Voices from the Occupation
A Day in the Life: What Next for Occupy?
The Occupy Movement has now spread to over 1000 major cities (26 camps in the UK alone – don’t think it’s only happening in London), in 90 countries across the globe, and is entering only its 12th week. Pundits across the corporate media are asking: where next for the Occupy Movement? Today, I bring you a day in the life report from Occupy London Finsbury Square to reveal how the Occupy London movement is expanding and taking its momentum in new directions. In short….we’re taking it out of the camps, onto the streets, and into the buildings.
Housing Crisis? What Housing Crisis?
Grant Shapps MP, The UK Government Minister for Housing, talks of this housing crisis, in terms of needing to build more houses. Labour didn’t build enough houses, Grant Shapps will. But, we have more than enough houses. The crisis is not in quantity. The crisis is sky high property prices. The homes are there, people simply cannot afford to rent or buy them.
In the UK, on 2010 figures, we have 61,000 families without a home, registered with their local authority and in temporary accommodation. It is also estimated that 160,000 people are ‘effectively homeless’, meaning they are in B&B accommodation, sofa-surfing in overcrowded shared accommodation or sleeping rough.
Meanwhile, there are 1 million plus homes standing empty across the UK.
Whole areas of cities have become so expensive, that the workers needed to support that area – the nurses, the social workers, the cleaners, the teachers, the refuse collectors – cannot afford to live within a 90 minute commute. Local youth and community groups, serving their area, are losing their premises and ceasing to function as they cannot absorb the rising cost of rent and energy.
The principle behind the next phase of the Occupy Movement is a statement and action to tackle this issue. We say: this does not work. Allowing buildings to lay empty, rotting on their foundations while community groups, vulnerable people and families are forced to compete for scarce and often unacceptable social housing is unworkable. So, buildings across London, the UK, the US and the world are being taken back into public possession for social utility.
The Bank of Ideas
On 18th November, Occupy London opened the Bank of Ideas, in a disused UBS bank building at 29 Sun Street, Hackney. The building is enormous, over several storeys with a 500 seater lecture theatre, an underground car park, showers, multiple kitchens, and acres of office space. Since opening, The Bank of Ideas has held over 300 lectures, workshops, films and talks; including Mark Thomas, Caroline Lucas MP (Green Party), Billy Bragg – and just a couple of nights ago, a live concert by Massive Attack, Thom Yorke (Radiohead) and UNKLE (this was recorded and will be released by Occupy Records to raise funds for occupy camps across the UK and the world). Lecturers, comedians, philosophers, musicians, artists, politicians, occupiers, locals, passersby: all pass through the Bank of Ideas, on a daily basis.
The key purpose of the building is education, knowledge exchange and a space for local community groups who have lost or are unable to find premises, to utilise. The point is to take back empty buildings, and make them socially useful.
Here is a two part interview with a member of the art working group at Bank of Ideas.
The noise and movement in the back of shot during the interview, is graffiti artist T.Wat producing a Banksy style stencil across the wall. Here is T.Wat at work and the final result.
The level of creativity on show at the Bank of Ideas really is overwhelming; it’s like walking into an art installation. Most walls and surfaces have become manuscript and canvas, occupied with the thoughts, dreams and ideas of a host of people who pass through its doors.
Meanwhile, UBS are pursuing an injunction through the courts to get the Bank of Ideas evicted as soon as possible. The Bank of Ideas lost its first and second appeals to remove the injunction, and awaits a listing with a judge, sometime between now and Christmas for its third and final plea. If it loses, the police will attend to forcibly evict everyone from the building.
It strikes me as thoroughly ludicrous, that in this supposed age of ‘Big Society’, ‘Austerity’ and ‘We are all in this together’, an institution such as The Bank of Ideas is likely to be brutally shut down, so the building can be locked up and left to fester again, as it has for the last 5 years. British PM David Cameron loves to talk about waste, well what about this waste? What about the million wasted homes? I for one, think it would be truly inspiring if UBS, having received it’s bailout from the Swiss taxpayer, saw fit to ‘pay it forward’ and, even if for a fixed term period, donate the Bank of Ideas to the people of Hackney.
The Earl Street Community Space
Moving on from the Bank of Ideas, I took a 3 minute walk to the road behind Sun Street, called Earl Street. Occupy London have also occupied another empty UBS building, and reopened it as the Earl Street Community Space. The building has been occupied since 2nd December.
Earl Street will focus mainly on wellbeing, spirituality and community. The events list was yoga, chi gong, therapy and music events in the evening. The site has a history of occupation, and was occupied in 2009 by the G20 climate camp group. Their art still fills the walls, and some of their tents were left behind.
I was given a tour by one of the occupiers of the building, and here it is for you to enjoy.
Protest – Getting Out There and Making a Noise
Not satisfied with occupying vacant buildings, there is also a point still in making a good old fashioned protest. To be visible to those people making these decisions, which have such a heinous impact on people and planet. To say directly to them, ‘we’ve had enough’.
As the evening set in, I heard news of a small Boot Out Boris protest to be conducted outside Kings College on The Strand. Boris Johnson, the current Mayor of London, was due to give a talk to the students about why they should vote for him in the next Mayoral elections for London. We thought we would take the opportunity to raise our voices about why Boris should find another vocation.
As usual, the police presence was heavy and intimidating, but no arrests were made. Sadly, we didn’t get sight of Boris. But the press were there and it kept us warm and lifted our spirits to have a good old rant and rave.
Meanwhile, at Finsbury Square
Despite the expansion of Occupy London into surrounding empty buildings, the camps as St Pauls and Finsbury square continued to grow and develop. I made these short videos to give you a guided tour of Occupy London Finsbury Square camp, where I pitch my tent.
Get Creative, Get Cheeky, Get Civilly Disobedient
The Occupy Movement is just getting started. The dynamism and creativity astounds me every day. This is not just the case in London, but across the UK and the world. In Cardiff, a disused Conservative social club on Church Street, and an old Inland Revenue building on Westgate street have been occupied. Students in Bloomsbury have occupied an empty SOAS building, renaming it the Bloomsbury Social Centre. A wave of student occupations has set up across the country, with 23 campuses sporting their own occupation. Across the pond in the US, Occupy Our Homes has kicked off, where Occupiers move into the homes of people being foreclosed upon by their mortgage company to protect the home and negotiate new terms.
There is also a plan to close down the west coast ports on December 12th.
The movement continues to grow, change pace and direction and expand to take on ever greater numbers of the disenfranchised and disillusioned members of societies across the globe. This vibrant, diverse, trans national civil disobedience strikes me as something of a miracle. It is changing the conversation, creating space for people to share ideas, providing homes for the homeless, giving back spaces to the local community which have for too long been squatted by corporations.
Come join us. It's not too late, we're only beginning....December 15th, Occupy Everywhere. What do you care about? What do you want to save? What do you want to reclaim? Occupy it.