Monthly Archives: February 2012

Eviction | Reuters Trustlaw Foundation

Shortly before midnight a flurry of tweets, texts, emails and bicycle couriered word-of-mouth messages: “…police are massing at London Wall – police vans, riot gear, eviction imminent!”

A few minutes of uncertainty and confusion resolved when a phalanx of police and a couple of dozen bailiffs wearing fluorescent orange waistcoats swarmed into view. The police arrived on foot and in a convoy of vans. Bailiffs brought bin lorries to seize and chew up our homes.

On being told that anyone remaining in the area of the encampment would be arrested, many occupiers chose to pack and move to the cathedral steps, believing that people and possessions would be safe there. The Church had, after all, said that it would provide sanctuary… hadn’t it? In the absence of Giles Fraser – now stuck on the wrong side of a hastily erected police cordon between St Paul’s and the rest of the world – no one seemed quite sure.

As the police threw up their barriers, protected (from what?) by shields and helmets, protesters wearing pumps and cardigans built a barricade using what was left of the camp kitchen – a sturdy set of shelves, chairs, tables and pallets. Meanwhile some rushed to save tents and cooking equipment from the bailiffs and others filmed, observed or prayed.

As homes were systematically destroyed, Occupiers remained peaceful but for the first time in months a gender imbalance became evident. A number of men leapt onto the heaped remnants of the kitchen to wave flags and chair legs, to chant and yell at the bailiffs, to symbolically resist the destruction of their community.

These men were the ones in the media lens. They drew the attention of onlookers, journalists, police and court enforcers. Meanwhile women worked, largely unnoticed, in a myriad roles learned during their four months in the Occupy camp.

Nafeesa overcame nerves, technical difficulties and demands to move on. With tireless dedication she live-streamed the eviction so that those watching on screens around the world could follow the course of events. When she took a break from recording she was interviewed by the BBC. As a designated legal observer J kept an eagle eye on proceedings, making note of interactions between police and protesters, while Kai took photographs, uploaded them and communicated with the outside world via Twitter.

Only when the men atop the teetering kitchen shelves refused to descend was there any real sense of confrontation. Police moved media, observers and supporters away while bailiffs demolished the ‘fort’ beneath the occupiers, pulled them to the ground, arrested them for obstruction and took them away to the cells.

In front of the cathedral Tammy was determinedly maintaining her calm and holding a candlelit, flower-strewn vigil when police suddenly made a move on those gathered on the steps. Belongings were scattered as protesters and supporters were forced away from St Paul’s. A cry went out to ‘sit down!’ but most were too bewildered by the unnecessary and unexpected change in attitude to do so. Those who heeded the call – and those who were already sitting down, some reciting prayers – were dragged down the cathedral steps and dumped on the cobbles of the churchyard below then herded onto the street.

The last of the occupiers chained himself to a tree. It took over an hour to remove him. A last stand had been made but justice had not, in the eyes of many, been done. The Church, by either instructing or allowing police to remove peaceful worshippers from a supposed sanctuary, had done itself no favours. Occupiers, however, were not down-hearted. “You can’t evict an idea” has been joined by a new catchphrase – “this is only the end of the beginning”.

While the kitchen shelf clamberers were the heroes of the moment, both women and men are the heroes of the movement. Tammy, Kai, Nafeesa and many other less visible women will use the skills learned in the OLSX encampment and honed during the long night of eviction to continue their fight for social, economic and environmental justice into the future, whatever incarnation Occupy takes next.

I wrote this blog for  Reuters ‘Trustlaw’ Foundation

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End of This Line… or, from Pirates to Nomads

Occupy LSX was always a raggedy, unstable vessel but she had a fantastic crew and was sailing through beautiful waters. Over time, one by one, crew members lowered themselves into little dinghies and onto rafts and paddled away to enticing islands and shorelines. Some rested there, others built new villages or reinvigorated tired communities, all the while spreading the Occupy message about creating a better world. Meanwhile, some of us remained on board OLSX, to read the maps and mop the decks and to fly the Occupy London flag.

Time passed. Much good work was done as we sailed through increasingly choppy seas. Many rafts were built and launched by passionate and inspirational voyagers. Unfortunately this meant that there were fewer and fewer active members of crew on board the flagship. Those residing on board but contributing little began to raid the stores and vomit on the decks. Stowaways clambered from the holds and ran riot over the rigging. Amidst mutiny the ship was boarded by pirates who pissed on the navigation charts.

Remaining true-crew members made several valiant efforts to get back on course but these failed. On a few occasions it was suggested that the Occupy flag be lowered, rolled up and paddled away to the island of Finsbury, allowing the pirates to raise their own skull and crossbones. A flurry of excitement amongst like-minded souls came to little and all movements towards the flagpole were repelled.

OLSX has been a pirate ship in disguise for the last couple of weeks. Those guarding the ship’s bounty – the jewels, the scrolls, the finest rum – have been sitting atop the treasure chest clinging to each other while beating off attacks from drunks and thieves. Repeatedly the attackers have turned on each other, leaving the guardians to develop their gallows’ humour. Meanwhile, one or two passengers discuss philosophy on the upper deck, absurdly oblivious to the uproar below.

It’s been fun but it can’t go on.

***

After today’s rejection of the OLSX court appeals, I’d like to see Occupy London make a strategic choice to remove itself from St Paul’s, with dignity. The OLSX camp has served the purpose of getting the Occupy message out and it is time to move on to mobile and fluid variations of Occupy, with Finsbury Square eco-village as our low-key base for now.

St Paul’s has been our womb. Being born is scary, we’ll be vulnerable… but I have every faith that we’ll survive and grow strong. We need to learn to walk before May Day, when we’ll be setting off on a two-month stroll around the boroughs of London, connecting with neighbourhoods and sharing experiences with other members of the disenfranchised 99%… who will perhaps be inspired to rise up and Occupy in the future.

It may be that we leave behind at St Paul’s a political statement – people with nowhere to go and no purpose, camping out and hungry in the shadow of our grandest church next to one of the centres of world finance. Perhaps the City, the Church, charities and religious groups would like to take over from Occupy in providing for those people. We could leave behind a small crew of volunteers to act as interim welfare workers and to explain that this is no longer a political protest but a refugee camp.


Nomads often settle in one spot for a season to make use of what resources are there at that time. We’ve had our winter at St Paul’s. We made use of the media, of public curiosity and support, of the fact that members of the church were on our side. Nomads don’t drain resources to the point where they’ll never regrow. The season is done, it’s time to pack up and roam over new pastures, in readiness for the abundance of Spring. March is just days away. Green shoots are sprouting.

Occupy 2.0 is happening already. Occupy 2.0 is targeting multinational corporations, taking General Assemblies on tour, teaching Citizenship classes, making music at Occupation Records, providing quality alternative media with The Occupied Times, empowering children through Rockupy, connecting with communities on the Boroughs’ Walk… Occupy will continue to challenge the privatisation of public space, the restriction of the right to protest, shady lobbying, the undemocratic nature of the City of London and injustices wherever we find them. We have tricks up our sleeves and will leave no stone unturned. Come and join us!

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Occupy Sheffield

STOP PRESS!! Occupy Sheffield has decided to strategically withdraw from the Cathedral encampment this weekend. It is felt that the camp has done its job to raise Occupy issues in Sheffield; energy will now be directed towards new Occupy projects. The Citadel of Hope remains.

This is my report from the National Occupy Gathering in Sheffield (written for The Occupied Times):

Friday night, the Sheffield encampment, in the cathedral grounds. A pink-haired deacon facilitates the pre-conference General Assembly. For those from well-organised but somewhat lacking-in-home-comforts Occupy LSX, it feels like entering Granny’s house. Tassled rugs, sofas, sideboards and chairs with all four legs intact. Outside, a stack of seasoned logs beside a brazier and a tiny field kitchen. Halfway through the GA plates of steaming stew are passed through the heavily blanketed doorway.

Miraculous food, materialised and devoured, is followed by comic entertainment from Madame Zucchini and her performing vegetables. We provide the shark music, Jaws is recast as Capitalism, Chief Brody is a potato (or possibly a turnip). Capitalism is overthrown after a brief tussle between the vegetables. Light relief over, we return to talk of evictions, agendas, the Christian response to Occupy, our visions of and fears for the future.

Saturday, it’s over to the Citadel of Hope. A crumbling facade in the city centre. Bear, previously of LSX Tranquillity crew, now the Citadel’s caretaker, is sweeping the front doorstep and welcomes us in. A dark entrance hall lit with low-energy LED lights leads into a cavernous room with exposed brickwork and a mildly musty air. In one corner techies huddle around computers. Wires snake across the broken floors. A smartphone taped to a decaying pillar acts as a wifi hub, a projector screen displays the day’s agenda, in an ante-room walls are being built around a toilet. The kettle’s on in the kitchen.

Mugs of tea in hand we mount concrete stairs, step unexpectedly out of the gloom into a bright and airy amphitheatre with wooden floors, enormous windows and an imposing stage with lush velvet curtains. Half chapel and half theatre, shabbily grandiose, this is the perfect venue for a national gathering of Occupiers.

Strategy, sustainability, non-violence, local issues, global solidarity, online platforms, community, networks, outreach… these are the words that repeatedly echo around the hall. Downstairs, talks on co-operatives and chaos theory compete for our attention.

In the afternoon we rally outside Sheffield Town Hall then proceed to the Occupy camp for a ‘tea, cake and kindness’ outreach event. Consideration of tax injustice and the bonkers banking system weaves between plans for an Occupy ‘caravan’ and an eco-village. In the evening we repair to the most excellent Dove and Rainbow pub for a gig night featuring Occupy favourites Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly.

Sunday morning sees yawning Occupiers convening over coffee and laptops while cocooned still in their sleeping bags on the semi-industrial ground floor of the Citadel. The agenda is bursting with subjects we want to discuss but just chatting, getting to know one another, swapping contact details and sharing experiences is where we’re at. The business of the day is shuffled, re-prioritised. We’d need a week to fit it all in. A week-long summer gathering is suggested. We look forwards to spending time together in fields, in sunshine, without the fifteen layers of clothing necessary to camp out through a British winter. Earthian entertains us with a workshop on tent-monster creation. Gradually we realise the potential to be had once the Occupy camps are all linked up online and through personal contacts. Our skill set is immense. The Occupy hive mind knows so much already, from plumbing to law, land registry to permaculture, economic theory to outside catering, computer programming, survival techniques, therapeutic techniques and how to open a squat. All that and we’re learning faster than a high-speed train.

The Citadel of Hope used to be a Salvation Army building. Elderly visitors to the conference remember its heyday and are overcome with emotion, so pleased are they to see the space back in use after years of neglect. The Sheffield Occupiers are in touch with the building’s owners regarding the possibility of a negotiated stay. On Sunday evening The Invisible Circus treats us to a highly professional cabaret show in the round. We leave feeling, as one tired but exhilarated London Occupier declared, “…that we’d do anything for these other Occupiers, now we know they too feel this intoxicating hope.”

 

 

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OccStock & the Snow

A creative collective of Occupy supporters chose February 4th to bring their diverse talents to St Paul’s Churchyard. The event was billed as ‘OccStock’, a thankyou to the hardy Occupiers as well as a chance to showcase local artists and bring diverse communities together. Co-ordinator Gee knew it would be cold but didn’t expect to be rewarded for his gift of entertainment with the most magical stage-set imaginable – a cathedral and an encampment blanketed in snow.

Punks with snow-frosted pink mohawks like candy cupcakes danced beside joyous lawyers and a bewildered Kosovan intent on explaining that “It snows one metre in my country, goes to minus twenty degrees, this is nothing!”

It wasn’t nothing to the rest of us. We danced on a snow-covered artificial lawn laid over the Churchyard cobbles. Snowballs were thrown. Snowmen and snow-women – and snowAnonymous characters – were built and given masks. Previously careworn activists gambolled about like chunky children, dressed in thirteen layers of thermals.

Musicians and poets mingled with Occupiers and curious city folk between sets. Lexi James Jr, Andy Secret, Robbing Eden , Smoky Love and Anna Savage gave it their all beneath a dressed-up gazebo, glad to share the bone-chill and exuberance of the crowd. The Common headlined with rhythms that made grooving imperative. For a finale Savannah Stone performed a heart-felt poem, confessing after whoops and applause that she’d been “…so scared to do this”. The whoops and applause amplified as Savannah stepped off the makeshift stage into the arms of proud friends.

Music over, hot chocolate was served and tents were shaken to prevent them buckling beneath the weight of the snow. Emergency space-blankets were handed out and the Occupy LSX Tent City University – newly lined and carpeted to provide a bedouin-style ‘winterised’ space – took on its night-time character as a dormitory for those with nowhere else to go.

St Paul’s Churchyard lived this night. Public space was reclaimed – by Occupy, by artists, by the snow which blurs boundaries between highway and pavement, city land and churchyard. As those behind OccStock say “We can start to change society for the better by reclaiming our time, space and freedom bit by bit and step by step.” As we shovelled snow at midnight, the smiles spoke to that.

https://vimeo.com/36284765

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