Voices from the Occupation
A Week in the Occupy Movement – Day 1
One of the most common questions I get asked when people find out I am involved with the Occupy Movement, is ‘what is it like?’. The news may occasionally cover where Occupy is, but often not what, why or how Occupy is. So, here are a series of articles to give you my ground eye view of the Occupy Movement last week.
The first thing to mention is the Occupy movement is a rapidly evolving and changing thing. The atmosphere and tone doesn’t simply shift by camp, but by day. You might have a horrid time on the Wednesday and think everyone has gone mad and the movement is in decline. On Thursday you realise those tough conversations the day before were necessary, something blocked has shifted and the movement surges on into a new space, as do the personal relationships within it. Occupy is simply a bunch of people working toward a better world. Some of those people make me laugh every day, some of those people I find really challenging, all of those people I love.
A Visit to Occupy Bristol
Passing through Bristol to see my family, I received a tweet telling me that Occupy Bristol was being evicted. I was living in Bristol on 15th October when I was invited to a Facebook Event: come to College Green at 12 Noon to join in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. I was stunned that Bristol was going to start an Occupy camp and was waiting, on College Green, with my wife and two other people at 12 noon sharp. I said at the time that I didn’t expect it to get above 50 people in Bristol, but that we needed to remember we were 50 people in a global movement.
After an hour or so, more people started to filter onto the Green. My 50 figure was finally reached and exceeded by about 3pm, and people kept coming. It was a bright skied day; there was singing, dancing, nervous open mic speeches by many not accustomed to forming their thoughts into spoken pictures for an audience. I joined Occupy London when I left Bristol for a home in Hampshire two weeks later, but attended General Assemblies, hung out on camp and donated food to Occupy Bristol when I could in those two weeks. So I felt fondly for it, and like I had a stake in it. I always received a warm welcome on site in those early days, someone was always up for a debate and I liked the mood.
Missing the Party
Therefore, I was somewhat crest fallen, on arrival this time to see a bonfire emitting a plume of smoke over a muddy, waterlogged College Green. There was one tent left, and several ramshackle structures. My walking boots stuck a little as I stepped around puddles towards a small group of what I assumed to be Occupiers, sat at a picnic bench, behind an open fire.
A young guy came toward me after settling some wooden pallets from the site onto the fire. He held out his hand and I shook it and introduced myself as a member of the media working group from Occupy London Finsbury Square. He was wonderfully warm and apologised that essentially, the camp was over but no eviction was happening that day. The remaining groups were clearing the site to attempt to leave it in some order. There were three or four young men engaged in this clean-up operation, and a couple sat on and around the picnic bench smoking and listening to the radio. To be honest, it was a little embarrassing. It was like gatecrashing a party two hours after it had finished and the host really just wanted you to leave. I asked a few questions and took a few pictures but no one seemed much up for talking to an outsider. I overheard some gossip about ‘Occupy Street’; apparently many of the Occupiers had relocated to a street with multiple squats in the St Pauls area, colloquially named ‘Occupy Street’.
I walked away to get the train home, and pack for some time camping at Occupy London feeling sad for Occupy Bristol. The site felt dead and the people weary, bored and somewhat cynical. I must confess to some macabre thoughts, and even some upset at the shoddy treatment I got on site. I had a big sense of ‘where’s the flaming solidarity people?’
But, that said, I wanted to do some digging. Those were a handful of people, none of whom I had seen on the camp before. I was keen to know where Occupy Bristol had gone, as I was clear that what was on that camp on Monday 23rd January, was certainly not it. I didn’t need to look very hard.
Bristol 2050: Building Bristol Together
While the camp was still functioning, a working group was set up called ‘The Bristol 2050 Working Group’. Bristol 2050 is a scheme run by business and the Council in Bristol crafting a 40 year plan for the city. Occupy Bristol seeks to reclaim this process for the people. Their aim is to engage local people, businesses, charities, agencies and campaigns to build a plan for creating a Bristol they want to live in, by 2050. The group had their first public meeting on 21st January, at a public venue in Bristol, which drew about 60 people in and engaged them in vigorous discussion about key issues for Bristol. I have been really inspired by the 2050 plan, and it’s commitment to calling together the diverse populations of Bristol to discuss issues which are generally left to the rarefied air of the City Council chambers. The working group is reaching out to the Transition Town movement and Green groups in the area who have experience and a shared goal of planning a Bristol that works.
So, the legacy of Occupy Bristol, formally evicted from College Green last night, was not the mud, or the surly left over occupiers, but the conversation for a sustainable Bristol, built on social economic and environmental justice. Watch this space for more from the 2050 working group. I think this idea is going to catch on as a great means of outreach for other camps around the world, with or without eviction looming. In fact, this really is one great evolutionary step for the movement, to build the society we want to create.