Written for The Occupied Times
Certain sections of the mainstream media would have us believe that Occupy London is as bankrupt – monetarily and morally – as the financial sector on our doorstep.
The money has been lost! Donations have been siphoned off into individual bank accounts and shady eco-activist charities! We’ve spent thousands of pounds on fags and dog-food!
Well, no. What happened was that an assortment of people passionate about changing the world for the better set up camp in the city. They had no collective money and initially they didn’t have much of a plan beyond making themselves heard, raising their voices in protest at injustice and demanding a fairer future. Their voices resonated. Members of the 99% who couldn’t camp out showed their support in other ways and cash donations trickled in.
The money was put in a tin and used to buy food, teabags, stationery and to print Occupy leaflets. People were clamouring to donate online, so an unused Climate Camp bank account was adopted as a temporary repository for electronic funds. Meanwhile, the fledgling OLSX Finance Working Group sought advice on whether a motley assortment of unincorporated radicals could legally accept donations and open a bank account. The answer was yes. The irony was not lost on the Occupiers; nevertheless, it was decided funds could help us spread the Occupy message and so should not be rejected. A Co-operative bank account was deemed the ‘least evil’ option.
OccupyLSX began to save and then to spend. Swept up in the excitement of media scrums, church resignations, secondary Occupations and national strikes, we didn’t sit down and thrash out spending priorities and financial policies from the outset. This inevitably led to instances of conflict – what’s more important, political Direct Action or weatherproof tents? Is feeding the homeless part of the Occupy remit? Do we need to chain down our cash-box? Should we form a not-for-profit company?
Occupations worldwide have struggled with similar issues. OccupyLSX initiated a temporary spending freeze during which issues of transparency, accountability, spending priorities and creative use of resources were discussed.
After an intense week of debate, during which a few people became frustrated and stamped their feet, a proposal was put to and accepted by the sovereign body of OLSX – the General Assembly. From now on budgets will be set weekly; spending will not exceed donations received in any given week barring exceptional circumstances; priorities will be discussed and reviewed regularly; all working groups will keep clear and transparent records; the movement will aim to source materials via freecycle and similar schemes where possible; and all decisions regarding spending will be made by the General Assembly. As for the bank account, the paperwork is at the Co-op bank and there is a short-list of potential signatories.
If this was a financial crisis, it was a microscopic one; nipped in the bud before it festered, unsustainable systems recognised and replaced within the space of six weeks. Perhaps the Financial Service Authority and its new offspring would like to learn a thing or two from us?