Sometimes when I tell people I live in a squat they tilt there head sympathetically and ask me “So, how are you getting on with that?” I tell them that I’m part of the most thriving community I have ever lived in, that I eat well and that my home is regularly full of visitors, neighbours, artists and workshops. I don’t always mention the mice, the leaks and the pending court case. I figure most people have already decided that I eat babies and live in a crack den.
I got into squatting through Occupy London. After camping in a tent I moved into the publicly repossessed UBS Bank complex ‘Bank of Ideas’ near Liverpool Street. It was there that I really came to appreciate the political potency of reclaimed urban space in a city centre devoured by private property, security, CCTV and Police helicopters.
Just like Occupy sites, squat life can be a daily challenge that has tested my ability to be tolerant and assertive in large communes run by consensus decision making processes.
When I used to rent I often got bored and isolated. These days, no two days of my life are the same. The large network of people that make up the London squatting movement are some of the brightest threads in the fabric of London’s activist and artistic community. There are dedicated professionals of all different kinds contributing essential services to the city, united by an inability or unwillingness to pay London rates of rent.
But it goes beyond that, to be a squatter is to be part of body of a large, multicultural and politically conscious DIY culture. It is a movement melded together through the collective endeavour of occupying unused space. It’s a movement that generates autonomous spaces of political, artistic and practical creativity. It’s a movement that resists the forces of legal and physical coercion geared towards protecting the interests of private property. Consciously or unconsciously, squatters are digesting the excess of a system of money and consumerism that throws perfectly good food, furniture and accommodation away while, in the words of the poet Gerry Potter, “people on street are dying of hunger in the shadows of empty buildings.”
It is easy to see why squatting has been vilified by the right wing press. Nothing is more contentious than space. Squatters are very aware of their place within the history of Diggers, Occupiers and Climate Campers as well as landless peasants, student sit –ins and workplace occupations.
The story will be familiar to many: 69% of land is owned by 0.6% of the population. Perfectly good housing is demolished whilst buildings are left empty to keep property prices artificially high. Meanwhile we are experiences record levels of evictions. It can be no coincidence that the Government is legislating against squatting now. Could it be that there is someone high up in the Landlords Association that has link has links to the Tory Party and stands to make big dividends from throwing people out of homes and into jails? We need to be asking these questions and urgently.
I believe we need to all come together to resist the criminalisation of squatting. Its part of the choice about the society we want to live in: a high waste and destructive economy geared towards ecological collapse and wealth concentration; or resilient, connected communities based on local, DIY solutions, with less waste and more spare time freed from the theft of rent and private property.
Squatting is still legal. The new legislation will be politically and practically impossible to enforce. The right to shelter in unused shelter has been our right since the Magna Carter. Join the squatting movement now.
Occupy – create – resist.
What the hell am I doing!?!
What am I doing!? A one man, self titled stand –up poetry show about climate change?! How could I be so conceited? I’m not a scientist, I’m not a stand up, I’m not even a temp. How can I defeat climate change using only my mouth?
These questions bounce around my head as I try to get to sleep at night. But try I must. We are living through one of the biggest mass extinctions the planet has ever seen. Unpredictable and extreme weather events look set to make millions homeless within my life time and worst of all I’m being told I can’t sprinkle the lawn!
It was time to act. Like some kind of deranged fanatic I set about my task. For months on end I wrote to theatres to sell them my tale of temp jobs, direct action, bank sieges, oil orgies and arrest. I mostly got ignored. Undeterred, and with record temperatures being read out like lottery balls, month after month, to a pensive and expectant nation, I wrote to the Arts Council for help. They said no. I wrote to them again. They said yes!
I picked up the Bat Phone and asked the eminent stand up comic Simon Munnery for help. He said Yes. I phoned up the very
awesome performer and director Leo Kay for help. He said yes. I phoned up Renaissance One production company. They said yes. I phoned up animator Ken Turner. He said yes. I phoned up Dominos Pizza. They told me I had the wrong number. I phoned up You and I Films. They said yes. I phoned up Banana Man. He said no.
By now the tides were lapping at my feet. I mobilised my team like a squadron of XMen (and women) and set about my herculean task: to bring global human consumption back within the earths carrying capacity, stop biospheric collapse and end greenhouse gas emissions before it was too late.
Will I succeed? To find out weather your species will survive or plummet uncontrollably into a 6 degree rise in global temperatures just follow the links below.
@ The Cockpit Theatre, London LAUNCH (introduced by Climate Justice Collective)
Thu, 03 May, 20:00 PM
@ The Albany Theatre,London
Mon, 14 May, 20:00 PM
@ The Albany Theatre, London
Weds, 16 May, 20:00 PM
Eviction at St Pauls and School of Ideas, Occupy London
Last night whilst the cameras of the world shone on St Pauls, word came through that Occupy London’s third site – The School of Ideas – was being evicted. Protesters rushed back to the building and darted desperately through the adjacent ‘Dissenters Graveyard’ (where revolutionary poet William Blake is buried) to retrieve their belongings through a back entrance. The School of Ideas has been evicted illegally. Court proceedings have been bypassed and many have been left suddenly homeless. By 6am the bulldozers arrived to demolish the school and to make the travesty irreversible. All of this goes against the wishes of the local community.
More here http://occupylsx.org/?p=3815
[Pete the Tent]
Over in St Pauls a 5hr eviction took place without warning at midnight. Hundreds of occupiers were on site and more on side streets looking on behind police lines. Towards the end we congregated on the steps of St Pauls and informed the Police that they did not have the jurisdiction to evict us from Church property. They replied that they had been given the go ahead by the cathedral. We were then forcibly dragged from the steps.
Why, when the Church has been publicly claiming to support the occupation, is it giving the Corporation of London Police permission to drag us away? In the days before the eviction, church staff had seized on a toilet break of one Christian occupier as a chance to bin candles and flowers from a night time vigil on the very same steps. The money lenders have banished Jesus from the Temple.
I was inspired by the strength of people to defend the space and to not give up without a fight. There were some arrests of people who had been dragged down from the barricade (made where Tent City University once stood). It was non-violent and there were strong sentiments of positivity, solidarity and a sense of humour that mixed with the understandable anger of people who were being made homeless by the eviction.
St Pauls has been the worlds longest lasting and most talked about Occupy site. Its journey has been a fascinating, inspiring and at times difficult experiment. The process has opened up a space for political creativity and has constantly sparked debate through its very existence. The Tent City University has hosted some of the most cutting edge debates and thinkers of our times – from the environment to law and economics. It is now gone, but it never was Occupy – the movement, the idea and the methodology. In the words of so many people last night “this is by no means the end”.
Look out for further Occupy London, spaces and events. Friday 9th March when we will have Dizraeli, Attilla the Stockbroker and Jo Driscol down to Finsbury Square – Open Air Finsbury Square.
Now for an awesome bit of satire done this morning by Artist Taxi Driver
17th Century English Revolutionaries found in tents at Occupy London
As I write this blog, members of Occupy London are seizing new properties on behalf of the movement or getting evicted from
existing Occupy sites by police (by legal and illegal means). St Pauls – the world’s longest lasting Occupy site – is due to be evicted any day. When I first arrived there in late October, it was buzzing with press, visitors and hundreds of occupiers. I spoke to a Quaker there who told me of plans to set up a Quaker church, in a tent, outside the Cathedral. The Quakers started as a radical Christian sect during the English Revolution (often called the English Civil War) of the mid 17th Century. There was another group of that came out of our revolution and they are called the Diggers. Their actions and ideas have a burning presence in today’s Occupy movement.
The English Revolution
The 1640’s where one of the most significant decades in the history of the anti-capitalist struggle. At a time when global capitalism was still just an angry toddler, radicals spoke out against the slave trade, imperialism and costly colonial war in Ireland. Advances in shipping and trade began to globalise revolutionary ideas as well as business.
It was at this time that the English countryside was cleared of existing tenants. This made way for intensive agriculture and fed the cities with displaced wage slaves. Publicly owned ‘commons’ were taken out of public ownership and placed into the hands of the market to be owned by large private landlords. In language that wouldn’t have been out of place in an Evening Standard article on squatting, Charles 1st described the commons as ‘nurseries and receptacles of thieves, rogues and beggars’ . He was later beheaded.
The displaced rural poor were persecuted by magistrates for stealing manure from waste land in order to burn it as fuel. Today police cars screech up to skips to stop people from ‘stealing’ waste food from supermarkets.
The Levellers were a political movement that stood in opposition to enclosure. Many of their members were parliamentarian soldiers who had been betrayed by the puritanical dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell who continued this unpopular policy. An annual festival called Levellers Day, (which is now a key date in the calendar of the English left) marks the place of their final defeat in Burford, Oxfordshire. But the execution of their leader Robert Lockyer for his part in the army rebellion of 1649 was the beginning of the end for Britain’s first ever political party. He was killed by firing squad at St Pauls.
The Diggers camped on common land that had been enclosed and started to grow crops and organise radical communes. The
dozen or so Digger communes that existed, suffered persecution and raids by the authorities who trampled their crops, imprisoned their members and tore down their tents.
The leader of the Diggers, Garrard Winstanley, stands as one of the most impressive political philosophers in the history of the English language. The writings of this former herder turned cloth trader were way ahead of his time, calling forward to later communist, anarchist, atheist, rationalist and even anti-capitalist thinkers. His legacy is more relevant now than it perhaps has
“Break in pieces quickly the Band of particular Propriety [property], disown this oppressing Murder, Oppression and Thievery of Buying and Selling of Land, owning of landlords and paying of Rents and give thy Free Consent to make the Earth a Common Treasury without grumbling…..that all may enjoy the benefit of their Creation.” Gerrard Winstanley The True Levellers Standard Advanced – April, 1649
He attacked private property, wage labour and the taxes of the Church of England. He was one of the first to articulate a class consciousness and to defend public property. He attacked the elite universities which he saw as the privilege of the few and advocated free public and democratically accountable education for boys and girls in every parish. Centuries before the NHS had been thought of he even demanded a free national health service!
The Diggers and others stood in solidarity with the oppressed peoples around the world. They refused to take off their hats when in the presence of ‘superiors’ and they addressed each other as “my fellow creature”.
Living on Camp – then and now
As with modern camps, the Digger communities were not without problems. The large presence of Ranters (famous for their acts of ‘licentiousness and fleshly liberty’) caused concern for Gerrard Winstanley because of their indulgence in ‘meat, drink, pleasure and women’. Excessive ‘acts of lewedness’ caused the spread of sexually transmitted diseases through the camps. What has been described by historian Christopher Hill as a ‘hippie – like existence’ caused conflict and the need to impose rules on site.
It was the DIY ethic of Digger politics that links them directly to the Occupy Movement. Their occupation was an act of political
defiance as well as desperation. From the wasteland of a society blighted by civil war, failed harvest and class theft, they set about cultivating alternative, democratic communities. They favoured self education and had their own versions of the famous Tent City University of St Pauls.
Modern Occupiers insist that the camps are not a protest but a process. The process of rebuilding communities by camping on the doorstep of the elite is a fiercely creative form of politics. The consensus decision making process that is used on all sites is an imperfect yet important exercise in inclusive politics and
Many occupiers left their jobs and moved to London to occupy. People join Occupy for a variety of reasons. What is common amongst all of them is that they find community, support and elevation by becoming part of something greater than themselves as individuals.
The 99% during in the 17th Century
Monopoly was a central target of the English revolutionaries – monopoly of religion, land, medical provision, education, and justice. At that time laws were written in Latin. Anyone who has been through the court system today will be all too unfamiliar with the dialect of ‘legalese’. Lawyer fees were a point of piercing controversy then, just as they are today. New legal aid laws are making access to justice the privilege of people with money. Could we be returning to the 17thCentury?
Our occupational ancestry also challenged the role of the established church. St Pauls has shone a spotlight on the Church of England and its relationship with the City of London’s financial elite. ‘What would Jesus do?’ reads one banner strung up between tents. Not, it would seem, the same as the former Dean of the Cathedral. His resignation marked a change of policy by the Church (publicly at least) in favour of the camp.
This pile of polythene, tent poles and insurrection has forced the hand of history on the Church of England, compelling it to justify its relevance to the plight of the 99%. But the similarities between now and then can only go so far. In the 1640’s it was compulsory to go to service on Sunday and the Church played a huge role in social control, censorship and taxation. Radicals, such as the free living Ranters challenged the bible and questioned the existence of sin and hell. Direct action protests 400 years ago often came from early Baptists and Quakers who interrupted church services and insulted ministers. God forbid.
It might be better to make comparisons between our shared struggle with the new religion – the belief in work, money and material things.
Early Capitalist “Brainwashing”
The Diggers were reacting against more than land, wealth and property. They lived through a time when the psychological foundations for capitalism were laid. For the first time an entire society was conditioned for the accumulation of capital through regimented and exploitative work practices – the protestant work ethic. Christopher Hill describes this ‘cultural revolution’ as:
‘an exercise in indoctrination, in brainwashing , on a hitherto unprecedented scale. We only fail to recognise this because we live in a brainwashed society’. Christopher Hill ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ (Penguin)
This ‘brainwashing’ gave birth to the industrial revolution and today’s consumer ethic. Ideas on the dignity and godliness of work were coupled with an assault on ‘idleness’ and Puritan notions of sin and slothfulness. The discipline of market competition was imposed on non profitable enterprises in the form of ‘agricultural improvement’. Today it reappears in the form of cuts and privatisation in the public sector.
The majority of ‘mad men’ documented in the 1640 / 50’s are said to have been radicals. One theory is that mental breakdown was itself a type of social protest or at least a reaction against unbearable social conditions. Again the parallels are striking. The links between mental ill health and isolating cycles of work, consumption and domesticity are well documented in the modern world.
Life on camp at Occupy sites is accompanied by homelessness and often drug and mental health problems. The prevailing feeling amongst occupiers here is that, though often impossible to live with, the individuals affected by these issues have been horrifically let down by the system. A disproportionate number of the homeless have been traumatised by the time they served in the military. There is also an inherent lack of love, compassion and support in a marriage between competitive consumer capitalism and cut throat austerity. Before the 1980’s homelessness was virtually unknown in London. The collapse in the property market and ensuing evictions combined with Tory cuts to welfare and mental health provision have made it a permanent feature of the capital.
The Diggers legacy for Occupy
Climate crisis and looming food wars have sparked a number of grass root food movements to squat and cultivate land. Many groups consciously identify themselves as Diggers. An association called the Diggers exists today as part of the Grow Heathrow urban farm. In 2011, a community gardening group called The St Anne’s Diggers grew out of a climate camp on some occupied land earmarked for development in Lewes, Surrey. In Church Farm, Hertfordshire, young alternative farmers who have fled the City to become part of the ‘agrarian renaissance’ can be found singing the Diggers Song around campfires . There are many more such movements, here and abroad.
But the legacy of Winstanley and the Diggers goes much beyond the agenda of alternative agriculture. They pioneered the activism of occupation which survives today as one of the most daring examples of radical action in the history of English social movements. The Diggers helped sow the seeds of the European revolutions in the late 18th century, which in turn prepared the ground for all of the rights and freedoms that I enjoy today. For these reasons they have massive resonance for me as an occupier (especially since I can barely grow cress and get most of my food from skips).
Ultimately the Digger camps were repressed by the courts and the ‘rascality’ moved on, deported, imprisoned or worse. St George’s Hill, the original Digger site where Gerrard Winstanley lived, is now one of the most luxurious gated communities in the country. As we approach the Olympics, Government Ministers are trying to fast-track new laws to prevent our rights to peaceful protest. New powerscould allow Police to ban encampments and protests, listen in to conversations with aerial drones and enter private houses to seize things like posters. The challenge now is to keep the legacy of the Diggers alive and maintain a country in which Occupy sites, peace camps, climate camps and university and work occupations can still take place.
We are now days away from an eviction at St Pauls and I never did find out if the Quaker Church tent got erected. But the fact that the Quakers were able to consider occupying and the Diggers were not is because the Quakers compromised elements of their early radicalism to ensure survival in a hostile world. The Diggers manifesto to ‘turn the world upside down’ is yet to be realised. The societies they built were too dangerous a model to survive at a time when private property, profit and monopoly were growing in power. Four hundred years on, and these things – the building blocks of capitalism – are shaking dangerously under the earthquakes of economic and environmental catastrophe. Now is the time to pitch up more tents, occupy more buildings, reposes new spaces and make a reality out of the words ‘another world is possible’.
‘The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution’ Christopher Hill (Penguin)
‘The Many Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic’, Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker (Beacon)
ORDER!! ORDER!! Occupy takes a London Court.
The Old Street Magistrates Court has been liberated by Occupy London and Occupy Veterans. The Veterans, who arrived on a tank (the Tank of Ideas) say they have come on a humanitarian mission to liberate the failed state of Britain
We will soon be carrying out trials of individuals and organisations guilty of engineering the economic crash for personal profit. Defendants will be invited to attend court as will key witnesses and experts. These will not be show trials, they will have real solicitors. Judge Judy has not been invited.
The building is just one of London’s 80,000 empty properties. It has been left empty and neglected since 1996! It is now ‘Occupy Justice’.
Occupy Veterans say they went into the army to seek justice but have been misused. They now see occupation as a tool for change.
“Justice is overdue”, said Afghanistan veteran Joe to the assembled press, “The state has failed to bring people to justice – people like Blair. The trials and enquiries over British war crimes have so far been carried out by hand picked panels of people… I dont separate the corporations from the state, its all for profit. Now, because of the cuts, it has been possible for the army to restructure and get rid of a layer of veterans and replace them with new cannon fodder.”
This act of urban piracy will convert the building – containing three beautiful wooden court houses and a collection of cells and offices – into a place of political action, awareness raising and community action. With poetical audacity this symbol of state power and incarceration will be used as a platform to expose the crimes of the 1% and to mobilise against them.
“Goldman Sachs are guilty of billions of pounds of unpaid tax, Revenues and Customs are also to blame for their complicity in this” said one representative during the press conference.
This is the fourth site of Occupy London. Do not believe what you may here in the press about St Pauls agreeing to pack down. This is simply factually incorrect. The movement is expanding and new occupiers are always needed to help ‘occupy everywhere’, something that London Indiemedia have dubbed ‘the most ambitious special imperative since East 17 commanded everybody into the House of Love’.
In just the same way that the Suffragettes stalked wrongdoers by following them to work, the occupation movement is stalking wrongdoers by camping on their doorsteps and reclaiming space for action and education. You could say we are stalking capitalism. A court case on the occupation is set for January in which we will be asked to attend court for…erm…attending court. I imagine security might be a little higher that day.
Sunday 18th December
Today I went on a peace march organised by the Stop the War Coalition. Iran was the word on everybody’s lips. On arriving at the Cabinet Office we cellotaped an invoice to the British people stamped ‘PAID’.
30 billion Afghanistan
8.5 billion Iraq
1.7 billion Libya
100 Trident Replacement
A policeman came and told us to take it down as it was “criminal damage” when he was mobbed by people contesting that fact. Looking confused, out numbered and unsure of his facts he backed away. The use of this definition of “criminal damage” in the context of these massively destructive wars is laughable.
An ex soldier and representative of Veterans for Peace reminded demonstrators in a speech that the highest figures of the unknown hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead are children. The person on the Occupy LSX Live Stream told me how every time they film him and he starts making revelations about his time in the forces the live stream goes down. She suspects they are being illegally and covertly censored.
It was a lively, non violent march with a good vibe. There was lots of dancing to reggae and conscious hip hop provided by the Passing Clouds mobile sound system.
On arriving at Parliament Square we heard a speech from Simon Moore who has been camping on and off there for some years and remembers when the site was used for Democracy Village. In true Eastern Block fashion Parliament Square has been fenced off since July 2010. The Brian Dow peace camp that has been there since 2001 lines the pavement around the fence.
The following day (Mon 19th December) Parliament was due to pass the Police and Social Responsibility Act to make it illegal to possess anything in the region of Parliament Square related to staying a long time. Under this law it will become illegal to possess even a pillow or a sleeping bag in the vicinity. As an occupier this law is extremely worrying. If one public place can be decided to be out of bounds for this type of legitimate peaceful protest then where is next?
Small Change: ‘Culture Beyond Oil’
Its the 29th November and crammed inside the Free Word Centre are artists, activists, bags of bituminous sludge, an eccentric German in a BP uniform and projected films of activists pouring oil over themselves in a variety of ways. Why?
BP have donated 1.5 million to the Tate galleries and have made similar gifts to other major theatres, galleries and museums. This has caused a symphony of protest from organisations such as Platform, Liberate Tate, Art Not Oil and Rising Tide. Morally bankrupt enterprises, they argue, should not be helped in their attempts to purchase social legitimacy with small change. Tonight they came together to launch the new publication ‘Culture Beyond Oil’.
Of course, you cannot push a world to the brink of climate catastrophe without a docile, complicit, and conditioned public. But how docile is the public? The day after this event there was a mass demonstration in the streets of London as part of the biggest strike of a generation. Activists stormed the HQ of mining giant Xstrata and dropped a banner that read ‘All power to the 99 percent’. While pensions, schools, hospitals and futures are cut, its Chief Executive Officer Mick Davis, received a pay increase of 49% last year taking his annual income to over 18 million pounds. As an added bonus the extractive industries receive diplomatic support, tax breaks, financial incentives and development aid grants from our Government.
Wherever you are in the world, London or Lima, carbon intensive enterprises destroy economies and manufacture vast inequality. But the relationships they forge right here are much more valuable than those in the global south. The NGO Platform argues that oil companies buy a ‘social licence to operate’ when they sponsor our arts institutions. In the process they get to rub shoulders with civil servants and decision makers at concerts and gala openings.
But what if philanthropy was anonymous? If British art really does need to be injected with polar bear blood and Bangladeshi flood water, why not at least stop the biggest carbon emitters from having their teeth polished?
Sadly this is not the way of BP who are by far the most green-washed of all the oil giants. The new name ‘Beyond Petroleum’, the green sun flower logo, the sophisticated advertising and cleverly targeted sponsorship deals go beyond the darkest fantasy of any tobacco PR man. The ‘back to black’ reality of BP is a shocking pornographic montage of new fossil fuel investments and human rights abuses.
The company bankrolls regimes committing ethnic genocide in places like West Papua and has been linked to paramilitary death squads in places like Colombia. I visited the BP oil region Casenare in Colombia in 2007 when I was working as a human rights observer there. We took testimonies from countless people that had lost family members to state and paramilitary violence. They had all been affiliated to trade unions or had organised action against the oil company.
A disciplined public presents no opposition to new oil projects, many of which last 40 – 60 years into the future. Among them is the world’s most polluting industrial project – the Canadian Tar Sands.There is also the dangerous and expensive arctic deep water drilling, made possible by a retreat of the ice caps – a fortuitous return on the industry’s past investments in global warming. BP continues to rape the earth, impregnating it with the bastard children of climate chaos, poisoned water and
One of the launch night’s special guests was Ruppe Kosellek, an artist and a one man oil vigilante. Armed with a sense of humour and an expert ability to undermine million dollar PR campaigns, he aims to ‘take over BP’. He is doing this by buying shares in the company made from the proceeds of art daubed with oil. This oil is collected directly from the beaches BP’s colostomy bag – the Gulf of Mexico. Some of the pieces include badges made from dollar bills smeared with oil which he calls ‘petrodollars’. He already has 2000 shares, “only another 8 billion to go” he laughed, “so maybe tomorrow”.
A simple stroll through the landscapes of Occupy London Stock Exchange serves as a potent reminder of art’s ability to engage hearts as well as minds in the big issues of our times. Sam Chase of Art not Oil considers the arts “an essential public service” and a key ingredient in how we understand and interpret the world around us: “Art feeds us spiritually and is a key part of humanity”, “It’s a tool for personal and social transformation. I’m not a fan of big institutions that cultivate the myth of the artist, what we want is lots of little artists”.
The Arts Council recently funded my show ‘Pete (the Temp) Verses Climate Change!’. I am one of the lucky ones. Grants such as these are getting cut quicker than you can say “George Osborn”. Too many artists I know are losing work and having to go back into doing jobs they hate. There is little money for education work and poorer kids are not getting access to workshops with artists and performers. Are these activities not socially generative? Do they not give young people self esteem – something to chew on? Through holes in smashed shop windows we see glimpses of the bored, the neglected and the disengaged.
Corporate sponsorship of art is a fierce bone of contention for these people because they care about art as well as the climate. The privatisation of art finance could have serious implications on what art is created and who has access to the space and the means to make and consume it. The organisations, artists and activists packed into the Free Word Centre are determined to channel creative energies into liberating our institutions of blood money. If they succeed, we will all be freer to make a song and dance about the environment.
Is 1984 Being Used as an Instruction Manual?
Yesterday a whistle blower from a local business came to Finsbury Square Occupy LSX site with a communiqué from the City of London Police. It was titled ‘Terrorism / Extremism Updated for the City of London’ and had been circulated amongst business leaders in the city on the 2nd December. The document outlined the ‘SUBSTANTIAL’ threat of terrorism:
– Columbia [misspelled]
– Al Qaeda / Pakistan
– Occupy London (ongoing)
The first thing question that smacks you around the face is: why do our police see the activities of this legitimate social protest to be ‘terrorist’? Non violence is one of the founding pillars of the global occupy movement, along with consensus decision making and non partisan affiliation to political or religious groups. How many deaths have been attributed to the Occupy camps? What weaponry arsenal do we possess?
The word Colombia is misspelled three times in the second paragraph which instantly makes you suspicious of the strength of the claims made in this document. It goes onto make a short description of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). I am unaware of any FARC attacks on British soil. I am certain however that the Colombia’s right wing paramilitaries are also internationally recognised as a terrorist group. They have been linked organisationally and financially to British multinationals and the Colombian military. The UK is the second largest military donor to Colombia.
Who are the police here to serve and protect?
On page two it lists forthcoming demonstrations in December. One of these was the Climate Justice Collective Vigil yesterday that I myself attended. It was a small march on Parliament, comprising of several menacing green blocks of beards and sandals. The FIT team (police cameras) were there in force. I saw three members of the occupation get followed by some FIT members as they left the march. They were 17 years old and their only grounds for suspicion it seems was having been from the occupy movement. Some other FIT members heard me complain about this to a friend. I then saw them start to talk about be and before I knew it one of the officers was trying to photo me. Feeling intimidated and harassed I left the march.
Wednesday saw a historic march through London as part of the strikes. A small body of us got kettled by police outside the headquarters of the Xstrata mining corporation. The building was stormed in a protest against the fact that its CEO Mick Davis received a pay increase of 49% last year. They dropped a banner from the roof that read ‘all power to the 99%’. Inside the kettle we uncovered no less than seven plain clothed police officers. When confronted they admitted to being undercovers (as they are obliged to by law). The action was non-violent but the well armed police were heavy handed. A friend of mine told me he has footage of an officer punching an unarmed protester in the face several times.
Flooding marches with spies in this way amounts to disproportionate policing that discourages and intimidates peaceful protest. In 2007 I attended demonstrations in Cali, Colombia in which armed plain clothes officers were identified by protesters. Human rights organisations frequently complain the safety of protesters being endangered and their rights to protest being undermined. I wonder how far behind Colombia we are.
Please come and support the occupation and do not put off by deliberate attempts to discourage social protest. There are many opportunities to live, learn and be active at the various sites of Occupy London. Accurate reporting will rely on ordinary people speaking out and getting involved. Please spread the word.
Bank of Ideas
On Sun Street, yards away from Bloomberg financial new and the Finsbury Square occupation site, is a huge multi story complex of offices – and I mean huge. Until now, these offices have been left empty and unused. They are now home to a giant social centre, rapidly being cultivated by the occupation movement. Giant banners fall from windows shouting slogans such as ‘You owe us’ mockingly at the building opposite – the offices of our lease holders – the Swiss UBS bank.
I am sitting inside one of the many workshop spaces. Visual exhibitions telling of things like the history of Squatting and Grow Heathrow hang from walls. In the week since it started we have had performances and workshops from a multitude of hands including those of Mark Thomas and Billy Bragg. Also plugging into UBS are experts on the Egyptian revolution, organising against cuts, anarchism, trade unionism – all the isms, all the ologies. There are a spectrum of workshops – singing, dancing, campaigning, meditation, clowning, even how to hold a workshop!
Explore the full complex and you could get lost. I did yesterday and came across areas that were used by the activist
s of the G20 Summit in London during April 2009. It is a spooky moment captured in time. The demonstrators had been sieged and violently evicted by Police – something they later received compensation for. Doors have been hastily barricaded with filing cabinets and iron bars. There are spaces for activists suffering trauma. Alongside marker pen sloganing are yellowed newspaper clippings, now historical documents, celotaped to walls. They tell of a period of frenetic political activity and police repression. Hasty and at times humorous advice is scrawled over walls in marker on how to detect informants and deal with police searches and unlawful arrest. There are abandoned tents, sleeping bags, underpants.
This week, in less tense times, the building has come back to life. People are hoovering the floors in preparation for a workshops and performances. Banners are lain out across the floor. It is only mid day and I’ve already attended a workshop on the budget deficit led by Adam Ramsay, a visiting expert who travelled up from Oxford. As someone who has never been able to afford to go back into higher education, I really value these opportunities. There are people planning actions like today’s ‘Carol Session for the 1%’ where a load of us went to the headquarters of various banks wearing masks of Tory politicians, bearing gifts of public money and singing privatised carols for the bankers. Tomorrow is the protest for the pensioners. A demonstration about the elderly home owners left stranded in their properties by the ‘landlords’ of The Bank of Ideas – UBS *[more info below].
What is wrong with this picture? A disused building (owned and left empty by a bank) being used to feed and house people; a space to equip people with skills; to engage their creative energies in socially generative activities. If there is one I can’t find it in any of the hundreds of rooms here. If you have a skill you could invest in the Bank of Ideas, a workshop to give, music to offer, materials or manpower, or just want to check it out – then come. Deposit your ideas in our bank. We will make them grow and return them with interest.
*In the 1990’s UBS invested in aggressively marketed zero percent loans for retired homeowners which were secured against the value of their properties. When the house prices tripled in a decade, pensioners who found that their houses were not suitable for their needs and needed to move stood to lose three quarters of the value of their homes if they sold up before their deaths. Other banks, such as Barclays, bailed out their pensioners who had been left marooned in their houses. The UBS did not. A demo of pensioners is being planned for tomorrow to protest on behalf of those people whose lives have been blighted.
I spoke to some guys who had just come out of custody. They were held in contempt of court whilst being tried for erecting tents in Trafalga Square during the student demo. One of them had stared at a judge, another had his hands in his pockets, the third hopped into the docks wearing a sleeping bag. :P)
Living at Occupy London
Like sex, politics is better participated in than watched. This is what we are finding out at Finsbury Square, the “forgotten camp” of Occupy London. Hidden from the tourists and the day-trippers that swarm St Pauls, we can be found embedded deep within the suits and glass palaces of the central London business community. We are proud to be one of some 950 such camps taking place in 82 countries worldwide.
Over a month on and ordinary people continue to set the news agenda here. We get visited, filmed, photographed and recorded and our opinions on global politics and finance are sent around the world.
Most people are not in a position to camp themselves but we have been overwhelmed by peoples support and solidarity. Much of this has come from businessmen (such as those from the adjacent Bloomberg Financial News) who have given us first hand insights into just how corrupt things have become.
The camps an end in themselves but a stone around which the snowball gathers. In London, as in all the other towns and cities, they provide a space where people can discuss issues, hold workshops and talks and plan direct actions and protests. Here we can rub up against each other, eat together and sample the local delicacy of direct democracy.
All decisions which affect the running and the destiny of the camp are made by consensus decision making, in our twice daily General Assembly (GA). The GAs’ are central to why we are here because they stand as an alternative to the now privatised Houses of Parliament. The process involves everyone and fosters the DIY ethic that makes the place tick. As a mid winter encampment in down-town London we have our fair share of challenges. Overcoming them requires constant attention, but I have never felt so involved with a community as I do here.
Some have claimed that the occupy movement contains no alternatives but this has not been my experience of Occupy London. There are workshops, talks and working groups laboring hard to incubate and cultivate practical solutions to the global crisis. I saw a talk here on the ‘Land Value Tax’ – a campaign that could totally restructure how property and wealth are managed. If you go to St Pauls, be sure to find Robin Smith, representative of the radical Systemic Fiscal Reform group from Cambridge. Robin, believe it or not, used to be a Tory Councilor.
The architecture of Occupy London grows by the day. There are kitchens, tea houses, solar and bicycle powered energy sources, media tents, cinemas and medical tents. We have a Tent City University and a spectrum of almost 50 working groups from housing and welfare through to homelessness and climate change. We even have a live stream and our own paper – Occupy Times. At Finsbury Square we host many of the activities found in the ‘Whats On’ section of the OccupyLSX website and boast our own theatre space, bike workshop and library, amongst other things.
If you, as a reader, have a ninja skill, workshop, creative, cultural or practical skill (or even fresh fruit and vegetables!) please bring it to Finsbury Square. If you have positive energy, come and help make this even more of a vibrant community. If you have experience in mediation, helping the homeless or alcohol abuse we would also like to meet you.
With our mouths, our guitars and our twitter accounts we shake a proverbial flask in the air at the zombie system that has been tearing at our walls. We bear no guns or global financial instruments but are armed with peer reviewed facts, our imaginations and a militant refusal to remain passive. We are no more – and no less – than a point of galvanization, glued together with the tent pegs of hope, solidarity and love. Join us and show your solidarity with the occupation in any way you can.