Voices from the Occupation
Sleepless Night: The Eviction of Occupy @ St Pauls
The phone rang at 1230am. I sleepily answered to be informed that the police were on site at St Pauls, dragging tents into rubbish trucks. Eviction had come. This was the start of a sleepless night, calling friends, pointing in disbelief at the pictures on the screen and barking ‘Do your research!’ at poorly informed BBC News 24 reporters. Today’s article recaps the eviction, revisits the achievements of our time at St Pauls and reminds us all of the broader aims and organisations within the global Occupy Movement.
Just after midnight, around 300 police officers from the City of London Police, The Met and the Territorial Support Group circled the St Paul’s camp. There was a five minute warning and then they cut the lights, creating blackout conditions on site, while Bailiffs began tearing tents and structures apart. Calls for support went out and within hours hundreds of people arrived to show their support for the Occupy Movement. One of them was Giles Fraser, the former Canon of St Paul's cathedral. Giles requested police leave the steps of St Paul's on October 15th, the first day of the protest. This single action effectively made OccupyLSX possible, having been forcibly prevented from their target of Paternoster Square. As the position of St Pauls hardened against OccupyLSX, Giles Fraser resigned on the basis that he could not be a part of a violent or forcible eviction of peaceful protesters from church lands.
Last night, Giles made his way to St Pauls to join a ring of prayer promoted by Christian Think-tank Ekklesia and other faith groups to show solidarity with the protestors. However, the police refused to allow him through the police line, leaving him abandoned and frustrated in the road with hundreds of others unable to make their way to the site.
Still, many occupiers and supporters gathered in safe haven on the steps on the cathedral, some watching, and many kneeling to pray. However, despite the eviction ruling stating clearly that this was to be an eviction of tents, not people, the police moved in. The occupiers, thesupporters and the ring of prayer were pushed and in some cases kicked from the steps of the cathedral.
Jonathan Bartley, co director of Ekklesia caught the final betrayal of St Paul’s cathedral (in video below), asking police officers if they had permission to remove protestors from the steps, and was informed that St Pauls had given permission under Section 14 of the Public Order Act. It is of inescapable poignancy that according to the Bible, the book of the Church of England, Jesus threw the money lendersfrom the temple. Last night, St Pauls used the police to throw out the good Samaritans. Meanwhile, in the background, Tent City University was collapsed, folded and thrown in a rubbish truck.
The last outpost was a makeshift barricade – a wooden gantry which, to those of us in the know, was actually the shelving unit from the kitchen. I saw familiar faces of Pedro, and Leon, and ‘lovely young man’ from Finsbury, Van Ek, all standing atop it. I saw George Barda make an eloquent case for peace and social and economic justice against this backdrop. I listened as Saskia Kent, Naomi Colvin and Ronan McNern made articulate and thoughtful interviews. My phone went and I was invited to speak to Radio 5 live at 5.30am for Wake up to Money, (from minute 12 onwards) at which point I gave up all ideas of sleep.
Finally, the police extended their line until the last lone outpost was left, almost invisible with the blackout, with the vast numbers of supporters and press pushed further down side roads and behind strategically parked police vans. Bailiffs and officers climbed the gantry and physically pulled the last remaining occupiers from the gantry. Sometime later, they took a chainsaw to a locked in protestor who had scaled a tree, and taking him off for arrest. All in all, 20 arrests reported and the site is emptied. This morning it is surrounded by fencing, similar to the Parliament Square perimeter, yet again making this an eviction of people, not just the tents & structures permitted by the court.
Meanwhile in Islington
At the same time (and completely unreported by the BBC) was the eviction of the Occupy London School of Ideas from the disused Moorfields School in Islington. I covered the School of Ideas in a recent article. This morning the School of Ideas is gone, literally. The tenants, legal squatters, were illegally evicted overnight. At 6am, destruction crews arrived and the school is being bulldozed to the ground as I write. This is despite overwhelming support for the Occupy site from local residents, and the planning permission for a new housing development on the site being rejected by Islington Councilon the basis that it did not provide for social or affordable housing. Yet, this morning, a building which could be used for discussion, debate, art, creativity and education, is being smashed to rubble to stand vacant and one day, no doubt, become those luxury apartments.
Rumours of our Death are Greatly Exaggerated
To understand Occupy, you must get one thing. The Occupy Movement is as much about education and information sharing as it is about protest. The purpose of the camps, are to act as villages. They bring people together to share a space, food, ideas and build the personal relationships that galvanise a movement. There is also a massive support structure behind that of social media, direct action and organisational capabilities able to manifest ideas generated on the camps, into realities in the outside world.
It is important to remember that the St Pauls site, although the media’s capital of Occupy Britain, is one site among many. There are over 40 sites in the UK alone, and there have been camps in 900 cities in 90 countries on every populated continent of the world.
Occupy London Finsbury Square remain in their tents, just a mile from St Pauls. Occupy London Finsbury Square is my Occupy Home. It is where I have camped on and off since the first week of November last year. It is where I attended my first general assembly and realised I had a whole lot to learn about real democracy and to dress down the dictator in me that just wanted to do things my way. I found a voice there, I learned to listen openly without opinion or prejudice there, I listened to a homeless man as he washed the dishes in the kitchen who told me this was the first time he had experienced being a valued member of a society in 30 years, if ever... there. Finsbury Square has been the quiet, working camp in the background of St Pauls. It is friendly, open and has a vigorous work ethic – if you stay on site, you join a working group or start one. Contribute however you can, with some physical task, media work, waste removal, cooking, cleaning, or simply good ideas. But you are required to contribute. I found this empowering. You get to know people’s names, faces, life stories, political views, opinions, and whether they snore or break wind in their sleep. This makes it an incredibly close-knit community, whilst retaining individual space and time. I love being called upon to contribute what I want, when and how I want. It doesn’t even occur as work when it is an expression of you. So I am pleased that Finsbury Square remains, for now, untouched by Bailiffs.
The Outreach Working Group of Occupy London are now working with schools across the country, who have invited members of the movement to attend Citizenship lessons in their schools, and debate the ideas and aspirations of Occupy with young people. This is one way in which Occupy is bigger than tents.
Occupation Records has recorded its first album of protest music, Folk the Banks, with an incredible line up of artists supporting Occupy. Artists involved include Thom Yorke (Radiohead), Ani Di Franco, Tom Morello (Rage against the Machine) and Sam Duckworth (Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly). The record will be sold to raise funds for Occupy London and the movement more broadly.
The Free University Campaign of Occupy London continues to host lectures at venues across London, for free, on subjects such as Critical Thinking and Economics.
There will no doubt be new camps, new campaigns and new models. In the US, the Occupy Our Homes campaign is succeeding in keeping families in their homes, overturning the planned evictions by mortgage company bailiffs.
Direct campaigns in the UK are also gaining support from the noise made by the Occupy Movement, the current BoycottWorkfare Campaign; the activities of UkUncut, mobilisation against the NHS bill are other single issue campaigns in which the spirit of the Occupy Movement can be located.
Why We Occupy
Some months ago now, I wrote an article explainingbroadly why we occupy. None of these reasons have changed since I wrote this article, and I don’t know anybody who is giving up on the goals they came to site with.
What are the goals of the Occupy Movement? In a word, myriad. They are many and widespread, but centred around two themes. One, a socio-political and economic system created and managed by the people, for the people. And two, a reimagining of our relations with ourselves, each other and our planet - the recreation of living sustainable lives in community with each other and nature.
I hear this question asked a lot more by those not contributing to or participating in the Occupy Movement, than by those who are. I think it is abundantly clear to anyone currently participating, that the current world system is broken, a new means of social organisation is required and this will take time to create. Therefore, each day is one step closer to developing that idea. It is clear, obvious and frankly essential that there is no rush to solutions, but a real and substantive conversation on a global scale about what on earth we do next – or what we do next on earth.
If we were to take the analogy of building a house, we are not even building the foundations at the moment. We are in our old house, with a leaky roof, a vermin infestation, a mortgage we can’t afford, which is collapsing around our ears. A bunch of people have declared that house redundant and moved onto the lawn to figure out what to do about it. Firstly, we need to figure out how to get the other people out of the collapsing house before they get crushed. Then we need to figure out what about that house and our behaviour in it, made it collapse. Then we consider what basic essentials our new house and our means of operating inside it would need to have. We make sure we build that house in such a way that we avoid what happened when we built the last one. Then we build it. Then we move in and start turning it into our home. The eviction of sites and the arrests of Occupiers by the police are the equivalent of the mortgage holder on our old house dragging us, kicking and screaming, back into its broken halls.
This is a radical idea, it is a revolutionary idea, and it will take time, patience, cooperation and the contribution of as many human beings as possible. This doesn’t mean some short term disaster abating actions cannot be taken, in an effort to limit the worst impacts of ‘the collapsing house’. But these are content goals, and the Occupy Movement is primarily about shifting the context we live our lives in, more than tinkering with the content, leaving the context untouched and ready to lead us in the same ludicrous direction in the future.
And the Transformation Continues…
Every day that passes more people are learning that the current system is morally, intellectually and literally bankrupt. We are united, as a leaderful, colourful, faithful, aspirational, inspirational, movement which is transforming us, person by person, and in so doing, the world.
We are in for a long, involved and no doubt challenging process. But we know in our hearts that we are making a stand for ourselves, our communities, exploited and voiceless human beings in far flung and local parts of the world, and our living and unborn children. Over time, we will overcome. Over time, we will overcome. Over time, we will overcome. Where next for Occupy? Everywhere.