Monday, 28 November 2011

Voices from the Occupation - Strike While the Irony is Hot


Voices from the Occupation

Strike While the Irony is Hot



~ A Banker, a School Teacher and an Immigrant are sat around a table.  In front of them is a plate, on which there are ten biscuits.  While the School Teacher and the Immigrant aren’t looking, the Banker scoffs nine of the biscuits, then turns to the School Teacher and whispers in her ear ‘watch out, that immigrant is after your biscuit’ ~ Anon

As we approach Big Wednesday, the 30th November public sector workers strike estimated at between 2 and 4 million workers, the media frenzy has well and truly kicked off.  This article looks at the irony of anti-strike arguments, the reasons given for striking and avoiding strike action, and what it takes to make a difference.

What’s All the Fuss About Anyway?

If you were to listen to Francis Maude or Danny Alexander, you would think that a bunch of overfed, privileged, civil servant ‘Humphreys’ were holding a poor government and country to ransom, to hold selfishly on to their ‘gold plated pensions’.  This, while ‘others are making the sacrifices necessary in this time of austerity’
Now, I have spoken to several public sector workers who share this belief and will not be striking on Wednesday, because they feel it is their duty to give up something important to them in the name of ‘the greater good’.  This misguided altruism, no not misguided, manipulated altruism, makes me so sad I could actually cry.

The actual pension deal is thus – pay more, work longer, get less.  Why? To pay down the deficit.  It is equal to a 3% tax rise on the lowest paid workers of the land.  The nurses, the care assistants, the bin men, the teachers, the folk that grow things, teach our children, take care of us when we are sick, the people we call when we have been robbed, who pull us out of burning buildings.
After a real terms pay decrease over the last 4 years; not content with undermining their wages, now we are turning on their security in old age. 

But Aren’t We All in This Together?

No.  We are most definitely not.  At the same time, Dave Hartnett and the HMRC have been courting the corporate world.  Hartnett personally attending more than 107 lunches over 2 years, making sweetheart deals allowing massive tax avoidance for those self same corporations.  Recently, a brave HMRC whistle blower reported this scandal to the Public Accounts Committee chaired by Margaret Hodge.  If you want one reason to strike, then please take the time out of your life to watch Dave Hartnett’s testimony to the Committee.

Goldman Sachs were letoff £10bn and upwards in unpaid interest on outstanding tax which they had refused to pay for over 5 years.  Vodafone, £8bn.  These are only the stories which we get to hear about through the courage and commitment of those inside the HMRC willing to risk whatever it takes, to get these stories out.  We have no right, according to Dave Hartnett, to know any more than that.

In the last Budget, taxes across the board went up, Corporate Tax went down.

In the last week, Northern Rock, a bank we bought to save from collapse- was sold.  We were told that we would buy the bank to save the financial Armageddon that would ensue if it collapsed.  We the tax payer handed over £1.4bn for this.  In the intervening years, Northern Rock has been split into the Good bank – no bad debt, good chance of making a bob or two, and the Bad bank - all the toxic mortgages and investments destined to implode.  We were told we would one day make a profit on the sale of this bank and all would come good.
Actually, George Osborne just sold THE GOOD BANK to Richard Branson for a paltry £747m, practically half what we paid for it.  Branson has issued an IOU for a further £280m at some point in the future.  But worse even than all that, is the fact that we, the tax-paying public keep the Bad Bank. That means we stay on the hook for the £20bn of toxic debt on its books, just waiting for the other shoe to drop, which it will.

So…it’s Just the Small Guy Who Needs to Pay up?

Correct.  When arguments are put forward, such as the Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions, or a one off billionaire’s tax to restore the public purse, we are told that this is unfair.  These taxes would hurt growth.  They would lead to us being uncompetitive in the global market place leading to an exodus of financial services companies from the shores of Britain.
But suggest a public sector pensions cut?  Suggest ‘cutting back the red tape’ – shorthand for the revocation of hard won workers rights such as minimum wage, employment tribunal and job security?  Suggest shovelling debt onto the young shoulders of our citizens attempting higher education by tripling, yes, tripling their annual fees?  Suggest paying less per old person than the actual cost of their residential home care, forcing homes into closure?  Suggest any of these things, and they are likely to become policy faster than you can say ‘where’s my wallet gone?’

It is a truism that in Capitalism, resources go to those who can best afford them.  Over time and through deregulation of the meagre protections those without that wealth had, the system has gone into overdrive.  It is sad, but true, that most institutions, financial and political right now, exist as vacuums sucking wealth and resources into the arena of those already with it, away from those with far less of it.  The arena becomes ever smaller and further away from those outside of it, every day of every year.  The arena used to be the West.  Now it is a tiny supra national community. 

Privatised Profits, Socialised Losses

So, consider that the response to the financial crisis in 2008, to bail out the banks, was the largest single wealth redistribution exercise in history.  From the have somes, to the have-yachts.  Not content (for there is never enough wealth to attain) with this – the redistribution continues.  Right now, through quantitative easing, the UK government is pumping money in the hundreds of billions of pounds into the Banking Sector and it isn’t coming out the other end.  Our public services are being sold off at a loss to private companies – for their private profit.  Taxes are being cut and wages are being increased for the sector of our society providing us with the least productivity and costing us the most.  In this context, with an understanding of the full historical and contemporary picture – the question is not ‘why would you strike?’…it is ‘why on earth would you not?’

But Won’t it Put People Out?  Isn’t the Timing Just Wrong?



This argument, put forward by Danny Alexander this week, among others is simply ludicrous.  In April this year, the royal family granted us ALL a day off simply to watch a wedding.  The world didn’t stop, the media was not covered in stories about what the bank holiday would cost and what inconveniences it would cause.  No.  So, when the day off is about withdrawing labour as a rebuke to poor treatment en masse, the inconvenience and cost is the very point.  It is a reminder that your contribution  matters.  That those hours each day you spend toiling away count for something.  That you make a difference that doesn’t get made without you being there.  Frankly, they should be thanking their lucky stars people aren’t striking for a week, given the level of hypocrisy and injustice people are undergoing right now.  Well, perhaps not their lucky stars, but certainly their sycophantic media outlets piping this horrid Blitz spirit nonsense into the collective ‘kool aid’.

I Get it.  I Want to Strike.  How?

Firstly, you need to join your union.  You should be able to find this out through your employer's website or on-site union representation.  Join, then just do not go to work on Wednesday 30th November.  There is a massive march planned leaving from Lincolns Inn Fields, London at 12pm…but there are also many many actions taking place across the country.  Find out, get involved and make your voice heard.  Please don’t leave it to those more vocal or naturally leaning to direct action, to make this difference for you.  Every single person that strikes, every single person that marches, makes a personal difference.  Your voice is your own, bring it.  This is not a battle between an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, it is a raising of the quieter voices so that WE as a society can recreate ourselves, such that we attain a world that truly works for everyone.  We cannot do it without you.










Friday, 25 November 2011

Voices from the Occupation - Where Is All This Occupation Stuff Going Anyway?


Voices from the Occupation

Where Is All This Occupation Stuff Going Anyway?

As Occupy London Finsbury Square looks to celebrate its one month anniversary this weekend, with a big party on Saturday night; the question commonly levied on and off camp is – where is this going?  This question represents an ‘in order to’ means of thinking which has us as human beings, often not present to the wonder of something in and of itself.  It will go where we take it, because we are it. A more pertinent question would be – what am I committed to contributing to this?  This is a question for something, rather than at something.  It puts the person asking ‘in the game’; a participant, rather than a commentator on the sidelines looking on.

This article is to bring those unable to be on site at Finsbury Square, The Bank of Ideas and St Pauls an opportunity to experience some of the wonder of sharing a space, a conversation and myriad ideas with other human beings.


The Big Fat Bank of Ideas




An idea central to the Occupy Movement is the occupation of physical space in order to re-appropriate it for public use.  This is the point of the camps themselves, and with winter coming and a commitment to Occupy being a permanent fixture in the world, new Occupations are spreading.  For Occupy London, The Bank of Ideas marks a great step forward in this process.  Essentially, the Occupiers have taken over a giant disused UBS Bank office building on Sun Street in Hackney, a stone’s throw from the Finsbury Square camp.

The building is vast.  Walking through it made me light up with a cheeky sense of joy which I hadn’t felt since being a teenager and playing hide and seek on the building site of a new housing development.  We shouldn’t be here! It’s not allowed!  But we are anyway! 

So why the Bank?  It’s close by; it has lots of meeting rooms, facilities and space, including an underground car park and a 500 seater lecture theatre.  It is also owned by UBS, a bank which took welfare from the Swiss taxpaying public.  UBS also happens to have a building directly opposite its reclaimed sister – now, all the blinds in all the windows of that UBS building are closed all day every day.  Literally, blind ignorance.

What’s the point?  To claim the space for the use of the public.  Local youth centres, community groups and support agencies which have seen their budgets cut and their premises lost recently, have been invited to use the Bank of Ideas as new premises.  It is a learning space, with talks and workshops on all kinds of important topics by all kinds of people put on every day.  Everyone is welcome and it is a drug, alcohol and smoke free zone.  One long term aim is to establish a Free University on the site.  Free, meaning both without charge and free from state and market control.  According to Bank of Ideas, there has already been interest in this from lecturers at Sussex University and elsewhere.

Here are just some of the wonderful things already happening.  To find out more please click here.

Mark Thomas – The People’s Manifesto






Billy Bragg – How to Write a Protest Song Workshop



Allessio Rastani – Independent Trader


The Bank of Ideas is an incredible resource for the people and long may it continue, in the face of mounting legal action from UBS. 

Bloomsbury Social Centre


In collaboration with members of Occupy London, a group of students, workers and residents have successfully occupied the disused SOAS University of London building in Bloomsbury.  The group aims to reclaim the space for residents of the area to use for community purposes in the longer term, and to prepare a base for organising the November 30th protests in the short term.  They have reported intimidation from security guards and police. 

This move, alongside the Bank of Ideas and the growing occupations happening across the country and across the world, can be seen as the kind of mass civil disobedience we thought impossible just weeks ago.  People are willing to risk physical danger, legal sanction and public misrepresentation to make a stand and say, ‘up with this we will not put’.

The statement from the Bloomsbury Fight Back makes inspiring reading.  Please take a few moments to review and your reward will be a shot in the arm for your faith in humanity.  For the statement, click here.

The Importance of Wellbeing

Occupy Finsbury Square now has a wellbeing support group set up to focus on the mental and physical wellbeing issues on camp.  I happened to be walking past the events tent on my way to get a coffee, when a young woman caught my eye and asked me if I was coming in for the wellbeing workshop.
Now, on the whole, I have a stock reaction to ‘welbeing’ workshops.  My immediate response is ‘oh get me away from this airy fairy nonsense’.
But, as part of my personal experience and aim of Occupy is to challenge my own behaviour and opinions as much as anyone else’s, I promised to return with my cup of coffee and take part.

There were seven of us.  Charlotte, facilitating, is a blonde dread headed social worker – think of a grungier Drew Barrymore.  She held in her hand a talking stick ‘oh not a frickin talking stick!’- yelled the voice in my head.  She explained that we would pass the stick around the circle and the person holding would speak for as long as they wanted about whatever they wanted and our commitment was to listen without response – not even jazz hands.

The stick would keep going around until we had nothing left to say.  There was Mark, a middle aged, shaved headed, leather jacket wearing northern accented member of The Rainbow.  There was Phil, a mid 50’s new Zealander, now living in Islington, drawn to camp by the sense of belonging and community.  There was Roxy, an early 20’s force of nature, living on camp with her equally young boyfriend.  There was Paul, a man suffering from Emphysema but determined to see the revolution he’d waited for all his life, happen before his death.  There was Alan, a prematurely aged disillusioned hippy.   There was Andrew, a bespectacled young man with an inquisitive mind and an urge to discover community.

As I listened to each person speak in turn, it struck me how our visible, political, existential seeming diversity was a very thin veil for a common humanity.  We shared dreams.  As my inhibitions fell away, my curiosity grew and the world was just these voices.  I experienced one voice.  In essence, the remarkable oneness of human being.

The conversation was of the realisation that we are one thing, that our differences and individuality are wonderful distinctions but not true.  Of how amazing it is to open your world up in this way to experience such a broad range of people and the impact of that experience on personal growth.  Of the genuine heartbreak of looking at the state of the world right now, the clustering of power and wealth and the isolation experience of feeling ‘why isn’t everyone screaming mad about this???’  Of the need to be the change we wish to see in the world, it starts and ends in each of us.  Of some people experiencing family for the first time, on camp.  Of the great gift that listening is to humanity, and how often people who listen the least, feel the least heard and vice versa.  The group grew as time went on and people seemed to gravitate in towards the intimacy.  We laughed, we cried, we talked, we listened, for a couple of hours.

Finally, as we felt complete, that we’d spoken what we needed to, we sat in a circle, held hands, shared a series of long ‘ommmmmmmms’ with our eyes closed, and then gave each other a big hug.  I left that tent in a state of complete bliss and peace.  It had a remarkable impact on my physical and mental state.  I realised how stressed and uptight and uncomfortable I had been feeling before the workshop, just by the elation I felt afterwards.  I really needed that.  So did they.  We really can contribute to each other as human beings just by speaking and listening, by being open to conversation and expression.  No one needed to fix anyone’s problem or sympathise or validate.  Simply to listen, to hear, to let be.

I hope this gives you something, some sense of understanding, a flicker of recognition, a giggle, a moment’s pause for consideration.  If you have yet to visit a camp, visit one.  It may very well change your life. 

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Voices from the Occupation - Ms Mendoza's Feeling for Snow


Voices from the Occupation
Ms Mendoza’s Feeling for Snow

Tuesday 22nd November was the big day in court for those arrested for standing outside parliament on 5th November, and for Occupying Trafalgar Square on 9th November 2011.  While none of us were looking forward to this day, we had no idea 11 of us would be spending any time in the cells.  This article, written by one of the defendants, recreates the experience of this awful day for justice, under the misguided and abused authority of District Judge Michael Snow.

On 26th March this year, a group of UK Uncut protesters, occupied a Fortnum & Masons store.  Why?  Because while government is falling over itself to privatise and slash our public services under the guise of austerity, it is giving enormous tax breaks to very powerful corporations.  Fortnum & Masons are one such company.  The UKUncut crew danced, played music, held banners and handed out leaflets to customers and staff in the store to make them aware of the scandal which does not get discussed in mainstream media.
The onsite police called the demonstrators ‘sensible’ and ‘polite’ – a very British demonstration.  In this civilised air the protesters were asked to leave the store, together and they would not be arrested.  This was a lie.  Once they left the building they were kettled, arrested, banged up and charged with Aggravated Trespass.

Just last week, District Judge Michael Snow, despite all this evidence and a Crown Prosecution Service request to reduce the charge, decided to find the protesters guilty.  This means a criminal record, a conditional discharge, each had to pay £1000 towards the prosecution costs and a fine.  Not to mention the emotional impact from arrest to trial and beyond.  All this for daring to stand in a department store and ask why it wasn’t paying taxes.  There has been limited but impassioned retaliation to this verdict across the liberal and social media sources, but most people still are not aware.

It is seen as portentous of the death of peaceful protest.  Law makers and law enforcers seem hell bent on making anything but the most benign and ineffective protest illegal, to all intents and purposes making peaceful protest illegal by default.

So, walking into Court 7 at Westminster Magistrates Court, I was particularly unimpressed to see District Judge Michael Snow presiding over my own appearance for Illegal Protest.

The list caller called the 11 guys arrested at Trafalgar Square first.  Dukes wore an ill fitting suit he’d bought from a charity shop; ‘I saved a life by coming to court!’ he joked with me before we went in.  EC however was wearing a sleeping bag.  He hopped into court and was almost immediately set upon by Snow.  He was told to remove himself from the sleeping bag, to which he retorted ‘Under which law?’  After some minutes of debate and gruff exchanges he was locked into the plexi-glass dock with the other 10.

Judge Snow continued to goad the men in the dock.  Making them repeat themselves, berating them for not standing and sitting at the right time, when they were 11 men in a dock with 5 seats in it.  While talking with Van Eck, Judge Snow demanded he remove his hands from his pockets.  Van Eck looked at him questioningly and said ‘why?’  Judge Snow continued to demand he remove his hands from his pockets.  At this point, a clearly upset Leon Pike couldn’t take his eyes off the Judge.  Judge Snow noticed this and accused him of 'glaring'.  Leon took a step back, looked upwards and said he was just looking – at which point Judge Snow addressed the Court Clerk.
“Can we get the jailers up here now please?”
An audible ripple of shock crossed the public gallery and the dock, with mumbled voices saying ‘this is outrageous’ etc.  At this point, a door opened in the back of the dock, several large officers came through and all 11 of the defendants were seized and taken to the cells.

This was a case of simple, good old fashioned bullying.  Leon was no threat to the Judge.  He was locked behind plexi glass in a dock.  Judge Snow had done everything he could to provoke the merest glimmer of a response from the defendants…and when he felt he got it, he revelled in it.  It is stressful enough being taken into a dock, worse still to be crowded into one.  You are locked in, it’s cold, you can barely hear the conversations happening about you in the courtroom.  You are dealing with a lot.  What you don’t need, is a bully on top of that pushing your buttons.

With that, it was our turn.  Me, Pedro and James wondered into the dock where we were locked in.  To our stunned disbelief, the door in back of the dock opened and three guards came through and circled us.  It’s bad enough being locked in a box, without being kettled at the same time.  We looked to the guards and asked why they were there.
“We’re just doing our job, you don’t need to ask us any questions” responded one. I turned to him and responded.
“What you need to understand is that we are in a really stressful situation here.  Our friends have just been sent to the cells, we’ve been locked in a box.  It’s incredibly dehumanising, and now, on top of that I’m feeling really intimidated by your presence.  So I might have some questions about that.” 
He shrugged his shoulders and the three of us looked at each other and our supporters in the gallery, frankly, open mouthed.

The following scene can only be characterised as pathetic, shambolic and ridiculous.  The senior prosecutor present announced to the court that he had not read the brief.  The full burdensome extent of the case against us is two one and a half page police statements.  So, we have paid travel fares to come in from York, Finsbury Square and Farnborough, for the prosecutor not to have read 3 pages of information in advance.

Each time Mr Hall, the senior prosecutor spoke, he was actually laughing. 

We had reasons to be optimistic about this day.  The Prosecutor was completely unprepared.  The SOCPA Law which we are being tried under was repealed in February this year and is simply awaiting removal from the statute.  We are in possession of the letter of authorisation provided by the Metropolitan Police sufficiently in advance of the march.

In short, we are three people of good character who have a clear case that we didn’t break a dead law. Where is the public interest in pursuing this to trial?

District Judge Michael Snow disagreed.  We are now going to trial on March 28th-29th 2012.  The Trafalgar boys were bailed from their cells to return for trial April 4th-6th 2012.  District Judge Michael Snow requested he sit both trials.  We have been informed we have no case under law to request an alternative judge as we can’t prove in law that he is biased against us personally.

So, inside of what I can only assume, is Judge Snow’s personal penchant for criminalising peaceful protest, we are now next in his sights.  We have no jury to appeal to as it is a Magistrates Court.  But I know what we do have.  We have clean consciences.

Judge Snow may well get his day in court with us, he may very well find us guilty of a crime.  But it won’t stop there.  I make this promise.  I will appeal this with every recourse open to me, and I will refuse to let it impact upon my stand to protest for a world based on contribution, equality and compassion over one motivated by profit. 

To be clear, Judge Snow, you may well be finding me in your court more and more in the near future, because we are all sick of bullies like you.  In our parliament, in our courts, in our workplaces, in our media, telling us what to do, when, how and with whom.  We are sick of sky high prices and gutter wages.  We are sick of the language of freedom being used to cloak the policy of oppression.  We are sick of corporate welfare – of privatised profits and socialised losses.  We are done.  We’ve had it.  To put it in the words popularised by the movie The Network – ‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!’

The thing is, for every Judge Snow, there are ten Leon Pikes, EC's, and you's.  People who stand FOR people and not against them.  People with big hearts, creative minds and the courage to bring both to bear on the world.  What we are creating now is a tidal wave of humanity; the force of which will sweep away the detritus in our system and reshape the world in ways that right now, we can but imagine.  The first thing, is for apathy and cynicism to be put aside - replace it with an unflinching commitment.  You can change the world, you do so simply by existing.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Voices from the Occupation - Forgive us our Aggravated Trespasses


Voices from the Occupation
Forgive us our Aggravated Trespasses

10 people were arrested under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act Illegal Protest, while on an authorised march 5th November 2011. I was one of them.  We had our first appearance in court on Friday 18th November and this is an account of the experience, as the government proceeds with its efforts to criminalise peaceful protest.

Bureaucracy and the Unknown

The first thing to say about the experience between arrest and court appearance, is the lack of information.  We were simply told to show up at 10am on the 18th at Westminster Magistrates Court.  Thankfully I had been provided with a bust card (a card with contact information for solicitors and some information on rights when arrested) prior to my arrest.  Even as a fairly smart, educated person with a good reading level, I found the legal aid forms paperwork mind numbing.  It took hours and I needed to provide a lot of information.  This in itself was a barrier to some of my co defendants pursuing a ‘not guilty’ plea.  What if you had no proof of earnings?  What if you have no fixed abode?  This system is not built for those leading unconventional lives.

In essence, it made more sense for some to plead guilty and take the consequences, despite being innocent.

To Plea, or Not to Plea

Since Thoreau’s classic Essay ‘Civil Disobedience’ – there has been some debate on how the civil disobedient person should plea in court.  Gandhi felt they should plead guilty and be imprisoned if they have broken the law; but go happily, pleased that they broke an unjust law.  Others argue that the Not Guilty plea is a statement that you don’t think you have done anything wrong.  Some plead no contest or put in a creative plea such as ‘I plea for the sanity of this country right now’.

There was a great guy called Simon who had been arrested for Aggravated Trespass for standing on parliament square carrying a peace flag.



Simon pleads guilty.  Standing in the dock, he put forward a stirring speech invoking the words of Mahatma Gandhi.  He told the Magistrate that he might be guilty of a crime, but that he did not feel he was wrong.  He then quoted the following:

"I am here to . . . submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is a deliberate crime and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen."

He requested that if the magistrate felt he had broken the law, then to bring down the fullest force of the law upon him, and if she didn’t then to resign in protest at the state of UK law.

Others plead guilty not knowing the extent of the charge as they were not using legal support.

I and several others under the same solicitor, Sashy Nathan of Bindmans did not put forward a plea.  We argued for and won an adjournment in the case to give us time to speak with the Prosecutor and consider discontinuing the prosecution on the basis that it is made in error.

I think the SOCPA laws are intended to criminalise peaceful protest.  They are bad enough on their own.  But what has happened in this case, is the already egregious SOCPA laws have been stretched out of all kilter.

In essence, they arrested a handful of peaceful people, who did not resist arrest, saying we were carrying out an authorised protest. Once it became clear that when the demonstration started it was an authorised protest, they said we were carrying on our own separate unauthorised protest which was nothing to do with the authorised one.  Finally, on reading my charge sheet for the first time in full….the police statement now says that I am infact a member of Anonymous and was part of that protest happening the same day.

Now, there are several flaws with this story of theirs.  One, there is copious footage of me in St Pauls and all the way to Westminster in the authorised protest.  Two, nowhere in those pictures am I wearing a Guy Fawkes mask.  And three, 5 minutes prior to my arrest I took to the megaphone, declared my name and that I was happy to go on the record publicly with my support for the Occupy Movement and that I would not be moving.

I don’t know how much the police know about Anonymous, but the clue is in the title.

Like a Caged Animal

I’ve never been a fan of having my physical freedom limited.  Once, as a young teenager, my parents dropped me and my brother at what – to all the other kids – was Nirvana.  A giant wonderland of go karts, slides, bumper cars, quad bikes and such stretched out like a carnival over the Downs in Bristol.  However, I looked around and all I saw were the 13 foot high fences surrounding the place.  I was going to Kiddie Prison and I was not amused.  So, rather than play, I spent the day figuring out how to escape, and did.

On arrival into the courtroom, I looked to my left where a defendant was being lead into what looked like The Cube.  He was walked through a plexi-glass door into a small room adjoining the court.  Three white walls, with a plexi-glass wall on the courtroom side which he was locked in during testimony.  He looked like a caged animal.  He went to leave at the end of answering his charge and found the door locked.  The List Caller in court has the key to the dock, and you are locked in and out of it.

After several hours of briefing and waiting, it was my turn in the dock.  On stepping into the cube, I felt my heart beating faster and could actually hear it in my ears.  The dock is several degrees colder than the court and I was shivering slightly.  It was also hard to hear what was happening in the court.  I felt like an exhibit.  Unsafe and on show.  Dehumanised.  I held my chin up and reminded myself that I am a human being and I had nothing in the world to be ashamed of. 

I was asked to confirm my name, address and date of birth, which I did.  I was asked to make a plea and went straight to ‘Not Guilty’.  Then, in a sort of ‘Law and Order’ moment, my solicitor stood and requested we have an adjournment rather than make a plea.  The magistrate moved to block this three times, insisting that a plea on first appearance is expected.  My solicitor stayed calm and restated his case and after consideration, and frankly, a widening of the eyes when it was stated that we hadn’t been interviewed after we were arrested, but sent straight to court – she agreed with our solicitor that we should have an adjournment.

This was carried across the other defendants who were not pleading Guilty.

Democracy in the Dock

Despite asking for three weeks to prepare the case, we will now reappear in court tomorrow November 22nd 2011.  There is an additional significance to this date.  Those arrested at the Battle of Trafalgar on the 9th November, have their first appearances in Westminster Magistrates Court that day. 
So, it is hard not to consider these charges as a legal attack on the Occupy Movement.  A means of criminalising peaceful protest.  Part of a sustained rollback of hard won freedoms over recent year; tolerated and ignored by a population fooled into thinking they don’t require them.  What’s it to me if it’s illegal to stand outside parliament?  So what if it’s illegal to peacefully assemble?  What does it really matter anyway?  These freedoms and rights were fought for to protect those without wealth or structural power, from those with it.  So, in a time when we have the greatest levels of wealth and power inequality in history – one might consider this the time when those rights and freedoms are most necessary.  They are needed for people to be able to express, without resorting to violence, their objections to policies which impact their daily lives.  They are needed for people to group together and utilise their collective bargaining rights as labour, civil rights, economic justice or Occupy Movements.  They are needed so that we have a say in decisions made in our name, using our money, and impacting our present and future.

Over 3,500 people have been arrested for protesting against corporate greed and an unjust and undemocratic economic system in recent months.  There has not been one member of the so called 1% arrested for their role in the 2008 financial crisis. 

Some people will call the Occupy Movement na├»ve in its ambitions for a world that works for everyone.  However, the ultimate naivety is the failure to understand the criticality of an educated, liberated, civil society.  The current situation is eroding this society from the bottom up, while some of us sit in relative comfort believing that it won’t or doesn’t affect us. 

It will.  It matters. 

If you want to see for yourself, then be at Westminster Magistrates Court on Tuesday 22nd November from 2pm.

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