#OccupyDemocracy returned to Parliament Square as planned this mid-winter weekend, with a focus on housing and homelessness.
The turnout wasn’t huge – it was cold, it was just a few days before Christmas – but the quality of debate, entertainment, knowledge-sharing, solidarity-building and the sense of an emerging community of creative and determined change-makers was… inspiring.
Contributors to a full programme of events in and around the Square included:
- Speakers from the New Era Housing Estate (who this week won a huge victory over the US development firm which had planned to make them homeless), Focus E15 Mum’s housing campaign, Occupy Barnet and Our West Hendon, plus Phoenix Rainbow on squatters’ rights.
- ‘Dying for Heat’ activists who stripped off outside Downing Street to protest the scandal of deaths due to fuel poverty.
- Deputy leader of the Green Party Shahrar Ali, speaking about the UK’s democratic deficit.
- A ‘Fossil Free Nativity Play’ and Shell Out Sounds choir.
- Green & Black Cross with activist legal advice.
- Fran Boait from Positive Money, Samir from Stop The War coalition, and Occupy activist George Barda on compassionate revolution.
The schedule was interspersed with participative assemblies and debates, poetry, carol singing, sharing of food – and a blissfully warming impromptu late night ceilidh dance!
With the high heras fencing around Parliament Square replaced by less robust crowd barriers, an opportunity arose on Saturday evening for occupiers to move through a gap in the barrier and to occupy the centre of the Square – for the first time since being dragged from the grass two months ago in the infamous Battle of the Tarpaulin.
Displaying a ‘Real Democracy Now!’ banner before continuing a discussion about how much interaction Occupy Democracy should have with party politics, occupiers continued to demonstrate genuine participatory debate and decision making as police vans made haste to the scene, disgorging columns of officers who proceeded to kettle those assembled. Police outnumbered activists and Occupy supporters approximately 4:1. Or maybe more.
Confusion ensued as to whether those in the Square were committing civil trespass, or were breaching a byelaw, or were somehow committing a crime by talking about politics and economics on the lawn outside Parliament.
The Occupy Democracy assembly wound up and a young woman began to talk about Positive Money, a non-profit initiative to make money work for people rather than enslaving us.
Eventually the unjust and draconian Criminal Justice Act was invoked, and those assembled were threatened with mass arrest on the basis that a cable tie on the fence had been broken, and someone had – allegedly – been rude to a Heritage Warden. For these ‘crimes’ the police were prepared to arrest thirty or so peaceful, politically-engaged citizens.
The dreadful absurdity of young people volunteering to listen to a lecture about economics on the Saturday night before Christmas, sitting stone cold sober on cold damp ground to do so, and being forced to move or face arrest… What kind of country, what kind of law, what kind of system, what kind of justice is this?
There was a stand-off during which occupiers asked the police to think again, to think of genuine justice, to uphold the right to peaceful protest and assembly. During this period Donnachadh McCarthy was arrested for peacefully holding a banner.
As the police closed in on the Positive Money discussion, occupiers reached consensus to withdraw from the central lawn of the Square and reconvene on the pavement at its edge. Sometimes the image of mass arrests can be powerful; other times arrests simply serve the purpose of the police in dispersing people and disrupting planned activities.
We chose to take control of events and be free for the night; the cells that had been made ready for us remained empty, save for Donnachadh, who returned to us around 1am.
After a long, cold mid-Winter night on the pavement, dawn saw Occupy Democracy supporters bleary-eyed but unbeaten, continuing to refine a unique but widely appealing list of ‘demands’ that put people, democracy and planet before profit.
Meanwhile, on Charing Cross Road near Trafalgar Square, a squat was opened in an old Nat West bank. On December 25th, Christmas dinner will be served for homeless and hungry people. Until then, it’s an activist networking and skillshare space.
Livestream of some of Saturday evening’s events: http://bambuser.com/channel/Bencavanna
More at occupydemocracy.org.uk