Monthly Archives: March 2012

Post-LSX

Sometimes you don’t realise how hard something is until it’s over. A battle. Parenthood. Divorce. That kind of thing. Camping all through the winter in the city, unexpectedly, with strangers, with increasing numbers of vulnerable people demanding that you care and attend to them (whether you like it or not). Unexpected. Attacks out of the blue, barbs of abuse piercing deep in moments of exhaustion, aimed by agents provocateurs, perhaps, or egoists; people with axes to grind or chips on their shoulders, or hidden agendas or drug habits or histories of abuse or fragile mental health. People with anger-management issues shouting at cops and cops circling ever closer, peering into your tent, your little nylon bag of precious private space. Chewed up in the back of a bin lorry.

I loved camping on the pavement between the Cathedral and the Stock Exchange, on land straddling sacred churchyard and public highway… I did. I was in my element, in the elements. Tent tied to sandbags, until someone slashed the guy-ropes during a storm and the meditation tent was slashed too, collapsed and landed on a seventy-one-year-old poet. Everything got wet. When the temperature dropped into the minuses then the bone-cold set in and sometimes it was like a fever. I fell in the snow and it hasn’t stopped hurting yet.

The snow was beautiful. The snow weighed heavy on the tents and our drinking water fountain froze and I was carrying water butts filled at nearby businesses at gone midnight. It was beautiful and it was hard.

In the first week post-eviction I couldn’t talk about it, when I tried to talk about it I gulped for air and my mind skittered away like a pebble on ice. I couldn’t talk about it. Lump in throat, tear in eye… “Are you glad it’s over?” and “Yes I am, it had to end”, so why am I sobbing? Why does Finsbury Square feel more like home than my own home?

It’s not the end, just the beginning of what really matters, but it’s the end of that shanty town of lost souls and I poured so much of my soul into that shadowed stretch of cobbles, bits of me are left behind, tougher to prise off the pavement than the chewing gum deposited by… who spits chewing gum onto the churchyard slabs?

Mind skittering off. I can’t really talk about St Paul’s. Best times, worst times. Through it all the bells, those bells, marking time and the days and nights counting down to eviction and the treadmill of court proceedings, adrenaline highs going nowhere, fight or flight screwing insides tight. Tents chewed up in bin lorries. Shanty town community. Gallows humour. Dysfunctional but less dysfunctional than what we ordinarily consider normal. If normal is don’t talk to anyone in the street or on the tube, don’t talk to your neighbours, stick your headphones in so no one disturbs you, keep the windows up in your car, when you get home bolt the door and put the chain on and turn the TV up and insulate everything and insulate yourself and don’t hear anything, don’t listen to anyone, don’t care don’t care don’t care……

I cared too much and I didn’t cry and now the dam is cracking and now I am crying.

It’s just the beginning, okay…?

At the moment it feels like swimming upstream against a fast flowing river after tumbling from the top of a waterfall and getting tangled in river-weed. Hard to catch breath, little headway being made but not going under.

We haven’t forgotten what we’re fighting for.

Real democracy, justice, accountability. An end to tax havens, an end to secret deals in the corridors of power. Put the brakes on the corporate takeover of our world. Expose corruption. Re-prioritise at a global level. People and planet before profit. Build networks of collaborative, co-operative communities.

Dust off our knees, pull the river-weed out of our hair, regroup and get on with it. Occupy minds, Occupy streets, Occupy education, Occupy the media, Occupy debate.

Occupy is a movement of superheroes. Everyone can be an Occupy superhero. Occupy.

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What’s Occupy about, again?

DISCLAIMER: what follows is just one person’s opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of other Occupiers!

One of the things that attracted me to Occupy is the fact that it is not a ‘single-issue’ campaign. It not only acknowledges the interconnections between issues but actively uncovers, investigates and highlights them. I come from an environmentalist perspective… it was only a year or so ago that I realised how impossible it is to focus purely on the natural world when the attacks on it are rooted in economic and political machinations. Now I want to delve deeper into untangling the unholy mess we’ve made and while economics is a big part of the picture, it isn’t the only part.

Lobbying of politicians by big business; power-mongering by the 1%; gambling and game-playing by financiers; rapacious consumption and correlating ecological destruction; muzzling and oppression of the majority; warping of democracy; secrecy and lies in the corridors of power; war for profit… all these are pieces of the rather nasty jigsaw-puzzle picture of our world.

I do believe that Occupy should focus on causes rather symptoms – I’d rather try to bring down the government than march against the Welfare Reform Bill or house an alcoholic – but I see the root cause of the current unjust systems as being something deeper than the government or our economic house of cards. The bottom line is a screwed up value system that puts profit before people, before planet. Our priorities are all wrong, all over the world. Almost. There are still tribal cultures that favour collaboration over competition and we should emulate them.

I believe that Occupy should be pointing out real-life, practical alternatives to the exploitative and destructive groove that many of us are stuck in. Transition towns, co-operative networks, eco-villages, permaculture projects, guerilla gardening, indymedia, Move-Your-Money and money-free experiments (freecycle, LETS etc) are all occurring already. Some are new, some not. Occupy doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel but can shine a light on these initiatives and use them to demonstrate that our desire to live in a world of social and economic justice and environmental sustainability is not a ridiculous fantasy.

If there was global political will to make the world a better place, it could be done. Politicians must be made to serve the people or be cast aside (true democracy). The 1% need to be taught how to share and if they won’t be taught they must be forced (end tax havens and tax avoidance). Those at the head of giant companies and financial institutions must be held accountable for their actions (investigate, name-and-shame, boycott, blockade, occupy). Lobbying, control of the media and funding of research/think-tanks must be transparent (do it all again).

There’s so much for Occupy to do. It’s all inextricably connected and while it doesn’t form a neat sound-bite, I’ve found that it isn’t difficult to explain to anyone willing to spend five minutes with me. Usually, after a minute, they’ve begun to join in, to explain it to me. We the 99% are not stupid, just tired from struggling against injustice. The recent ‘austerity measures’ have kicked many into awareness. Occupy has added a dash of hope that things can change, that it is possible to challenge the powerful.

We need to keep that up. Spread hope, educate, listen, practice and highlight alternatives to the current system, shame and inflict pain on the powerful, tread lightly on the earth and tend our global networks. Revolutionise banking, okay. But we’re bigger than that and we can do more.

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Robert Montgomery’s Poems

Here’s an interview I did on the subject of some wonderful pieces of poetic art by Robert Montgomery, who ‘works in a poetic and melancholic post-situationist tradition’. Check his website for pictures of the poems in full billboard glory and simplicity. These poems have been printed, with the poet’s permission, in the Occupied Times this week.

I was interviewed by Brian Leli, an American writer and photojournalist.

BL: Can you please tell me your reactions to the three poems and the three issues they touch on?

Poem One:
IT TURNED OUT THIS WAY COS YOU DREAMED IT THIS WAY, COS ALL YOU COULD DREAM IS WHAT YOU SAW IN MAGAZINES, AND THIS IS HOW IT FEELS TO WIN, AND HAVE EVERYTHING, ALL THE LUXURY AND POWER YOU EVER WANTED AND STILL FEEL DISGUSTED. RONALD REAGAN BLUES / A MILLION DOLLAR HOUSE IN L.A. / 50 FUCKING WHITE ANAEMIC STARS MY DARLING AND ALL THE BLOOD AND DUST OF THE WORLD ON YOUR HANDS

Me: This is the world I rejected twenty-two years ago when I stepped off the conveyor belt. I don’t think I had the wisdom at the age of twenty to know exactly what I was doing but my intuition or fate or the stars or perhaps my genetic inheritance guided me towards an alternative way of being. I ‘dropped out’. Spent the intervening years gaining the experience, knowledge and skills necessary to drop back in to the heart of the beast now. I don’t hate the people who have it all or those who want it all. I certainly don’t envy them. I’d like to remove their blinkers and walk them to a gentler, stronger, more joyous place.

Poem Two:
THERE ARE WOODEN HOUSES ON LAND IN FAR-AWAY PLACES THAT DON’T COST MUCH MONEY, AND STRINGS OF LIGHTS THAT MAKE PATHS TO THEM GENTLY, AND DO NOT TURN OFF THE STARS. AND 100 BLACK FLAGS OF ANARCHISTS HELD UP AT NIGHT 100 MILES APART / 10,000 MILES OF FLAGS AND A ROW OF TENTS IN FRONT OF THE CATHEDRAL GUARD OUR FUTURE. THERE WILL BE A QUICK SICKNESS, THE KIND THAT KILLS THE BODY BEFORE THE MIND KNOWS THEN THERE WILL BE A SLOW RISING

Me: The first sentence sends a tingle up my spine and makes the hairs on my arms stand on end because it speaks my truth. These places exist not just on the other side of the world but in the quieter, wilder, hidden places of Britain too. The ‘authorities’ try to squash them because they represent freedom from the rat-race that binds us into lonely dis-satisfaction. Simplicity is dangerous for those in power. How will they continue to squeeze us for their own benefit if we don’t need them or desire to be them, if we’re happy in our wooden, fairy-lit shacks in our communities? Ah… yes… that’s why they’re so afraid of Occupy. We’re re-learning the value of community, co-operation, resourcefulness. We’re rejecting their media, their feel-bad advertising. We’re over-throwing their system right in front of their noses for a change, rather than hiding ourselves in backwaters for fear of reprisal.

Poem Three:
BECAUSE YOU HAD TO GIVE NAMES TO EVERYTHING YOU FOUND, AND MAKE LOGOS FOR BAD IDEAS, AND CHANGE YOUR CAR EVERY TWO YEARS AND WAKE UP EARLY FOR CONFERENCE CALLS, AND IT TURNED OUT TO BE NO PROGRESS AT ALL / JUST A SHADOW FESTIVAL / BECAUSE OF THAT YOU WILL HAVE TO LEARN TO LOOK AT THE SKY AGAIN, YOU WILL HAVE TO LEARN TO EAT FOOD THAT GROWS WHERE YOU LIVE AGAIN, YOU WILL HAVE TO LEARN TO TOUCH WHAT YOU MAKE

Me: Yes. It’s that simple.

BL: Do you think it’s important to see pieces like this going up in public spaces, particularly now, when the tents themselves are coming down?

Me: Yes. Reclaiming public space, not just with tents – although tents are wonderfully symbolic as well as practical – is vital. Art, music, poetry, performance, debate, conversation… these are the things that bring us together, that lead us out of our isolation, that allow us – the 99% – to connect, to share and eventually, to mobilise. Every attempt to stimulate conversation regarding how we live now and how we could do it better is valuable.

BL: To the onlooker who’s perhaps not particularly concerned with the issues referenced, what do you think the potential impact is when stumbling across the messages on the billboards, or through a protest camp for that matter?

Me: Some will be too entrenched in the current system, or too ground down by it, to even see the poetry or the tents. Others will be baffled. They’ll ask “What’s it all about?” and “Why aren’t these people also ground down, why aren’t they busy struggling to fend off insolvency? Where do they get the time or energy to play with words and canvas?” Asking questions is the beginning. Questioning not just the artists and campers but one’s own self, the neighbours, the woman sat beside you on the bus or in the laundrette. “What’s it all about, these scruffy tents appearing everywhere? They want to change the world? Hah! What do they know? Do they know about my family’s problems, our debts, our poor treatment at the hands of an over-stretched NHS? They want to change the world? Well, hah, they’re not the only ones!” Eventually, I hope – oh how I hope – that these messages will help humans to realise we’re all on the same side and that we can change our world for the better if we act together.

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