of sandwiches, snacks, fruit and drinks on offer. The vast majority, of this food is supplied via donations from the general public and based on the amount of food stock arriving everyday it would suggest there is a significant support base for the movement.
The camp has many facilities that towns and villages around the country are deprived of. A fully functioning media team operates at the camp. A legal team that has the backing of top barristers, including John Cooper QC works around the clock on the legal issues surrounding the camp, including the issue of it being set up in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Among other things there is a library, wittily called ‘Starbooks’, a cinema that shows documentaries, films and clips from other Occupy camps around the world and the Tent City University, which attracts a range of speakers including journalists, economists, authors, university lecturers and seasoned activists.
Then there is the tech tent, a tea and empathy tent, a piano tent and an arts and crafts tent. I’m sure you’re starting to get the picture.
The protesters themselves have been discredited at every turn. Perhaps the most common misconception is that the people occupying the land outside St Paul’s are lazy; work shy and just in it for the ride. The exact opposite is true.
The camp is run by inclusive, leaderless working groups which meet every day. Each group focuses on certain issues, so you have groups such as the ‘direct action working group’ or the ‘recycling working group’. These working groups then report to the evening General Assembly, where the camp meets, discusses and votes on key issues, whether they be practical or ideological.
The General Assemblies are a truly remarkable spectacle. Again totally leaderless, they are facilitated by different people each day. They are worked in a way so that everyone, among a crowd of hundreds, gets a say. This is done by splitting into small groups of between 8 and 12 and discussing the issues before a member of that group goes back and offers feed back to the General Assembly as a whole.
It is a horizontal, inclusive form of alternative democracy which includes hand signals to indicate approval, disagreement or to interject if you feel a technical point needs to be made. A lot of journalism surrounding the movement has been lazy and at times deceitful. Those who make the General Assemblies out to be a radical, cultish exercise are either missing the point of it completely or purposely trying to smear the protesters and their way of doing things. If anything, witnessing and taking part in a General Assembly is a liberating experience that suddenly highlights just how little democracy we do actually have in this country.
It could be said that the handling of this situation by the Church of England has overshadowed the protesters and their message. Or as many in the right wing press like to argue; that the protesters are incoherent and the camp is pointless.
Both of these conclusions are wrong in a lot of ways. What the protest camp has achieved already is phenomenal despite the protesters message seeming vague at times. The whole country is talking about economic inequality and all the other issues raised by the Occupy movement. That is a victory in itself.
Due to the location of the camp in the heart of the Square Mile in the City of London, George Monbiot published an article in the Guardians ‘Comment is Free’ section exposing the medieval, undemocratic, outright scandalous practices of the Corporation of the City of London. That wouldn’t have happened without the protest camp. That is a victory in itself.
The camps position right outside St Paul’s has forced the Church of England to take stock and look at how it is dealing with the greed and corporate power plays espoused by its neighbours. It is realising that perhaps it has lost touch with the feelings of its own congregation and is considering again how best to champion the rights and needs of the poor. That wouldn’t have happened had the protest camp not set up where it did. That is a victory in itself.
The longer the protesters are in the City of London as a visual reminder that people are unhappy and are willing to protest against unfairness, the more victories they will achieve.
Whether they will be able to fully to pressure this government into reforming the financial system and making our country more democratic nobody can say, only time will tell. It seems unrealistic. But then again the Occupy movement has achieved such a lot in such a short space of time that anything is possible.