Monthly Archives: November 2011

Week 5?… In the life of LSX Occupier Hazel Hedge

Unintended consequences…

I’ve developed an unexpected fondness for London. As a country bumpkin I’ve long sneered at city folk; at the rush and bustle, the lack of dirt beneath fingernails. Now, I gaze with wonder at the juxtaposition of futuristic office blocks and intricately carved historic buildings… the replica Globe Theatre with its timber frame and thatched roof… the Thames, a force of nature in the heart of the city… St Paul’s dome floodlit beneath a full moon… I like living on the London streets. I like waking up to the human alarm clock of feet pounding pavements. I like slipping invisibly in and out of shopping centres, cafes and pubs, finding loos and showers and abandoned jam scones. Read Neil Gaiman. He knows what London is like.

Gone the neat structure of weekly diary entries. Things are more fluid now. Time stretches and I’m not sure how many weeks I’ve been here.

Today we wired in our first on-site solar panel. I acted apprentice sparky, wielding screwdrivers and crocodile clips with new-found alacrity. Then I grabbed the microphone and spoke to a crowd assembled on St Paul’s steps and I didn’t blush or stammer or leave my body in fright as I used to.

Every hour of every day: impassioned conversations about politics, democracy, Palestine, ethics, war, psychology, ecology, religion, revolution and, of course, the economy. Debate as spectator sport, human rings form around conversationalists, a hush descends and we… listen. How special is that? Is this what the wreath-and-sandal-wearing Greeks did for evening entertainment? I ask a Greek girl and she says… it’s what the Greeks are doing right now. Reminding me that this isn’t just about St Paul’s, or London. This is going on all around the world.

Tagged , , , , ,

Greening the Camps – Peak Oil at Occupy London

This week the Energy Working Group is expecting triplets. We’ll soon be caring for three brand new shiny solar panels. It sounds simple enough but the gestation has been lengthy and at times difficult. Some of the difficulties have been technical – which panels, what voltage, how many charge controllers and do we need inverters? Others have been practical – how do we get them delivered and is there a sunny enough location given the time of year and surrounding tall buildings? The most painful pre-birth contractions have been rather more surprising – at least to the environmentalists amongst us – and have taught us that for all the idealism of the Occupy camps, in some ways we’re a microcosmic version of the wider world and its contradictions are reflected in us.

The green energy crew visited each service-providing tent in turn to assess its electricity needs. Nearly every tent demanded far more than expected. We’re so used to the flick of a switch providing an effortless and endless flow of electricity that the concept of going without – even when camping – is alien. The crew were nonplussed, then realised this presents another opportunity for using the Occupy camps as an educational resource.

The new energy deal is being phased in gently. At St Paul’s there’s an almost emotional attachment to the noisy, smelly generator hidden out back of the tech tent. Confiscating it would probably provoke tantrums so we’re going to make sure the solar panels are wired in, the leisure batteries are fully charged and the low energy LED lighting is in place before we begin the weaning process. Bicycle generators are also planned and are expected to be a winter winner. Get fit, keep warm, make power…

Expectations will have to be lowered. Habits must change. People may have to go without a charge for their phone occasionally. Electric kettles will be banned. On a small scale we’ll be going through the same process that the wider world is baulking at. Powering down. Using resources more sparingly. Embracing thrift. We’re pretty good at recycling now but that is not enough. Imagine the peace when that generator shuts down.

The Finsbury Square camp is a little ahead of St Paul’s. It has one solar panel, freshly wired up, which is expected to charge batteries for lighting. The generator there is being switched over from diesel to recycled chip fat. With the Bank of Ideas just up the street, laptop and phone charging is not such an issue. The BoI crew are considering making use of the large roof space they are current custodians of to generate enough solar energy not only for the Bank itself but also for the Occupy London camps; and maybe even enough to feed back into the grid and provide an income with which to implement a myriad stored Ideas.

This is Transition Occupation.

 

 

Tagged , , , , , ,

Week 4 in the Life… of LSX Occupier Hazel Hedge

This was the week we were served with an eviction notice, the week that the Quakers offered their full support to the Occupy Movement , the week that 89-year-old former reverend John Papworth gave a rousing speech to a packed General Assembly (and began planning his 90th birthday party, to be held at OccupyLSX)…

This was the week my article ‘What do Bankers have to do with Oceans, Ice Sheets and Orang Utans?’ was published in The Occupied Times, the week Schnews did a great OccupyMovement news round-up, the week Max began serious ‘winterising’ of the camp with palletts, rubber sheeting, gutters and bubble-wrap insulation…

This was the week we opened the Bank of Ideas, wired in the first on-site solar panels at Finsbury Square, got down to some serious planning of the the Big Green Day to be held on 17th Dec at St Paul’s.

This was the week I succumbed to a nasty cold and cough, the week I managed to fulfill previous commitments be at a Three Daft Monkeys gig in Yorkshire, a 50th birthday party in Brighton and be back at OccupyLSX in time to be at four different Working Group meetings on Monday…

Time is strange here. Stretchy.

Rude person of the week award goes to the smartly-dressed woman who asked “If you’re all so great, where’s your recycling?” When I pointed out our recycling area, she threw an apple core at me, sneering “Recycle that for me then.”

Lovely.

Luckily most visitors to the camp are rather more open-minded; many are heart-warmingly supportive and that’s a big part of what keeps our morale up.

Tagged , , ,

‘Caring Capitalism’ – a contradiction in terms?

Ask ten people – occupiers, bankers, journalists, company directors – not whether they agree with capitalism but instead “What is Capitalism?”. The ten different answers proffered suggest that the ‘are we anti-capitalist?’ question is moot.

Those who identify with the anti-capitalist label describe capitalism as necessarily exploitative. They see it as a system in which fatcats callously use and abuse the labour of subordinates to further their own greed and gains.

Those who identify themselves as capitalists see it as a system which allows trade, social mobility, entrepreneurship and rewards for hard work. They compare it favourably with failed communist systems. They can’t see an alternative unless we go back to the stone-age.

Many of these capitalists believe that in recent years capitalism has gone wrong. They agree with the anti-capitalists that a tiny minority have raked in profits without the corresponding hard work and market success that could perhaps justify such riches.

In a pure capitalist system, no bank or business would be ‘too big to fail’. If those in charge made mistakes, they’d lose money and power and status in just the same way that a small business owner would. When governments use tax-payers’ money in bail-outs, capitalism is transformed into ‘corporate socialism’. This is a system so ludicrous that it’s little wonder people are camping on cold city streets across Europe and the U.S. Put simply, this is a system whereby the wealthiest 1%, drunk on their own power and greed, crash economies leading to suffering for everyone except themselves… then insist we prop them up so that they can carry on lording it over us (and our governments).

There are very few people who truly believe this is okay. Those who do must surely be members of the self-serving elite, or masochists. Splitting the rest of us into capitalists and anti-capitalists (and assuming that critics of capitalism must necessarily be socialists or communists) is a simple divide-to-rule strategy. We should be making alliances with all those who see that the current system has gone wrong.

Some in the Occupy movement would like to do away with money, to replace it perhaps with a barter system. Others believe that it is not money per se that is the problem – money, after all, is just tokens that allow us to exchange things without having to do a straight swap. Many argue that usury is the real root of all evil. Usury – condemned by the early Christian church and by Islamic law – is the begetting of interest via provision of loans. It enables people to make money simply by having money, to become wealthy without work. It rides on a ‘something for nothing’ culture (which, strangely, is what the Occupy movement is often falsely represented as wanting). Promotion of high-interest loans to the poverty-stricken is the most crass and socially destructive end of the usury spectrum. The complex gambling inherent in today’s institutions of high finance is also all about using money to beget money – and as we’ve recently experienced, the gamblers risk not their own livelihoods but ours.

So, we could regulate to minimise the excesses of usury and high-finance gambling. What else could we do to address financial injustice and economic crisis? Something all occupiers would agree on is that a tinkering with the current system – shoe-horning in a few extra regulations – is not enough. Radical overhaul is required. If we can find a way to join forces not only with unions, students and public sector workers but also with small business owners and entrepreneurs, we might have a serious chance of achieving this. Taking a majority of the self-avowed capitalists with us into a better future… that must be the goal. So what are these capitalists thinking? I asked…

‘Capitalist’ Number One admitted to being

jaded by a system that awards 50% pay rises to executives who – like bankers, and unlike true entrepreneurs – take no real hit on the downside.” Despite disillusionment he said “I still believe in capitalism as a system for ensuring greater prosperity for all… but what we have is selfish cronyism where cartels of old boys’ networks reward each other for failure.”

‘Capitalist’ Number Two said:

How about obliging individuals and corporations to devote a significant proportion of their resources, energy and profits to serving their communities? Small businesses and individuals would ‘pay back’ on a local scale; the big boys would contribute on an international scale. The penalty for avoidance would be crippling taxation or, ultimately, criminalisation. Harness the energy of the smartest people and put funds where they’re really needed. Imagine the good that Microsoft and others could do, not to mention banks, if obliged to focus their brainpower and resources on solving (instead of creating) global problems. I’ve even worked out how this could be implemented…”.

‘Capitalist’ Number Three sees trade as an essential tenet of humanity but would like all unethical trading to be outlawed. She says we already know how to do this:

Workers’ Co-operatives, Social Enterprises and Community Interest Companies have ethics enshrined in their constitutions to cover environmental and social considerations, workers’ rights and animal rights. Fairtrade regulators, the Soil Association, Radical Routes and other bodies already exist; these could be networked and expanded to oversee businesses and to alert a fearsome inspectorate (something like HMRC but with more teeth and fewer loopholes) should breaches of ethics be suspected. Fines large enough to act as a serious deterrent would be imposed for a first breach; subsequent breaches if proven to be intentional or due to negligence would result in forced company closure, with assets to be seized and put directly into redressing the problems caused.”

If these kinds of solutions were implemented, would the resulting system still be Capitalism?

You could call it Caring Capitalism”, suggested Capitalist One. The others shook their heads and grimaced.

Let’s skip the ‘isms’,” said Capitalist Two. “Let’s just call it… a collection of Bloody Good Ideas?”

That’ll do,” decided Capitalist Three. “Now can we get on with the revolution?”

Tagged , , , , , ,

Ten Commitments

Thanks to C.F-D., a regular day-visitor to OccupyLSX, for this idea.

Democracy, equality, inclusivity, respect, honesty and free-flow of information are central tenets of the OccupyLSX camp and many Occupations worldwide. By committing ourselves to the following ten principles of behaviour, I believe we’d make our camp a more pleasant, safe and productive space… and potentially a model for wider society. If the whole world signed up to these TEN COMMITMENTS, imagine what kind of place it might become…

These Commitments have not been agreed by OccupyLSX. I read them out at a General Assembly and received a warm response but on a second reading failed to achieve consensus. The Strategy Working Group is now considering how to present such a code of values as part of the Occupy strategy.

THE COMMITMENTS:

1. We aim to provide for basic human needs (for example food, clean water, shelter, warmth, security, community, education, leisure, meaningful pursuits) and to nurture the best qualities of humanity (for example co-operation, compassion, creativity).

2. We respect each other and members of our wider communities.

3. Individuals and groups have responsibility to their wider communities.

4. Individuals and groups take responsibility for caring for their immediate and wider environment.

5. We strive to achieve the best possible balance between the needs, rights and responsibilities of individuals.

6. We agree to work transparently and to act with honesty and integrity.

7. We are committed to achieving real democracy, in which every voice is listened to.

8. We believe that decisions are best informed by knowledge, hence we aim to provide and encourage education, research and skill-shares.

9. We aim to remain peaceful in all situations.

10. We aim to create a just, fair and equal society which does not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, class, nationality, ability or belief system – so long as the belief system is in accordance with the values contained in these commitments.

Comments welcome.

Tagged , , , ,

Week 3 in the Life… of LSX Occupier Hazel Hedge

Monday: Back to camp. Gave a guided tour to Croatian TV, attended a medley of meetings and discussed the future with visiting bankers and clergy.

Cough kept me (and probably my neighbours) awake half the night. Hoping this doesn’t lead to a proper chest infection. My caring other half is beginning to make “you shouldn’t be there if you’re ill” noises. I’ve promised to make a GP appointment on Friday if I’m not better.

Tuesday: Today I stripped wires, staggered about with hefty leisure batteries, stood on chairs, inexpertly wielded a screwdriver… Finally, sometime after dark, installation of low-energy LED lighting in the University, Information, Welfare and Library tents was completed and LED spotlights were on their way by foot-courier to Finsbury Square for the Occupy kitchen there. Thanks to the brilliant D of LEDfantastic for teaching me as much as my non-techno brain can cope with about 12-volt electrics and low-energy lighting systems and for providing the bulbs and other bits now installed. Thanks too to Hank for donating his precious battery to the cause.

Wednesday: The student demo (approx. 10,000 marchers and 4000 police) was attended by many Occupiers. I remained at St Paul’s base camp, on duty in the Information tent, gathering and relaying info. Reports trickled back to us from the frontline, by word-of-mouth, text and twitter. Electricians (protesting about massive pay cuts) were kettled, with police refusing to let them join the student march. Shocked tourists asked us whether such massive police operations were the norm at British demonstrations. Police on horseback, police in riot gear, police on motorbikes, police helicopters overhead, police road-blocks… all rather extreme. Around lunchtime a tweet came in – “OccupyLSX has occupied Trafalgar Square with 40 tents!” Cheers all round. It turned out to be something of a ‘flash’ Occupation, with cops tearing themselves away from the student march to come down heavy on the tented ones. Those attempting to defy the cops by settling in were arrested after a couple of hours. A grand bit of direct action nonetheless.

Billy Bragg gave musical support at St. Paul’s during the afternoon.

Thursday: I’ve moved into a rather more waterproof tent and my cough seems to be getting better. Phew.

Tom Hodgkinson of Idler fame responded positively to my invite to the camp and exceeded expectations by delivering not only a sermon on the Evils of Usury but also a rousing rendition of Anarchy in the UK on his tin-can ukelele (while wearing a very fine, vintage-inspired suit). Tent City University almost burst at the seams.

Evening General Assembly was possibly the longest camp meeting yet. It took us over three and a half hours to reach consensus on how (and whether) to formally respond to the City of London Corporation’s demands that we scale back the camp forthwith, leave by December 31st and promise not to occupy elsewhere. The minutes of the meeting and decision are on the OccupyLSX website; in brief, we chose to tell the City that we may wish to continue dialogue once CoL has reformed itself into a democratic and transparent institution (which is a bit like saying ‘when hell freezes…’).

Friday: We’ve agreed to respect the traditional two-minute silence to remember those who’ve died in war (soldiers and civilians). We’ve pledged not to disrupt Armistice Day (today) or Remembrance Sunday events at St Paul’s. A green banner has been hand-appliqued with red poppies. Hundreds of white paper doves have been cut out and the G.A. theme for today is Peace. Veterans are amongst those in the OccupyLSX camp and their input into how best to approach this day (given that many of us are anti-war) has been very valuable.

One of the greatest things about Occupying is that it forces us to meet people and situations that we wouldn’t usually encounter. Remembrance Day, soldiers and churches are not usually on my radar. Being here forces me to think, feel, react, interact…

However, I am glad that the police arrested members of the ‘English Defence League’ who were intending to cause a breach of the peace by giving us a bashing. Some people I’m happy to avoid interactions with indefinitely.

Saturday-Tuesday: I’ve a busy few days ahead, fulfilling commitments outside of London. Hosting a co-housing group; attending a Radical Routes quarterly meet (edit-in spirit only, didn’t quite make it in physical form due to too many commitments tumbling on top of one another!); heading over to Glastonbury to discuss next year’s Green Gathering; having a birthday; and helping at a Transition Town social event. All exciting stuff but I do pine for St Paul’s…

Tagged , , , ,

Week 2 in The Life… of LSX Occupier Hazel Hedge

Monday: Back to camp. We now have four portaloos, two more than when I left.

Tuesday: St Paul’s has decided not to take legal action to remove us! I’m not entirely sure whether that decision was taken on the basis of actual compassion and solidarity with the cause, or as a PR exercise aimed at restoring the slightly tarnished image of the Church. Either way, it’s better to have them wi’ us than agin’ us. Especially as they appear to have influenced the City of London; the City, widely reported to be about to issue us with eviction notices, has ‘pressed pause’ and asked to be taken to our leaders. Well, actually, they’ve asked to begin negotiations with a liaison group from OccupyLSX. They want us to negotiate on their turf, the Guildhall. Shall we enter the dragon’s lair and risk the silken worm-tongues within?

That’ll be a decision for General Assembly to make.

Wednesday: We weren’t all entirely happy with it but decided to give the City the benefit of the doubt and sent a delegation along to listen to what they had to say.

This: if we promise to leave before the turn of the year and to ‘scale back’ the camp between now and then, the City of London Corporation will pull back the legal attack dogs and let us be.

Do we want to agree?

That’ll be a decision for General Assembly to make. Consensus could be particularly difficult to achieve on this.

Thursday: There’s a fantastic programme of lectures, talks and workshops at TCU (Tent City University). Today I listened to Dr Rupert Read, philosopher of economics, talking about the impossibility of perpetual growth. Even ‘green growth’ is to be treated with suspicion, he argued. Investment in renewables – yes, he said. But any growth in green industries needs to be balanced by the opposite of growth elsewhere, so that total production is reduced. This, says Dr Read, is the only way we’re going to save the planet. He suggests rationing (certainly carbon rationing, potentially goods/food rationing too) and putting trust in well-run credit unions rather than banks. He had me convinced.

It rained, harder and longer than seemed natural or feasible, in the night. I woke up in a puddle, sleeping bag soaked, with more than a sniffle.

Friday: While we’re happy to be inclusive, to feed and shelter as many as can fit into this hotly contested piece of pavement, the camp is now attracting people who need more care than we can provide. So we’ve sent out a call for welfare workers and counsellors and people with experience in mental health, addiction, homeless issues. Already a contingent from Sheffield – health workers fresh from refugee camps and festival sites – have assessed the camp. Apparently we’ve a far healthier environment than the campers at Glastonbury manage with (and they pay almost £200 per weekend for it)…

There are still many practical issues to be addressed, not least ‘greening’ the camp by getting solar-power, pedal-power and camp-wide LED lighting sorted. De-dum, de-dum, de-dum, DE-DUM… LEDfantastic to the rescue!

Saturday & Sunday: Slightly more exhausted than exhilarated this weekend. But hey, who said revolution would be comfortable (or dry)? A quick flit back to base to do some work, meet family and friends around a campfire on November 5, wash clothes, enjoy a deep bath and catch up on sleep. Then back to camp…

Tagged , ,

Unpaid ‘Internships’ at Tent City!

Redundant, retired, out of work? Student, recent graduate, parent with kids at school? Bored, time on your hands? Get down to Tent City!

Vacancies available for staff in kitchen, tea tent, medic team, welfare and university tents, information hub, on recycling crew and more!

If you have experience in any of these areas, or are hard-working and willing to learn – and you share our concerns about injustice, inequality and environmental degradation – please contact the Information Tent, OccupyLSX, St Paul’s Churchyard, City of London.

This work is unwaged; however, bonuses are paid in the following currencies – tea, biscuits, soup, bread, fruit, friendship and blankets.

Tagged , ,

What do bankers have to do with oceans, ice sheets and orang utans?

Flooded with requests from members of the public, the media and my family to explain why I’m camping out on the chilly cobbles of St Paul’s, I stormed my own brain and came up with this:

I’m here because I believe in real democracy, social justice and environmental responsibility. I’m here because I passionately believe – no, I know – that we need to put planet and people before profit. I’m not here because I hate bankers, or hate cuts. It’s so much deeper, broader and more complex than that… and it’s got a lot to do with loving this earth we live on.

Environment and economics are inextricably linked. One doesn’t have to understand fractional reserve banking to understand this. The profit-driven economic system we have is not sustainable. By that I don’t just mean it’s not ‘green’, I mean that in a world of finite resources we literally cannot have perpetual growth. It won’t work . It cannot be sustained. Already the financial system in the Western world has begun to implode. We’ve knocked back the ‘good’ times – the greed times – and now we’re lurching about like drunkards trying to pretend we just need a cup of coffee and then we’ll be fine to drive.

I think it’s time the car keys were confiscated because it’s not just economies that we’re crashing, it’s the planet.

Economic and social injustice is what many of us are feeling most keenly at the moment but we can’t afford to ignore the looming dual impacts of climate change and resource scarcity. They’ll hit the most vulnerable first, especially those living in marginal lands – the deserts of Africa, the floodplains of Bangladesh – while the super-wealthy 1% will relocate to the least affected areas and insulate themselves in robust palaces. We can’t wait until our low-lying cities flood, until the glaciers melt and the gorillas are gone before we do something about it; if we do it’ll be too late, we’ll be trapped in a chain-reaction of crises way more severe than job losses and home repossessions.


So, in addition to railing at banks and corporations for stealing our money and corrupting the politicians who are supposed to represent us, we must remember that they are the ones destroying our land – again, for their own profits. Extracting oil from the tar sands of Canada, deep-water oil drilling in the Arctic, fracking for gas in Lancashire, slashing rainforests to grow cash-crops such as palm oil… these environmentally devastating practices need to be stopped.

A British environmental lawyer (Polly Higgins) has proposed to the UN that Heads of State and directors of corporations be required to take individual and personal responsibility for their actions and that ecocide, the environmental equivalent of genocide, becomes an International Crime Against Peace (alongside genocide itself, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression and war crimes).

While this may give profit-hungry polluters pause for thought, I believe it’s not just the elites who need to re-evaluate; we all do. We need to stop being selfish. Selfishness is behind the unsustainable profit-driven economy, the destruction of environments, over-fishing, over-consumption, pollution and war. We need to look at what is really needed to have a decent quality of life. Let’s try to get those things – food, clean water, shelter, warmth, security, community, education, leisure, meaningful pursuits – for everyone on the planet… and get rid of everything else. Stop lusting, hoarding, competing. Demand that the bankers do their bit but be prepared to do our bit too. If everyone stopped being selfish we have the intelligence and resources to sort it out. For example, an IPCC Report (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) shows that with political will and investment we could meet 80% of the world’s energy needs with renewables by 2050.

That would go some way towards heading off environmental catastrophe; towards saving the oceans, the ice, the orang utans and the people. We might even find enough compassion in our hearts to invite the bankers onto the ark.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

eviction ‘paused’

The City of London Corporation has decided not to go ahead with an eviction notice at this time. Following the church’s lead, they’ve asked the Occupiers to liaise with them, to scale down the size of the camp and to guarantee departure by New Year. The Guardian is reporting that the City is ‘happy’ for us to stay… I’m not sure they’re happy, more likely just pragmatic and resigned to the inevitable. As yet no guarantees of downsizing or departure have been made. There are a number of legal issues to address and much discussion will be had in the next few days.

Meanwhile, St Paul’s Cathedral will not be pursuing legal action to dismantle the OccupyLSX camp; the Chapter of St Paul’s is unanimous in wanting to negotiate with OccupyLSX to reduce disruption to the Cathedral and also to discuss the issues we came to draw attention to – economic, social and environmental injustices.

Putting this new approach into practice, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, has called for a ‘Robin Hood tax’ on financial transactions, in an attempt to redistribute wealth from the 1% to the 99%. While that is just one measure that some of the Occupiers may like to see implemented, it’s good to have the Church onside and engaging positively in the debate.

The public support we’re receiving at the camp is heart-warming, sometimes tear-jerking. At last, people are communicating on London’s streets. Passionate debates about money, politics and religion are occurring, night and day. As one Occupier said: “I’ve had more conversations in seven days here than in the last seven years of my life.”

This is important. It’s also exactly what the Cathedral’s own website says this magnificent space is for: “It is a place for protest against injustice and for the public expression of hope for a better society.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Tagged , , ,