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.”