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Get an Occupation - reflections on the Occupy Movement

Updated: May 30

Next week there may be some trouble. I wanted to try and spin some sentences as a preemptive strike against an inevitable media backlash. I don’t think I’ll win many over, I just wanted to get in there first. And maybe plant a few seeds for thought.

Three months ago, I cycled down to the London Stock Exchange to watch what I had assumed would be nine blokes in balaclavas fighting the police to get a girl-guide rig down. I was greeted by one of the largest displays of civil disobedience I have ever seen.

I went along armed with my camera, a packed lunch in case of kettling, and a rucksack crammed with cynicism. I left 12 hours later with a curious sense of disbelief at the uprising I had witnessed. It was like nothing I had ever seen.

I am sure most of you have watched the battle between my support, my sarcasm, my admiration, my intrigue and the complete loss of my social life to the Occupy movement.

As I watched site after site (there are currently four) bloom, burst, explode with enthusiasm, implode with politics, argue over the tiny things and never fail to pull together over the big things, I watched microcosms in form and gel. The place had me fascinated.

Four tiny worlds of humanity at the extreme, were flourishing. It has been like life on fast forward. I have seen people laughing, crying, shouting, dancing, I have seen people learn how to talk and learn how to listen, I have seen people fall in love, I have seen people fall out of love, I have seen people lose their kids due to their association with the camp, I have seen people get their kids back due to their association with the camp. I have seen art, I have heard lectures, I have heard some of the most ridiculous ideas I have ever heard in my life, and I have heard some of the most inspiring ideas I may ever heard.

And I found my hope.

We are living in times when marching, letter writing, petition signing seem to be a tolerated tradition as opposed to methods of effective change. Even one of the greatest tools of the worker, a general strike, is heralded as an inconvenience as opposed to the people seizing their rights. It had been a long time since I felt I had seen anything that really made a difference.

Yet over the past three months I have heard and seen people so dedicated to trying to make a difference that they are willing to sleep the winter months on concrete in the heart of the city they are battling. It has turned a few square miles of central London into a village, where you know people when you walk down the street, you can pop in for a cuppa or a curry and most importantly nearly any hour of any day, you can engage in political discourse with someone who has something to teach you.

And it has been a tsunami of education. From dance classes to choral arrangements, from cooking classes to conspiracy theories, from a free university to a kitchen that was feeding hundreds every night, from classical actors to pop stars, from the Occupied Times to Occupy Records, from lay preachers to window cleaners, from agitators to meditators – this hub is fit to burst with ideas of people just trying their damnedest to make a difference and live the change they want to see.

Yes, there have been times when you have to separate the weed from the chat, but isn’t that all part of life and all its' complexities, too? I’ve yet to meet anyone who can tell me that drinking and drugs were never a problem in London prior to the camps being set up. Occupy was criticised from the outside for alcohol problems and for encouraging the homeless. I sat on the inside and listened to people ask questions about a society that led to these issues in the first place.

Much as people have tried to dismiss the Occupy movement as being too fluffy around the edges with its message and too gritty for the public at its core, its achievements are a beacon. The Occupy movement has started dialogues the world over about a system we are living in, which makes the richest richer and the rest of us lose the very pillars of a society that people fought for us to access. These conversations have been on the front pages of the national and international press, on the lips of passers-by and in hushed conversations by office water coolers for months now. A murmur that this isn’t good enough. That the few having enough isn’t enough. A murmur that is growing into a rumble.

The strongest fault I can find with Occupy is that it has arrived too soon. That rumble that is growing is the sound of malcontent. Over the next six months, as more people lose their jobs, their houses and their sense of being able to provide for their families, I suspect there are going to be a lot of people jig-sawing, “Oh, that is what they were on about.”.

Looking back on this article over ten years later, I would definitely add that I believe the movement and the moment were not strong enough because they were not diverse enough; They centred White male voices and replicated power dynamics, which caused a lot of the problems in the first place. Though hindsight is always an illuminating eye opener, what Occupy lacked in diversity, it kick-started some of the more radical inclusive movements of our years, but that was a way off, and I am writing from 2023, for now, back to 2011...

I am a not-so-classic city sort with a grown-up, grown-up debt, and I’m possibly the world’s worst CEO. I cried when the court ruled in favour of The City of London and against OccupyLSX this week.

On Wednesday night, I sat at the top of the steps of St Paul’s in the spot where I had stood in amazement three months ago. And that was before I had any idea how incredibly all-consuming this tented city of inspiration would evolve. As I sat there, I tried to piece together some of the incredible scenes I have seen, heard, witnessed, diffused, sparked and absorbed over the past 96 days.

A homeless lady called Shamrock stood up at the General Assembly meeting that evening and spoke to the crowd: “I have been homeless for years. And I cannot remember a time before now, when I have been treated with such respect, warmth and encouragement. I wanted to say thank you all for being so kind.” with that her voice started to crack, she started to cry and just about managed “And I just don’t want you to go”.

I cried that day, not because I expected different from the court, but because I am going to miss having somewhere I know I can find such incredible intense inspiration. Even though I believe this is the merely first draft in a gale of change, I really am going to miss it.

I feel like I have just witnessed something I hope future generations will learn about as part of our vibrant social history. What an incredible honour it has been.

If the evictions turn out to be another tale of the bobbies vs the hippies with a couple of classic photos of a few people kicking off, it would be amazing if you could try and initiate a few dialogues about what an incredible journey this has been so far, and how natural it is for people to chose to defend somewhere they have come to feel is both home and family.

To everyone who has camped out, acted out, cooked out, given a talk, listened, witnessed, visited, cleaned, decorated, emailed, tweeted, started conversations, taken the time to think about any of this – and for taking the time to read this – to all of you, my deepest thanks.

See you at the next round.

Look What You Made Us Do placard help in front of a crowd at the Occupy London protest in 2011 as part of the Occupy Movement outside St Paul's Cathedral
Look What You Made Us Do placard at the Occupy London protest in 2011 as part of the Occupy Movement outside St Paul's

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I doth protest

Don’t go on a demonstration against conflict and then come and bitch to me about how much you hate that bloke at work.


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