Tag Archives: co-operatives

The Green Gathering: a festival beyond hedonism | STIR mag

The Green Gathering: 31 July-3 August 2014, Chepstow

I’m helping to organise The Green Gathering this year.

Why put energy into a festival – something temporary, trivial and hedonistic? Well, because… festivals can be so much more. They can be literally transformative; opening eyes, changing lives. I know people who’ve packed in their unsatisfying, exploitative jobs after a festival; at the Northern Green Gathering, a friend was inspired to set up a radical housing co-operative which is going strong over a decade later. Festivals give us space to experiment with alternative forms of community, energy and infrastructure. They’re also good practice for setting up activist camps – festival people tend to know how to set up a kitchen and compost loos in a field, how to pitch a marquee and keep a campfire going. ‘Networking’ sounds too corporate, ‘tribal gathering’ too hippy-dippy… but having a meeting of minds, rediscovering old friends and making new ones, exchanging contact details and sharing information while drinking scrumpy cider, bouncing about to a band or warming up in a wood-fired sauna – this is the joy of festival, and it has repercussions beyond festival.

Here’s a blog, published a few days ago by STIR magazine (well worth a read and subscription), explaining why The Green Gathering is the festival I’ve chosen to put my life and soul into this year.

Beyond Hedonism

More than three decades after the first Green Gathering was held on Glastonbury’s Worthy Farm, this solar and wind powered festival has forged alliances with the Off Grid College – a free education initiative organised by young thinkers and activists involved with the latest wave of eco-festivals. Radical Routes, a network of housing and workers’ co-operatives, will be hosting a Co-operators’ Camp alongside the College.

The Green Gathering is held annually over the first weekend in August, on a wooded former estate near Chepstow, on the South Wales border just 18 miles from Bristol. An award-winning, family friendly camping event, it combines festival entertainment with speakers, skillshares and networking. Themes of community resilience and creative alternatives to both consumerism and austerity pepper the programme.

Following in the footsteps of the Occupy movement’s Tent City University, the Off Grid College takes education out of stuffy establishment buildings into open spaces. As students rail against fee increases and the marketisation of universities, free education becomes ever more radical – and popular. Providing skills and knowledge in a festival environment is a winner. The Green Gathering has always hosted craft and permaculture workshops, debates with key Green speakers and campaign group info-exchange, and will now be hosting Off Grid College courses in low impact development, wild food foraging and renewable techno-wizardry too.

Kaplick b&wDespite the lurid woes of the Co-operative Bank, co-operatives continue to capture the imagination of students, activists and workers across the UK. According to the United Nations, co-ops “improve livelihoods and strengthen the economy”, and provide “a sustainable business model for youth…” . In light of this, The Green Gathering has invited Radical Routes to co-ordinate a Co-ops’ Camp where festival-goers can learn how to enjoy “…housing without landlords, work without bosses, organising without hierarchy and taking financial control away from the banks”.

With spectacular views across the Severn Estuary and Wye Valley, spacious camping fields, eclectic music, solar cinema, organic gardens and ethical markets, The Green Gathering bills itself as a festival “beyond hedonism – where performance meets permaculture”.

The live music line-up includes: Seize The Day, 3 Daft Monkeys, Tarantism, Nik Turner, Billy Rowan, Pagan Love Cult, Rory McLeod and Pikey Beatz. Conscious DJs Libby Lawes and Gary Clail will be on the decks; and there’ll be spoken word performances from John Hegley, Salena Godden, Pete The Temp, Marcus Moore and many more. Activists, campaigners, Green economists and writers – including Molly Scott Cato, Jeremy Leggett, Ewa Jasiewicz, Simon Fairlie and Jamie Kelsey Fry – will be on hand to debate, create and share experiences.

muddy kidThe Green Gathering at Chepstow is the latest incarnation in a long line of Green Gatherings stretching back to early Ecology Party meetings on the Glastonbury Festival site, the Molesworth Peace Camp of 1984, and the Big Green Gatherings of 1994-2007. The BGG grew into a five day event attended by 20,000 people before being unexpectedly cancelled in 2009 after local authorities threatened an injunction – many considered this to be a political act designed to cut funding to activist groups such as Climate Camp, which ran a ‘Last Chance Saloon’ bar at the festival. When police spy Mark Kennedy was outed, Big Green Gathering organisers realised he’d been embedded in the 2009 set-up crew; shocking to discover, and yet perhaps a sign that they were doing something right – that their festival genuinely was raising consciousness, transforming lives and making those in power nervous about what a skilled-up, collaborative bunch of co-creators could do.

In 2011, a Green Gathering phoenix rose, demonstrating the kind of resilience that activists know and need. A Green Gathering Charity was established in 2013, with a remit to promote education for sustainability.

The Green Gathering 2014 runs from Thursday 31st July-Sunday 3rd August.

Festival tickets cost £90 (adults), £50 (youth). Children under 11 years go free. Tickets are available through the GG website (www.greengathering.org.uk) or Bristol Ticket Shop (www.bristolticketshop.co.uk). Booking fees apply.

If you read this far, use this code – EWGG14 – to get a discount of £10 per ticket on up to 6 adult tickets bought through The Green Gathering ticket shop.

For more information about The Green Gathering: www.greengathing.org.uk

Like, Share, Follow: www.facebook.com/GreenGathering.org.uk and @Gathering_Green

email: info@greengathering.org.uk

Photos: I think these were taken by Stone (Kaplick Stage) and Stefan Handy (kid in puddle).

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A jigsaw with too many pieces

I haven’t written this month. Not because there’s nothing to say; more because there’s too much to say and too much to do.

Should I write about my trip to Cambodia? The torturous internal workings of Occupy in London? The disaster that is UK energy policy? New nuclear? Land issues? Asda boycott? The GM lobby? The wise ramblings of a young guy called Jonathan who lived in the OLSX camp at St Paul’s? Earthian‘s solo peace mission and his indomitable spirit? Cyprus and Greece? The brilliant stuff that’s going on in my sometimes-hometown of Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire?

I’m trying to rebalance a life that was consumed by Occupy. Going off to live at St Paul’s and throwing my all into the Occupied Times for a year fragmented the life I had before October 2011. Now I’m looking at those ragged but valuable fragments alongside the new bits and bobs I’ve picked up and I’m trying to work out how to fit it all together. There are more jigsaw pieces than there used to be and I can’t work out what picture I’m trying to make.

I want to write but perhaps that’s a cop out and I should be doing more? What to do? I’m drawn to working locally and getting my hands dirty. I’d like to play with soil and plant seeds – theoretically. Perhaps I would’ve done some gardening in actuality if there hadn’t been two feet of snow on my tiny garden this last fortnight. I also want to be up a tree preventing pointless road schemes with the Combe Haven Defenders, I want to be at Camp Frack 2 in Lancashire and the Extreme Energy Gathering in Manchester. I’d like to see how the Diggers are getting on at Runnymede and visit the Forest of Dean and Reclaim the Fields. I want to get involved in StopG8 and the Carnival against Capitalism but what about what’s happening on my doorstep?

Developers are seeking planning permission for a supermarket and hotel on a piece of wasteland on the edge of town, in an area called Mytholm. No store or hotel has stepped forward and said they want to use the site but the developers, who bought the land some time ago, want to gain these permissions in order to increase its value. There’s a lot of local opposition to the planning application (and some support). Rather than just saying no, some of those in opposition have come up with an alternative. They’ve formed a group called Incredible Edible Mytholm (part of the Incredible Edible Network that started just up the road in Todmorden and now has branches internationally) and they’ve dreamed up Growing Futures, a permaculture project involving food growing and selling, education, ecotourism and sustainability research. It’s already been dubbed a “mini Eden Project” but there will be a lot of hoops to jump through before the idea can translate into a funded, grounded, viable endeavour.

Never mind the town on my doorstep, the building I work in is undergoing major change at the moment. Hebden Bridge Hostel (where I work) used to be a concert hall adjoining the Birchcliffe Baptist Chapel. The Chapel became the secular Birchcliffe Centre in the 70’s and passed into the care of Pennine Heritage Trust. Part of it has been converted into a rabbit warren of tiny offices, studios, a Zen meditation space, a web designers’ lair and so on. There’s also a ‘zombie tunnel’ which runs from the old baptismal font to the basement, near the caretaker’s cupboard. After being dunked in the font, the newly baptised could preserve their modesty by sneaking down the tunnel to the basement changing rooms, rather than having to do a wet T-shirt walk through the congregation. There are no zombies in the tunnel, but it forms part of my in-case-of-zombie-apocalypse escape plan; I’m hoping it doesn’t get bricked up during the major refurbishments now underway in the listed parts of the building, which are being transformed into some kind of educational resource, historical archive and event venue. The most exciting thing about the revamp, from my perspective, is the overhaul of the archaic heating system which, in a leviathan contortion of belching pipes, links the hostel with the Birchcliffe Centre, leaking heat and spewing carbon in a very embarrassing fashion at every turn.

Experts have been consulted and funding bodies approached. I’m not privy to the meetings of the Pennine Heritage trustees but I’ve heard whispers about biomass boilers and solar panels. I’m not yet sure if they’re talking solar thermal or PV. I’m not impressed that if they go for the biomass boiler I’ll have to give up my shed, woodstore, rhubarb patch and lemon balm thicket. Most of all, I’m horrified by the thought that, in trying to go for an eco option, the trustees might be about to sign a contract with a company that ships in biomass from sterile commercial plantations that are displacing food production and/or biodiverse woodland. If anyone has solid information that could help me steer this energy transition in the right direction, please let me know (quickly).

Today I was going to join Treesponsibility on the hills above Todmorden but I didn’t because I was writing this. I probably should’ve gone. Treesponsibility doesn’t just plant trees; it’s an education and resilience project with involvement in The Source which, like Ban the Burn, aims to reduce flooding in the Calder Valley through restoration of the uplands. There’s so much good stuff going on around here. It’s inspiring and a bit overwhelming. Blackbark, for example, is a sustainable woodland management co-operative that produces wood for fuel on a very local scale. Pennine Community Power has a community wind turbine on the moors. People are also looking at micro-hydro. The industrial revolution was born around here and waterwheels were used to power mills and factories; it seems stupid not to use the local geography – steep valleys, where it rains a lot – as our ancestors did. Gibson Mill, which was converted into a visitor centre, cafe and venue in 2005,  is run entirely on renewable energy and is not connected to the mains grid.  Bridge Mill, the oldest building in town, houses about eight small businesses and is already partly converted to renewables (restored water mill, water-source heat pump and solar thermal), with an Archimedes-screw water turbine being added this year.

I like this Red Pepper piece: Power-to-Transform

I’m going to stop now.

I might’ve nearly completed a corner of the jigsaw of my life.

____

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Evict-iversary

It’s a year since we were evicted simultaneously from the OLSX camp outside St Paul’s and from the School of Ideas. We were ragged and emotional and exhausted then, and jubilant, and disoriented. We tried to list what we’d achieved while occupying and did our best to sound confident about future incarnations and plans, but there was genuine grief alongside some genuine relief that Occupy #1 was over. (Here’s Inka’s eviction film for a reminder of that night: http://vimeo.com/38035802)

Last week I saw my dad for the first time in two years. He gave a slight smile as he asked whether I thought Occupy had made a difference and I launched into an attempt to persuade him that it had. He cut me off to tell me that yes, it had made a difference. My dad’s no radical and yet he felt we’d said some things that needed saying and that we’d said them loud enough to be listened to… and that we’d been taken seriously and real things had changed as a result. Wow. I was so surprised to hear him say these things that I let him digress onto another subject without elaborating on exactly what he thought had changed as a result of those cold months of community in the churchyard.

Sometimes it seems that we’re chasing our tails, bogged down in internal squabbles, unable to drum up enough support for our actions to make an impact. Ten years ago millions marched against the Iraq war but Bush and Blair launched the bombs anyway; so even numbers, even mass global popular support, doesn’t necessarily win the day. But… ten or so years before that we won the poll tax battle and now… there are relatively small but significant battles being won again.

Here’s a video showing what happened with that squatted library – Friern Barnet. The ‘polite revolution’ – a collaboration between Occupy and the local community – eventually came good. However, Occupiers at Battersea Adventure Playground had less success. After camping in the snow they were summarily evicted; and very soon the quirky, much-loved playground had been destroyed.

Looking at the bigger picture, Shell has backed away from its Arctic oil drilling venture for now, Cumbria has rejected the idea that nuclear waste should be stored in stunning, geologically unstable Lake District countryside, and the fight against extreme and polluting energy – dash for gas, fracking, tarsands – and against free-for-all genetically-modified farming continues. Increasingly, it becomes apparent that corporations lie and spin, politicians are in their pockets and ‘science’ is twisted to suit the moneymen. Spinwatch blogs on the Mark Lynas affair illustrate this pretty well and EDF Energy’s cynical attempt to quash dissent via means of bankrupting ‘No Dash For Gas’ climate activists shows how low they’re prepared to go.

The usual “ok, that’s what you’re against but what are you for?” question can increasingly often be answered (it seems to me) with some combination of the words ‘community’, ‘co-operation’, ‘mutual aid’, ‘solidarity’, ‘self-organistion’, ‘real food/farming’, ‘local’, ‘permaculture’, ‘organic’ and ‘return of the commons’.

I’m leaning towards an anarchist, rather than socialist, approach… and yet there are things that I’d like to see organised by the state or government via the levy of fair taxes, and a decent National Health service is the first amongst these. It was good to hear a few days ago that the closure of the Accident & Emergency departments at Hammersmith, Charing Cross, Central Middlesex and Ealing Hospitals is to be halted, pending an independent review. As campaign group Save Our Hospitals points out, this temporary reprieve is just the beginning of a long battle.

I wonder whether we couldn’t sort out housing ourselves, without so much government input, if we weren’t strangled by bureaucracy. I’d like to see more co-ops, more co-housing and eco-housing projects that don’t have to get tied up for years jumping through inappropriate planning hoops. It should be made easier, not harder, to build low-impact dwellings on disused land, as the latter-day Diggers have done at Runnymede, and putting disused buildings to use as short-term housing stock or social centres should be seen as regeneration, not criminality. Self-Organised London instigated a whole programme of free educational and social events at Eileen House with the tagline “Reclaim Regeneration”; but within days a possession order was granted by a high court judge. The authorities would rather see neglected buildings filled with empty echoes than the buzz of community camaraderie.

Which brings me to the Occupy squat crew, who’re still going strong and building their own community – the relationships forged in tents have lasted through moves into, and evictions from, about a dozen disused buildings across London during the last eight months.

Meanwhile, Earthian’s journey seeking peace for the Middle East continues and I very much recommend his blog.

If you ever wonder what else ex-Occupiers are up to, the Occupy London fortnightly newsletter is worth a look; it contains a wealth of information and news on a wide range of subjects interesting to those of a radical or Occupy-friendly nature, and future editions can be emailed to you fortnightly if you sign up via the OL website (sign up box is in the right hand column).

For an even more massive range of news and opinions from around the world check the Occupy News Network which recently put out a shout for more material: “Local struggles to international ones, technology to revisiting the simple life, commentaries and first hand experience… all welcome. If there is a burning issue you wish to address, please bash it out and relieve the stress and we will look at publishing it.”

It’s four years since The Big Green Gathering was cancelled and bankrupted in an apparent attempt to stop grassroots organisers and climate activists enjoying themselves too much in the Mendip Hills. The smaller, phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes Green Gathering will be held on a stunning site just outside Chepstow on the weekend of 1-4 August. Last year Occupy made a big impact in the Speakers’ Forum at the Gathering and there was a great atmosphere throughout the festival all weekend long, but participant numbers were on the low side. I’m hoping this year will be the one that really recaptures the Big Green Gathering spirit. I’m helping look after the Green Gathering twitter account; if you think you might be interested, please follow @Gathering_Green 😉

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Changes

For the last year, The Occupied Times – a creative alternative to the mainstream media, born of the OccupyLSX camp – has been my priority. Writing, commissioning, editing, researching, plotting with co-editors and distributing newspapers has occupied me pretty much dusk to dawn and dawn to dusk.  The OT came before my festival and hostel work, pushed friends and family to the sidelines, seemed more important than cooking and sleeping and paltry things like that.

My sojourn in the OT newsroom exercised brain muscles I didn’t know I possessed. I gleefully inserted commas and deleted apostrophes, proof-reading deep into the wee hours as deadlines approached. In the early days, while living in the Occupy camp at St Paul’s, I’d take my netbook to an all-night cafe near Smithfield Market and type through the night, sustained by mugs of stewed tea.

I was drawn to the OT because I love writing and think information dissemination is one of the most vital aspects of a social movement, campaign or protest. I stayed because it was a great learning experience, because creating indymedia seemed a valid and valuable thing to spend my time doing, and because I liked the spiky, funny, rebellious OT crew. In the early days, diversity of perspective and opinion was lapped up and newcomers were encouraged to dive in at the deep end, to question everything and to throw half-formed ideas into the pot at every opportunity.

I quit the OT in the run-up to this Solstice / Apocalypse / Christmas. I’m appreciating the time I now have on my hands … although I can’t call it ‘free’ time, as the things I’ve neglected have greedily swallowed it up.

It has been an inspiring, educational, exhausting journey. In the end, I quit not to get my life back – although that’s a welcome side-effect – but because as time went on I found myself increasingly often on a different ‘page’ to the majority (but not all) of our informal collective. Agreeing-to-disagree could only carry us so far before the necessity of diverging became apparent.

I’m grieving, a little, for the people I worked and laughed and debated intensely with; and for the part of my identity that became tangled up with this OT thing I did. I’m saddened by what I perceive as a narrowing of focus within the OT, although I’ll still be eager to read the first 2013 issue when it comes out.

Everything changes.

This year I think I’ll be focusing on co-operatives, the commons, radical community initiatives, eco-literacy and energy choices and I’ll be trying to convince people of the necessity of moving away from cultures based on capitalism, growth and profit.

I’ll be supporting the Diggers2012, the Combe Haven Defenders road protest camp, Stop Hinkley‘s anti-nuclear blockades and Hebden Bridge’s Ban the Burn actions, and will continue to fight the disaster that is GM crops.

I’ll be helping to spread the word about Radical Routes (a network of co-operatives working towards radical social change) and will probably be involved in The Green Gathering (website under construction).

I’ll be fighting the corporatisation of communities, as people in Barnet, Totnes and Frome are doing (especially my own, in Hebden Bridge, where we’re being threatened with a supermarket); and I’ll be educating myself by listening to people like Kevin Anderson (Rob Hopkins of Transition Network interviewed Anderson and I was inspired).

I’ll continue my involvement with the Occupy movement, which I believe still has power and potential, particularly in its networks of people, affinity groups and communication channels, and in its hands-on experience of organising camps and providing for basic needs in adverse conditions (see Occupy Wall Street activists organising disaster relief after Hurricane Sandy).

I’ll still be writing, and encouraging others to write.

I’ll hopefully have time to grow some fruit and veg this year too, and if Iain Findlay (the OccuPied Piper) is successful with crowdfunding his Whirligro – a simple invention for growing food in urban environments –  I’ll have a bumper salad crop.

Here’s hoping for some breakthroughs in tackling social, economic and environmental injustice and violence this year.

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Diggers, Occupiers, Co-operators, Revolutionaries and a Rogue Council

One Barnet, Two Barnets, Broken Barnet & Barnet Library…

Barnet is in north London. I’ve never been there but I’ve been hearing a lot about it recently.

Initially, Barnet hit the indymedia because the (Tory) council closed the library there in April, despite pleas by local residents. The council’s plan was (and probably still is) to sell it off to developers. People involved in the Occupy movement got wind of this and went along to see if they could help the locals get their library back. In September the library was Occupied and re-opened. Soon 8000 donated books were lining the shelves and the library was restored to its function as a community hub.

The library has been hosting a wide range of events, from music gigs to book launches, French lessons to kids’ comic-making workshops. Some of those involved mounted a campaign to get the library recognised as a ‘Building of Local Architectural or Historic interest’ – their recent success will make it more difficult for developers to demolish the building, which will make buying it a less attractive proposition. Meanwhile, the council has launched a legal battle to enable it to re-close the library. Friern Barnet library supporters, local residents and Occupy activists will be back in court on December 18 for the next round in the legal battle.

[more info and petition to sign: fbpeopleslibrary.co.uk]

Having developed a taste for taking community matters into their own hands, on 6 December Barnet residents and their supporters stormed a council meeting and temporarily occupied Hendon town hall to protest and discuss the council’s decision to privatise local services in the ‘One Barnet’ sell-off programme, which would see services such as planning and environmental health outsourced to Capita plc (alleged tax-avoiding profiteer). The residents succeeding in derailing the hand-over meeting and are seeking a Judicial Review of the sell-off.

Two days after their ‘polite English revolution’ (it was noted that those involved in storming the town hall brandished statements not spears and apologised to the cops for troubling them), Barnet residents were amongst those who responded to UKUncut’s invitation to ‘Target Starbucks‘. Drawing a parallel between tax avoidance and cuts to public services, protestors swarmed into the Barnet branch of Starbucks and turned it into – you guessed it – a library for a day.

[more info at barneteye.blogspot.co.uk ; wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.co.uk ; occupylondon.org.uk (council meeting), occupylondon.org.uk (Starbucks), occupylondon.org.uk (library), occupynewsnetwork]

Diggers2012 are dug in for Winter Solstice and Christmas…

I visited the Diggers eco-village at Runnymede ten days ago. Alighting from a train at Egham station after dark, armed with a torch and directions copied from the website, I set off up Cooper’s Lane before diving into the woods onto a network of muddy but navigable paths. On my last visit I took the long route via the Magna Carta Memorial, so was a little disoriented as I approached from the opposite direction, but aided by a full moon shining through bare branches I found my way to the camp.

In the four months since I was last there, things have changed a lot.  The wooden-framed, earth-walled longhouse has been extended and further enclosed to shield from the elements a communal kitchen. A geodesic dome approximately 24ft across nestles into trees beyond the longhouse, providing an indoor meeting space. Solar panels (rescued from the St Paul’s Occupy camp) provide enough power for the Diggers to host film nights; a generous donation was recently used to buy a projector and screen, which turns the dome into a rustic cinema complete with cob-walled fireplace. Fresh spring-water was found just uphill from the camp and is now piped down into the village; when I was there Vinnie, a newish resident, was preparing to lag the pipes to prevent them freezing up in the expected cold snap. A hot water shower area with drainage was halfway built – to date, it had only produced tepid water but Vinnie assured me that the technical hitches would soon be overcome.

I slept in the dome and woke to a valley of frosted fields sparkling in winter sunlight. Residents of the eco-village have been busy constructing their own sleeping and living quarters over the last couple of months, each to their own design and timescale. Some are happy to reside in the tents they lived in at the St Paul’s Occupy camp last winter. Others have built yurts, tepees, lean-tos, benders and cabins. There’s a ramshackle treehouse and a few abandoned attempts to build shacks and sheds. What I loved most about the set-up was that almost everything used in the structures is natural or reclaimed material; and every structure is different.

No one seems to know if or when the Diggers will be evicted. I’d like to see them planting a forest garden in the springtime.

Finally; A BOOK REVIEW

The Co-operative Revolution: A Graphic Novel by Polyp 

Less a graphic novel, more a heavily-illustrated primer on the subject of co-operation, for grown-ups and kids over about 10. Simple language avoids condescending to the novice co-operator and the design / artwork is varied and attention-grabbing: cartoons, comic strips, photographs, handwritten notes, quotes and posters break up the text. A slim 70 pages, taken up mostly with pictures, but, somehow, packed with masses (and masses) of information. I’m sure I learnt – and possibly even retained – more about history and biology in an hour with this book than I did in a year at school.

Chapters on ‘Yesterday’, ‘Today’, ‘Always’ and ‘Tomorrow’ take readers on an unlikely journey. From the industrial revolution via the Luddites, Peterloo Massacre and Rochdale Pioneers, to the inside of a human cell and a critique of the pronouncements of Darwin and Dawkins… from birds and bees to snake-catchers, football teams and the collapse of the Argentinian economy… culminating in a fictitious trip to Mars in 2044. The Martian adventure is a little tame; for me, true tales of the courage and grit shown by our co-operative ancestors are way more impressive than this final flight of fancy, but kids and space enthusiasts may cheer to see the new-age Rochdale Pioneers make it off-planet.

Educational, not overtly political but subtly revolutionary, this inspiring ‘novel’ jumps off the page and lodges in your brain. It’s a reminder that ordinary people have been fighting powerful elites for a very long time, that some battles have been won, and that if we work together we have the strength to win more, for “altruistic groups beat selfish groups” or, as Polyp puts it, “good guys finish first”.

Author and artist Polyp is a co-operator and political cartoonist. His politics are a mash-up of “Bill Hicks, radical democracy, direct action, the co-operative movement, Karl Popper…”. He lives in Manchester, makes props for protests and is into tactical activism.

The Co-operative Revolution celebrates the 2012 UN Year of the Co-op. It can be read online for free or bought from its publishers New Internationalist (itself a non-profit co-operative) for £5.99.

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One Year

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.

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Occupy in The Idler

I wrote this in the Spring, shortly after OLSX eviction. I  just received the printed copy of The Idler (the ‘Utopia Issue’) which contains it. I was tired and emotional when I wrote it, stayed up overnight and poured it all out. I’d write it differently now. But it’s not too embarrassing.

 

As Occupiers pick themselves off the cobbles of St Paul’s Churchyard, dust their shabby knees and peel off the thirteen grimy layers of thermals, they wonder – ‘Was it worth it?’

The Occupy London Stock Exchange camp was a social experiment, a chance to keep that festival feeling all year round, a free lunch (one hundred and thirty four free lunches, breakfasts, dinners and nights in one of the most expensive locations in London, actually), an opportunity to be interviewed by journalists, students and student journalists twenty times a day and to squabble in public while a crowd echoed every word through a ‘human mic’. It was reality TV without the TV but despite its problems and absurdities, this encampment was beautiful, radical and establishment-rattling. It was mediaworthy for at least two months, quite an achievement in a speeded-up-media world. It was also a transformative experience for many involved and, on the whole, a great PR and awareness-raising opportunity grasped with both hands and squeezed, hard.

The Establishment was not only rattled, it was forced to engage with the protesters. The Church, the City of London Corporation, the Financial Services Authority, the Judiciary, the mainstream media and the police force had to recognise the existence of the encamped ruffians. The mantra ‘they don’t know what they want’ became tired after a while and even the Judge, the Bishop and the Telegraph admitted that relevant questions and valid points were being asked and raised.

While bankers’ bonuses and politicians’ cuts were the hot topics that helped to launch the movement in Britain, Occupy is not a single-issue or local campaign. The Arab Spring, Spanish Indignados’ movement and Occupy Wall Street set the scene for mobilisation in London.

Occupy considers the big picture and attacks causes of injustice rather than symptoms. Lobbying, gambling, rapacious consumption, oppression, corruption and warmongering… all these are pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that Occupy hopes to solve. Governments, corporations and financial institutions are in cahoots and the bottom line is a screwed up value system which puts profit before people and planet. Once the pieces begin to fit together it becomes apparent that change is needed on every level – personal, local, national and international – if justice and sustainability are to be achieved.

The ‘anti-capitalist’ label was immediately applied to the protesters and led to one of the first divisions within the Occupy London camp. ‘Are we or aren’t we anti-capitalist?’, eventually led to – ‘well, what is Capitalism?’ There are almost as many answers to that as there are people to ask but on the whole, those who identify with the anti-capitalist label describe capitalism as necessarily exploitative. They see it as a system in which fatcats callously use and abuse the labour of subordinates to further their own greed and gains. Those who identify themselves as capitalists, on the other hand, see it as a system which allows trade, social mobility, entrepreneurship and rewards for hard work. They compare it favourably with failed communist systems. They can’t see an alternative unless we go back to the stone-age.

Many self-avowed capitalists believe that in recent years capitalism has gone wrong and agree with the anti-capitalists that a tiny minority have raked in profits without the corresponding hard work and market success that could perhaps justify such riches. In a pure capitalist system, no bank or business would be ‘too big to fail’. If those in charge made mistakes, they’d lose money and power and status in just the same way that a small business owner would. When governments use taxpayers’ money in bail-outs, capitalism is transformed into ‘corporate socialism’. This is a system so ludicrous that it’s little wonder people are camping on cold city streets across Europe and the US. Put simply, this is a system whereby the wealthiest one percent, drunk on their own power and greed, crash economies leading to suffering for everyone except themselves… then insist we prop them up so that they can carry on carousing.

The row between Occupiers and St Paul’s Cathedral was a blessing, forcing Christians to reassess their religion. “What would Jesus do?” was possibly the best slogan of the campaign so far. ‘You can’t evict an idea’, ‘this is just the beginning’, ‘evict us and we multiply’ and ‘my tent for your bonus’ were also rather good. Jesus was a protester and St Paul a tentmaker; radical vicars made pilgrimages to the tents to make these points. An elderly Christian lady held an all-night vigil in support of the Occupiers on the steps of St Paul’s and was overwhelmed with offers of tea and blankets from the protesters. When Canon Giles Fraser resigned, a frenzied media reported that occupiers and members of the public were in tears on the cathedral steps. Further resignations followed, the reasons ’embarrassment’ and ‘untenable position’.

Quakers, remarkably swift to reach consensus on publicly supporting Occupy, took the moral and spiritual high ground and appropriated the steps of St Paul’s for their silent meetings. Wise elders to Occupy’s stroppy teenagers, the Quakers have not attempted to preach or instruct their younger comrades. Without judgement, without co-option efforts, Quakers sit peacefully beside occupiers, watching them grapple awkwardly with the consensus decision-making and horizontal organisation that works so smoothly in Friends’ Meeting Houses. The Socialist Workers also joined occupiers in the churchyard but being less graceful in their support were politely asked to tone it down a bit.

There was a wonderful acceptance of inexperience in the early weeks at the Occupy camps; of not knowing all the answers, of testing practices and learning from experts, of skill-sharing and swotting. The Tent City Library filled up with donated tomes. Hundreds of inspiring individuals – famous, infamous and unknown – held seminars and workshops in Tent City University. Vivienne Westwood, Alan Moore and Jesse Jackson each shared their experiences with the fledgling movement. Dr Rupert Read, philosopher of economics, recommended we put trust in credit unions (or our money under the bed), and convinced many to rethink their stance on stimulating the economy, since perpetual growth on a finite planet is an impossibility. Read suggested rationing to mitigate climate change, pointing out that barely anyone dares voice the prospect of rationing, for fear of the reaction of a population self-centred and short-termist enough to prefer climate chaos to forgoing the latest gadget or donut. On a lighter note, a certain idler delivered a sermon on the evils of usury, and a rousing rendition of Anarchy in the UK on a tin-can ukelele, while wearing a very fine, vintage-inspired suit. This went down very well.

As time went on and winter set in, the court case City-of-London-Corporation versus persons-unknown-of-a-tented-persuasion dragged on and the Occupy camp at St Paul’s became increasingly reminiscent of a medieval village. The eager students of the golden autumn gambolled back to their real lives and society’s rejects shambled in to take their places. George Barda, litigant-in-person defending the camp, suggested to the judge that poetic justice brought these sometimes challenging individuals into the heart of the financial district to tug at the CoL Corporation’s trouser cuffs. It was a real community under canvas at St Paul’s – simultaneously gritty and romantic – but as time went on it became increasingly dysfunctional.

While some were healed by the unconditional love practised in the camp, others took the piss. Mingling with the activists were twenty-first century brigands and highwaymen, seductive agents provocateurs and masked members of the English Defence League. Journalists stalked through the camp seeking melodrama, or dug into activists’ pasts, or embedded themselves in clammy tents for a fully immersive experience, all of us uncertain whether their aim was to understand or undermine. Through it all the church bells marked time, marked the days and nights counting down to eviction, marked the treadmill of legal proceedings. Each court date was a catalyst for adrenaline highs going nowhere, leading to outbursts of emotion, disturbance and disruption.

As in all medieval communities wizards and poets, seers, thieves, jesters and fools were abundant. Storybook caricatures came to life and played out their symbolism in a real life role-playing game. The fool in particular can get away with anything – but pays that back with his ability to relieve tension through timely application of humour. Some of the Occupy fools were fraudulent and refused to pay, causing others to flag up an unfortunate omission in the camp – half-rotten tomatoes were cheap and abundant at vegetable markets but there was no Occupy village green and more importantly, no stocks.

This autonomous London created on a narrow stretch of slab was Neil Gaiman-esque. Campers were woken by the human alarm clock of feet pounding pavements. They crawled from damp lairs to slip invisibly in and out of shopping centres, cafes and pubs, searching for toilets and showers, abandoned jam scones and hospitable wifi zones. Absurd characters slithered out of cracks in the city and set up home in pop-up tents, howled at the full moon hanging low over the Cathedral’s dome then disappeared leaving only obscure whiffs and new batches of conspiracy theory behind them.

Paranoia, politics and passion jostled for supremacy in the wee hours while daylight introduced a wider range of topics. Every hour of every day in every corner of the camp conversations were held about democracy, Syria, Iran, ethics, war, psychology, ecology, religion, revolution and, of course, the economy. Debate as spectator sport was practised, with human rings forming around conversationalists, a hush descending as everyone… listened. How special is that? “Is this what the Greeks, with their wreaths and sandals, did for evening entertainment?” an English boy asked and a Greek girl replied “It’s what the Greeks are doing right now”, reminding debaters that this isn’t just about St Paul’s, or London. These bubbling-ups, these mini-uprisings, are going on all around the world.

In cahoots with veteran squatters, direct action teams took control of empty buildings. One, owned by investment bankers UBS, became the Bank of Ideas, a post-apocalyptic labyrinth of interconnecting rooms, stairwells, accessible rooftops, derelict basements and underground carparks. Hippies of the Rainbow Tribe wandered the concrete corridors muttering “it’s like Doom, it’s just like Doom”. Others leapt like wild animals in an urban jungle from roof to roof, or organised secret Radiohead gigs and tea-parties in the cellars.

Occstock, a miniature one night festival held at St Paul’s in January, saw punks with snow-frosted pink mohawks dancing beside curious lawyers and bewildered Kosovans. Musicians and poets mingled with city folk, rough sleepers and anarchists. The cobbles were reclaimed for real that night – by Occupy, by artists, by the snow which blurred boundaries between highway and pavement, city land and churchyard. The OccStock message was “We can start to change society for the better by reclaiming our time, space and freedom bit by bit and step by step.” As occupiers shovelled snow at midnight, the smiles spoke to that.

A small Islington square was claimed as a wannabe eco-village while a nearby defunct Magistrates Court became Occupied Justice. Squatters’ rights were claimed at the court and a peace flag hoisted from the rooftop. The Occupy Veterans’ Tank of Ideas pulled into the walled carpark behind and a New Year Cabaret party was held. A theatrical performance saw protesters and party-goers thrown into the cells by a wicked ‘Establishment’ Judge, before reappearing on the grandiose staircase to juggle, dance and recite political poetry to a rapt crowd. This may have been the only cabaret in the world where the hecklers called “Process!” and “Mic Check!”. The grand finale – aerial acrobatics on ribbons strung from a stained-glass dome above the Hall – left the audience awestruck. While such acts of derring do could be discounted as distractions, revolutions tend to be grim and tiring, so a little light relief is difficult to begrudge. Wobbly-legged and vertiginous on the highest pinnacle of the Court’s roof, five storeys above neon-lit pavements and bathed in the lilac-pink of a winter dawn, Occupiers could be forgiven for thinking this was already a new beginning.

Shortly after, black-on-white A4 prints displaying a bold and simple message appeared amongst the tents in St Paul’s Churchyard. My Tent for your Bonus, the posters declared. Was it pure coincidence that the very next day Stephen Hester hit the headlines for turning down a £1 million Royal Bank of Scotland bonus? Perhaps he felt he was missing out on the zeitgeist and fancied a spot of winter camping. Four stalwarts of Occupy carried an erect sacrificial tent through the streets of London and with due ceremony presented it outside RBS headquarters. Despite the presence of mainstream journalists keen to record Hester’s reaction to this gift, the RBS boss chose not to accept it in person. Occupy London enjoyed the jest in the gesture but were keen to point out that the odd bonus rejection does not a new system make.

Idealists became a little disillusioned on discovering that the camps and squats reflected our broken society – especially the grubbier elements of it – all too accurately. Be the change you want to see, set an example, live the Utopian dream… well, it didn’t quite work out like that. As time went on there were squalid instances of addiction-fuelled theft and violence; there was infighting, and unseemly bickering over money, and passionate arguments over the ethics of using a petrol generator to power the revolution. Occupiers are human and imperfect and they bit off a little more than they could chew when they set up an all-inclusive, time-unlimited city centre shanty town.

Despite misgivings on the part of some Occupiers about the viability of longterm camps, a feisty battle was fought in court. Economist John Christianson claimed that the public debate stimulated by Occupy is absolutely necessary and must be given space to continue. Historical use of the area around St Paul’s for ‘folk moots’ was discussed. George Barda struggled to articulate the enormity of the dangers we face on a global scale – climate change, resource scarcity, mass poverty – and to impress on Mr Justice Lindblom the urgent importance of the Occupy message. Litigant Dan Ashman argued that conventional forms of protest have failed, making Occupy tactics vital. Pressing social need and the desperate importance of the Occupy work were the main thrusts of the camp’s defence. These should, the Occupy legal team stressed, weigh heavier in the scales of justice than petty health and safety qualms and the minor inconvenience of pedestrians. Tears were visible on more than one Occupiers’ cheek, as hands waved in sombre ‘jazz’ agreement.

The CoL Corporation appeared somewhat confused about what they were objecting to – was it the protesters, or the vulnerable and sometimes challenging people who’d found community in the encampment, or the physical tents? It was tents they were seeking to remove, enabling the protesters’ QC to raise a chuckle when he asked whether it was the tents getting drunk, making a noise and committing the crimes that the City complained of.

Four and a half months after the encampment hunkered down on the cobbled pathways around St Paul’s the eviction – inevitable despite the justness of the cause, despite references to Magna Carta rights, despite calls to take the case to the European Courts of Appeal and despite rather a lot of ‘Freeman’ bunkum – took place between midnight and dawn on February 28th. Shortly before midnight a flurry of tweets, texts, emails and bicycle-couriered messages conveyed that “…police are massing at London Wall with vans, riot gear… eviction is imminent!” Later tweets included ‘The protesters have built a fortress’; ‘They’re holding firm on the barricades’; ‘It’s not a fort it’s the kitchen shelves they’re standing on, ffs!’; and ‘kitchen shelf warriors arrested for obstruction’. A wonderful piece of youtube footage shows a protester known as Thor being yanked from the shelves by an officer of the court, ‘accidentally’ pulling a bailiff off with him.

With the shanty town gone and after a period of grief, supporters of the Occupy movement began to refocus. Capitalist, socialist, anarchist or none, most of these supporters agree that a tinkering with the current system – shoe-horning in a few extra regulations – is not enough. Radical overhaul is required and will only have a chance of being achieved if Occupiers join forces not only with unions, students and public sector workers but also with business owners and entrepreneurs. Taking a majority of the self-avowed capitalists on a journey into a better future… that must be the goal and it shouldn’t be too difficult when even city workers admit to being jaded by a system that awards 50% pay rises to executives who – like bankers, and unlike true entrepreneurs – take no real hit on the downside. Whether or not capitalism as a system is irretrievably broken, what we have is selfish cronyism which allows reward for failure.

One solution would be to oblige individuals and corporations to devote a significant proportion of their resources, energy and profits to serving their communities. Small businesses and individuals could ‘pay back’ on a local scale; the big boys would have to contribute on an international scale. The penalty for avoidance would be crippling taxation or, ultimately, criminalisation. The energy of the smartest people could be harnessed for social and environmental good and funds could be directed to where they’re really needed. In one version of utopia corporations and banks could be exonerated if they focussed their brainpower and resources on solving (instead of creating) global problems.

Trade is ancient and can be fun. Haggling in markets, creating a product that others appreciate and want to buy, exchanging labour for goods – these things are not inherently evil. If all unethical trading were outlawed we could enjoy the marketplace without destroying the social fabric and the natural world. How to ethically trade? Well, such ideas are not new, and yet they could gain credibility via the Occupy movement. Workers’ Co-operatives, Social Enterprises and Community Interest Companies have ethics enshrined in their constitutions to cover environmental and social considerations, workers’ rights and animal rights. Fairtrade regulators, the Soil Association, Radical Routes and other bodies already exist; these could be networked and expanded to oversee businesses and to alert a fearsome inspectorate (something like HMRC but with more teeth and fewer loopholes)should breaches of ethics be suspected. Fines large enough to act as a serious deterrent could be imposed for a first breach; subsequent breaches if proven to be intentional or due to negligence would result in forced company closure, with assets to be seized and put directly into redressing the problems caused.

If these ideas seem rather prescriptive, perhaps workers’ co-operatives could lead by example, using carrots rather than sticks to demonstrate that caring and trading are not mutually exclusive. Workers’ co-ops are an anomaly. They exist within the current system while embodying its antithesis. Maybe that’s why governments have ignored them. Despite a history dating back to the Industrial Revolution and the existence of over 2000 UK-based workers’ co-operatives, there is no legal definition of a co-op in Britain. Recognition may be about to increase dramatically, as 2012 is the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives.

The UN is pouring resources into promoting the co-operative model as an alternative means of doing business, while raising awareness of how invaluable co-operatives are in reducing poverty, generating employment, enhancing social integration, increasing sustainability and promoting democratic principles… while also strengthening economies.

We’re led to believe that competition is necessary in the market-place; that business is all about cut and thrust and cutting costs; that bosses boss and workers work, the former are worth far more than the latter and the consumers’ role is to get ripped off. Co-operatives challenge those assumptions by enabling people to organise their own housing, work, social centres or consumer collectives and thus to avoid exploitative landlords, bosses and retail experiences. They are set up by members to benefit members, who are all equal. Co-operative principles ensure responsibility to the wider community and the environment, emphasising the ‘people and planet before profit’ message at the heart of the Occupy movement.

A classic image: Protesters carrying banners demanding jobs. Perhaps some left school or college only to find themselves stumbling uncertainly into a no-hope future. Others face redundancy. Some are long-term unemployed, in benefit traps, increasingly unemployable. Jobs are the obvious answer but they’re not always what they’re cracked up to be. Exploitative McJobs aren’t what those marchers really want but “A living wage and meaningful, creative employment that I can be proud of” doesn’t fit neatly onto a placard.

Workers’ co-operatives are an alternative to oppression in the workplace. They are not an alternative to hard work and often require a degree of commitment and responsibility far higher than that demanded in more conventional employment. The payback comes in making ones own decisions, co-operating with likeminded people, being in a work environment that is not all about the money. In a workers’ co-op, the wellbeing of workers, communities and the environment is more important than chasing profit. Sales translate into fair wages and are used to improve both workers’ conditions and service provision for customers. Successful co-operatives often put money back into their communities or environmental projects, donate to charities or support other co-operatives.

The Occupy movement – with its emphasis on equality, transparency, democracy and sustainability – is completely in tune with radical co-operatives. Focussing less on humanity’s competitive nature and more on our co-operative tendencies would go a long way towards addressing some of the issues the Occupy movement is attempting to tackle. Already there are buds and branches of Occupy that could work within the co-operative model. A newspaper (The Occupied Times) and a record label (Occupation Records) may soon be joined by a publishing company and a radical lawyers co-operative. These are just a few examples of why Occupy is not simply a protest or a campaign – it’s a movement for radical change which – as it evolves – is generating practical alternatives to the exploitative and destructive groove that many of us are stuck in.

Transition town activities, eco-villages, permaculture projects, guerilla gardening, indymedia, alternative currencies, barter systems, freecycling and make-do-and-mend clubs 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.

There’s so much for Occupy to do. It’s all inextricably connected and while there’s not even a neat soundbite never mind a ready-rolled neat solution, the global movement has added a dash of hope to the grim spectre of an endless austerity age. Occupy insists that things can change, that it is possible to challenge the powerful and that a Tent City, fun though it may be to literally squat on the Establishment’s doorstep like cheeky ragamuffins, is not necessary in the longterm. In the US and Spain, Occupiers have moved away from permanent encampments and are now getting their voices heard via flash mobs, marches, strikes and blockades. Even those who leave the camps and return home to their ‘old lives’ often find that having been part of a radical community changes how they live in the future. Thus protest camps are like dandelions gone to fluffy seed; evictions are a puff of wind and soon… there may be tenacious radicals on every street.

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August

The Diggers 2012 are going from strength to strength, extending their longhouse, building cob walls, hosting workshops in traditional crafts, installing solar panels and constructing a compost toilet. Visitors welcome, regular open days and workshops.

The Olympics is over, the aftermath yet to be fully realised. Over a hundred Critical Mass cyclists were arrested for cycling near the Olympic stadium. Other outrageous examples of over-zealous policing abound. The Paralympics is bringing into focus the horrors inflicted on disabled people by the government’s benefit cuts and sponsors Atos.

The Nomads melted away from Hackney, as promised, and have not yet re-emerged. Kay says the Occupy spirit remains strong and that a period of rest, reflection and regrouping will be followed by some mysterious ‘Next Steps’.

Occupy London is cheering the release, with no charges, of the Xstrata 16, who were arrested back in November for occupying the offices of multinational mining corporation Xstrata. The 16 succeeded in highlighting the obscene pay of CEO Mick Davis and the environmental and human rights abuses perpetrated by his company.

In early August Occupiers organised assemblies and discussions, music jams and poetry slams, talks, workshops, films and livestreaming at The Green Gathering, a small festival near Chepstow. Somewhat jaded activists discovered “a thread of hope tied to Occupy which can be cherished and built upon.”

The question people keep asking is “what can replace the current system?” The less commercial (and less hedonistic) festivals create spaces for exploration of some real life alternatives. At The Green Gathering there were workshops on co-operatives, squatting, renewable energy, permaculture, transition and traditional crafts. The Occupy camp helped to tie these alternatives together and relate them to a bigger, global picture. An assembly on the theme “what are festivals for?” elicited the following: “They are about sharing skills and experiences. For seeing all the incredible things people are already doing and have been doing for years, and for gaining hope and inspiration from that.” And: “They are about building networks. We need to organise and build the alternatives we are talking about in our local communities. But we also need wider networks to get new ideas and support, and to organise against a government that will attack us sooner or later.”

Increasingly I feel that Radical Routes – a collective of radical co-operatives – and the Occupy movement should be working hand-in-hand. With that in mind I went to a Radical Routes Summer Gathering in the Welsh borders where I learnt a little more about consensus decision-making, facilitation, ethical finance, wood-burning hot tubs, homemade elderflower champagne and  how long it takes to scrub and boil potatoes for a hundred people.

It sometimes feels as though a festival or gathering needs to last for more than a weekend to fulfil its potential but occupiers have learnt the hard way that temporary autonomous zones have a tendency to sap energy and engender disillusion if they attempt to put down roots and become permanent. In a true TAZ, every moment is precious. And maybe, even if what occurs is intangible, the very act of gathering with likeminded people – at The Green Gathering and Radical Routes, at the Festival of Resistance and the Diggers’ squatted eco-village near Runnymede, at Earth First! Gatherings and Occupy camps – maybe all this is covering the country in an invisible network, which will be activated when the time is ripe for the next phase in building towards a revolution.

Looking to the near future, The Occupied Times collective is about to print OT 17, another twenty pages of creative indymedia featuring alternative news, analysis, interviews, international reports, comment and satire.

London-based Occupiers are involved in planning for a Global Noise day of action on 13th October.

Local campaigns continue apace. Stop New Nuclear are planning a camp and mass trespass at Hinkley Point in early October.  RAFF are doing all they can to prevent fracking on the Fylde coast in Lancashire.

Read my blog about Yorkshire-based Ban the Burn! in the New Internationalist or a longer version of the story in the online version of the OT, or in September’s print edition.

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Festival Of Resistance

It felt like summer, at last. It was the first weekend of the school holidays and everyone was heading south, down the M6 to Devon and Cornwall, to sandcastles and seaweed and surf. I was on my way to Devon to meet a bunch of occupiers, anarchists, socialists, greenies and unclassifiable objectors-to-the-current-system at the Festival of Resistance.

I was going along to spread the word about the Occupied Times and to help a fellow OT editor convince anyone who needed convincing that creating our own indymedia is vital. I didn’t know what to expect, just knew that the festival was organised by ‘Globalise Resistance’ who have been accused in the past of being a front for the Socialist Workers’ Party.

M arrived before me. His text said: “I always suspected the leftist insurrection would start from a Devonian stately home.”

Italian terraces and smooth lawns with views to the coast. A walled tea garden, trapping the sun. An unlikely location for a hotbed of revolutionary zeal, for the harbouring of undercover SWP members and for having many kilowatts of solar panel in a meadow around the back.

The caretaker of this stately pile was recently in court accused of trashing a GM wheat trial site at Rothamsted Research Institute. An organic farmer and passionate about permaculture, he’s concerned that genetically modified crops could cross-breed with conventional plants and become impossible to control. One of the weekend’s talks was on this subject.

Economic meltdown in Greece, anti-capitalism, food sovereignty, community rights, undercover cops, William Morris, the Olympics, imperialism, debt and austerity, the banking crisis, radical design and the Leveson inquiry were also on the agenda. A great speaker from the New Economics Foundation explained “just how fucked the economy is.”

There were probably a couple of Socialist Workers in attendance and possibly a cop or two. There was a guy in an Anonymous mask, a few anarchists, the odd geek and more photographers and livestreamers than some attendees felt to be prudent.

Those identifying as occupiers were reminded that Occupy didn’t invent the idea of pitching a tent and clamouring for change, nor was it the first movement to see the personal as political or to understand that things have gone wrong on a global scale. Amateur activists learned a little history from veterans of Greenham Common, of anti-globalisation protests and road protest camps, of Stonehenge Free Festival and the poll tax riots, of Reclaim the Streets and Climate Camp.

A recurring theme was the importance of networking between radical groups that are broadly leftwing, of focusing on our similarities and agreements rather than squabbling. The Festival of Resistance proved that this is possible. We’re moving away from the old isms – capitalism is rubbish but what we have isn’t even capitalism any longer, it’s corporatism and cronyism and corruption. Likewise socialism and communism are old hat. For now we’re refusing to be trapped in boxes and are steering clear of labels.

One big question that we returned to repeatedly was ‘What is Our Alternative’? Sure, we know the current system stinks. We know that profit-chasing, planet-raping and power-mongering are bad. We don’t believe austerity and privatisation are the answers to anything. So what are the answers? The words and concepts that keep cropping up are: Community, Co-operation, Transition, The Commons.

The weekend ended with the question “So what do we do now?” Answers were thrown into a pot:

“Support Greece and Spain – they’re the canaries, huge experiments are being conducted over there, we should travel there en masse, by train…”

“We need to be connecting globally, with the majority world, with the global South, not just across Europe and the States.”

“For alternatives look to South America, to Argentina, and to some extent to Greece. They’re learning new ways of organising and co-operating, through necessity.”

“Give people what they want in order to gain their support – we can’t expect them to join us just because we’re right!”

“Focus on debt. Refuse to pay unjust debts.”

“Link up with the unions, we need mass action… help to radicalise the unions, as ‘the Sparks’ have been doing.”

“Everything needs doing and we need to reach out to everyone! Transition towns, freeware geeks, faith groups, co-operatives…”

“We need to engage and evoke a visceral response, not just an intellectual one.”

“We need to move fast, there’s not much time, climate chaos is just around the corner.”

What I’d have liked to do next was for everyone to say which of these answers resonated most for them and to link up with others of like mind. Form affinity groups. Note down action points. Instead the bus to London arrived and most everyone rushed off to pack up their tents, bolt a bite of lunch and squeeze onto a sweaty coach.

I went to the beach.

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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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