Voices from the Occupation
Occupy Justice – One Day, Two Courts
This week in London, the City of London Corporation is attempting to gain an eviction order for the St Paul’s camp. Justice Lindblom has presided over 5 days of evidence from both sides. Meanwhile, Occupy London have occupied their own court house in Old Street, and enlisted the support of legal professionals, to begin to put those responsible for the financial crisis on trial. Today’s article brings you reports from both courts, and the inspirational tale of how to Occupy Justice.
Old Street Magistrates Court – Occupied
As reported here on 20th December, members of Occupy London and Occupy Veterans arrived at the Old Street Magistrates court at 4.30am, in a tank festooned with flowers, and sporting a banner calling it ‘The Tank of Ideas’. The Grade II listed building at the east end of Old Street (north side) has been empty since 1996, but was sold onto an Indian property venture in 2006. Throughout this time, it has been left empty and plans for a community justice project on the site have been dropped. Latest plans are for the building to be converted into a hotel. However, Occupy London have other ideas. The group Occupy Justice, the title of the occupiers at Old Street, have already gained the support of a retired Judge and Prosecutor, together with a working prosecutor who are providing them with information about how to structure the trial. It is also reported that they have confirmed they will attend to ‘try’ the case. Their intention is to call witnesses, and invite members of the 1% accused to attend the court to defend and account for themselves.
(Picture by @HeardinLondon)
The court house is vast. It runs over several floors, includes several court rooms, and an old police station, including cells. The old cells have chalk boards by each cell door where the name of the detained would have been inscribed in the past. These now bear the names – Goldman Sachs, Tony Blair, etc. A peace flag now hangs proudly from the flagpole on the roof of the building.
I took a short tour of the building on film below.
To some, this may appear a mere media stunt, designed to get Occupy London in the headlines.
Firstly, I would challenge the implicit suggestion in the statement, namely that a PR stunt is somehow a bad thing. Why would that be a bad thing? The media is occupied most of the time with adverts of one kind or another; drink THIS beer, eat THIS chocolate, play THIS game, use THIS shampoo and THAT mascara and for pity’s sake wear THIS perfume! Surely it is simply common sense to attempt to disrupt this endless stream of consumer messaging with something different – something inspiring, something thought provoking?
Secondly, there is a remarkable point to be highlighted by the occupation of the Old Street Magistrates Court. A group of human beings crashed the global economy in the pursuit of their own personal mega-wealth. The FSA report, the Public Accounts Committee report and the Vickers Report all point to fraud, corruption and vigilante capitalism of the highest degree. To date, there have been no arrests, no charges and no single conviction of anyone responsible for the financial crisis. Not even one. In 3 years. In stark contrast, in the three months since the Occupy Movement began, this group have seen 5000 arrests in the US alone, hundreds in the UK. Police have used pepper spray, rubber bullets, flash bang grenades, sound cannons. Libraries have been burned or thrown into dumper trucks. People have been pulled, half asleep from their tents in the middle of the night. People have been kettled, punched, kicked and pushed. People have been charged, gone to court and faced fines and imprisonment for daring to protest this injustice.
The growing realisation for human beings, the realisation which has them pitching tents, moving their money to credit unions, attending general assemblies, supporting every way they can – is this; the economy doesn’t work for us, the government doesn’t work for us, the media doesn’t work for us, the police force doesn’t work for us, the justice system does not work for us. If the institutions of our world, at a local and global level, do not work for 99% of the population, then they do not work. They are bogus, bankrupt and benefit a tiny proportion of people, over the exclusion and disenfranchisement of the many, and the plunder of the planet.
By occupying this court, Occupy London are, consistent with the movement itself, ceasing to make demands and adopt conventional protest tactics. If no one in authority will hold this trial, we will hold it ourselves – say Occupy London. Below, Leon of Occupy Justice talks about why he occupies, the plans for the court, and reads the initial statement of Occupy Justice.
Royal Courts of Justice – Occupy Fighting for Justice
Picture from Pressenza.com
Meanwhile, studiously under reported by the corporate media – the future of the St Pauls occupation is being defended in Court 25 of the Royal Courts of Justice. Throughout this week, witness testimony has been made for and against the occupiers remaining in situ. I attended the afternoon session on Thursday 22nd December, having been following live coverage from the court via @alburyj on twitter.
In recent weeks, the City of London Corporation - the secretive, undemocratic body which runs the City of London borough - set in chain high court proceedings to evict Occupy London from the St Pauls site. This week, the case has been heard before Justice Lindblom at the Royal Courts of Justice. With support from John Cooper QC, members of Occupy London are defending themselves as litigants in person – George Barda, Daniel Ashman and Tammy Samede are in court as OccupyLSX. The courage of these three cannot be understated. Daniel Ashman discusses the potential repercussions of his role as litigant in person, in the film interview below.
The City of London’s case has been based on health & safety grounds and obstructing the highway. However, in order to gain an injunction to evict, as reported by the Guardian this week, it is not enough that the obstruction is wilful, and without lawful excuse – but unreasonable. This means that the Occupy London defence has centred on the level of communication (often one way on the part of Occupy London) to both the City of London and St Pauls in an effort to remediate any health & safety or fire safety concerns. The second and more vigorous line of defence has been that the site at St Pauls is perfectly reasonable, given the state of nation and world, and the need for people to have a place to meet and discuss alternatives. This has given the Occupy movement a voice within the Justice system, on formal record, of what this movement is about. Win or lose, defence witness after defence witness has taken to that stand to raise the issues which the camp exists to highlight. In this sense, Occupy London has already won. Even if the eviction order is approved, it only stands for tents and structures - not people. It also only covers the City of London land, not St Pauls.
Picture from GoogleImages
I was brought to tears twice that afternoon, by two witnesses. The first, an ordained minister who had come to take a look at Occupy London and still hadn’t left. He is perhaps in his late fifties, with short white hair and blue eyes. He wears a black jacket and is slightly stooped in the stand. He brings to the attention of the court, the fact that the grounds of St Pauls had been the site of the Moots in 1213-15. People from all counties met and camped to produce the Magna Carta, in protest at the greed of the King and his refusal to honour their rights and freedoms. This is that moment for our time, he argues. Questioned as to why people had to camp and not simply just rally at the site without the tents and structures – the Minister points out that this would make it impossible for many people to participate. It would make it impossible for him to participate as he is from the Isle of Wight and could not afford to keep making trips into London. He also makes the point that one of the most important purposes of the camp is to create a community. The camp is now his home, so a decision to evict would make him homeless and that community would be destroyed by the eviction order.
Finally, asked why he was a part of the Occupy Movement, the Ministers voice cracks and tears come to his eyes. He answers that he has a wonderful eleven year old son, and he has to help to make this world a place worthy of him. He has never found a place where he felt that he was really contributing to making the world a better place, and now he has. That every fibre of his being tells him he has to be a part of this. He must be here. Across the public gallery, a ripple of consensus jazz hands wave in the air.
Next to the stand is Matthew Horne (pictured, above left), a young Iraq veteran who works in the Tech team at Occupy London, maintaining the IT systems and networks which keep the movement going. Matthew is small, wiry, dressed in military camouflage jacket and trousers. He has black hair and eyes, with olive skin – he is softly spoken with a northern accent. He tells us that while he was in Iraq, he was asked to do terrible things. He saw private security operatives vastly outnumbering British forces, causing chaos in the cities, while the British forces took the brunt of the response.
He tells of his anger at coming home, to find out that a station his unit had been defending in Iraq, (he calls it basically a suicide mission), which they had been told was a vital logistics station – was in fact an oil field, protected for Halliburton.
He says to us ‘We were told we were fighting for freedom and democracy – but where’s the freedom and democracy in bashing down the door of a family in the middle of the night and dragging a husband out of his wife’s bed based on just some suspicion? We didn’t let them assemble freely, we didn’t let them vent their anger in protest, we shot people and beat people and tortured people’.
He tells us that families in Iraq and families in Britain are suffering under the same system, just in different ways. The Iraqi families have their liberty, home and lives taken by bombs. But British families have their liberty, homes and lives taken away by the financial crisis, which is a robbery and not a recession. He uses the example of the couple whorecently committed suicide after years of struggling to live on their meagre benefits – 'people are dying here because of the system we’re in', he says.
Asked why he is camping at St Pauls, Matthew tells the court that Occupy is now his home. He comes from a backwater part of world where there are so few jobs that DFS opened a new store, offering 19 jobs - and 2000 people applied. 'In that environment', he says, 'how can I live? I cant afford to learn to drive, I couldn't afford the fuel, I can't afford the train fares, I can't afford to go back to education'. He tells of being rejected from a BT role as a telcomms engineer, without an interview, becuase he didn't have GCSE Maths, despite running mililtary telecoms in Iraq for four years. He says that conventional protest has been proved a catastrophic failure. 36 million people worldwide marched against the Iraq war, over 1 million in the UK alone and their voices were simply ignored. Protest is so contained and restricted that it has no impact. He says ‘The government doesn’t represent me, but Occupy represents me. Occupy is me’. We are here to represent all the people who are suffering in the world because of this system and arent able to pitch a tent.
The court is adjourned over night, with final submissions and statements to be made the following day. Judge Lindblom confirms that he will not be in a position to make a decision this week, so the news is – Occupy London will be camping at St Pauls over Christmas! A decision will not be made before 11th January 2012.
As I write this, final submissions and statements are being made to Judge Lindblom. All four Occupy London sites are now confirmed safe from eviction for the rest of the year. The Bank of Ideas goes back to court on 11th January, Occupy Justice on the 3rd, St Pauls no sooner than the 11th and Finsbury Square has no eviction proceedings against it. As camps across the world have been ripped apart, the UK camps are still going strong. But this hasn’t stopped the camps innovating by finding alternative spaces to Occupy; empty offices, courts, social clubs and community centres have all been occupied across the UK, but the camps remain as the bridge between them, the villages of hope in our bustling cities. I hope that the Justice system can be used to protect these sites; I hope we can start taking back our justice system with judges making a stand for the right of people to peacefully assemble to shape their world. I hope. Whatever happens – this is merely the beginning. As the saying goes – you cannot evict an idea whose time has come. Occupy is an idea whose time has come.
Occupy London have a packed calendar for Christmas – for full details please go to the website. Scriptonite will be having a family Christmas and bring Voices from the Occupation back in a few days. Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas period with your friends, family and community. Thank you for reading and commenting through 2011. Here’s to making 2012, the year we changed the world.