In London on Saturday there was an Occupy street party, along with a call to bang pots and pans in a global cacerolazo; we were invited to march and make a big noise and celebrate our birthday.
It’s a year ago that we Occupied the land between the London Stock Exchange and St Paul’s Cathedral. It was an incredible experience, it mattered, it demonstrated viscerally and loudly and at times smell-ily that it is possible to get away with doing outrageous, Establishment-rattling things. But how can we ‘celebrate’ the aniversary of a camp that is no longer there? How can we celebrate, when our politicians are intent on tightening the screws that keep us down; when the banks and corporations have given up not one jot of power; when global climate-saving initiatives have run aground and natural resources are being plundered in ever more devastating ways and the rich keep getting richer while Greece, Portugal and Spain crack apart under the economic strain, and drones continue to kill children in far off phony wars; when there’s injustice, inequality and short-termism steeped in greed… everywhere? Celebrate? Ha!
I can’t get excited about the oh-so-cerebral upcoming New Putney Debates, or the October 20 TUC march, or about symbolic tents and protest-as-spectacle. The ‘St Paul’s Four’ made a stab at articulating their anger at the Establishment but I think we need to eschew media stunts now, get our heads down and concentrate on accruing practical skills, knowledge and wisdom, while extending our networks. My feeling is it’s time for rolling up our sleeves, getting fit and practising alternative ways of organising and living, every single day. We should be creating real life opportunities to live equitably and sustainably, while challenging the current system in every which way we can.
I’m not downhearted, because in the cracks and creaking seams of society, I see people doing exactly that.
In North London, Friern Barnet library – a victim of Tory cuts – has been repossessed by a coalition of squatters, Occupy activists and locals. They’ve recently been given a stay of execution by the courts. Occupiers evicted from the St Paul’s and Finsbury Square camps have recently opened The Hobo Hilton – a Central London squat that aims to provide a creative hub for revolutionaries, as well as providing shelter and drawing attention to homelessness. The squatted Cuts Cafe in Blackfriars is a new radical social centre with the byline “building our own future”; it has a full programme of workshops aimed at building resistance and exploring “the real alternatives to austerity”. The Diggers2012 remain dug-in at Runnymede; their eco village, sited in disused woodland, is almost four months old. Despite multiple eviction threats, the Diggers are peacefully building their community and tending the land. Meanwhile, Radical Routes continues to support and train those who choose to challenge the capitalist system whilst demonstrating the effectiveness of consensus decision-making and cooperative living.
At Hinkley Point in Somerset, anti-nuclear campaigners squatted common land, set up a camp, built a barn, connected with Bridgwater residents during a town centre rally, engaged local, national and independent media, dodged G4S security and guard dogs, cut and scaled fences and succeeded in trespassing en masse on the proposed site of a new nuclear power plant. The entire four-day action was planned, organised and enacted by a leaderless network of affinity groups, each bringing different skills and tactics which proved beautifully complementary and – for the police – bafflingly unpredictable.
Many of the young and novice activists who were drawn to Occupy seem unaware that we’ve been doing these things for years. Graeber’s 2002 review of anti-globalisation activism is instructive. In some ways it makes me feel – fuck, yeah, we knew all this ten years ago, so why are we still trying to reinvent the wheel and frequently doing it less successfully than we were then? But, it is simultaneously inspiring and shows that we don’t give up. ‘Occupy’ is part of a much bigger movement – historically, as well as geographically. In 1992 a friend joined environmentalists walking from Manchester to London to campaign at the Rio Earth Summit. She thought the government might be ready to tackle the spectre of climate change, invest in renewable energy and end the arms trade. The Berlin wall had come down and everything seemed possible. The activists on that march might’ve had their absurd optimism dashed, again and again over the last twenty years, but they haven’t given up, as this blog published by the Occupied Times demonstrates. The author is still fighting eco-crime and capitalist corruption, latterly through the Ban the Burn campaign.
I recently realised that at every significant protest, there’s at least one Greenham Common woman with more experience of direct action than everyone else put together. And that we should probably listen to these women more than we do.
We’ve achieved a few things over the last year. We’ve raised awareness and “changed the terms of the debate” (I seem to have heard that phrase a lot). We’ve been vindicated: the LIBOR scandal, Leveson Enquiry and a host of other dirty dealings – perpetrated by banks, politicians, corporations, media magnates, millionaire CEOs, armies and the police – have been uncovered.
In Canada, students and occupiers fought against tuition hikes – and won. The people of Iceland jailed their thieving bankers. In Spain, Portugal and Greece, anti-austerity movements are verging on uprisings which no European politician or bank can ignore. In the US, debt strikes and resistance to home foreclosures see citizens taking control back from the banks.
Ok… so we can make a difference. But we need to really, really mean it. That means being prepared to give up the capitalist trappings we’re still clinging on to, ditching comfort and ego, accepting diversity of tactics within a broad movement for radical change, and taking a leap of faith into the unformed ‘other world’ that we believe is possible.
Ready steady go.