Voices from the Occupation
A Week in the Occupy Movement – Day 3
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, today’s article gives you my ground eye view of the Occupy Movement last week – and covers Day 3.
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.
Exposing the Met
I received a call from a journalist at the Hackney Citizen. He wanted to meet. He had submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Metropolitan Police regarding the Stop & Search policy they implemented in Sun Street (Bank of Ideas) and Finsbury Square on November 30th (the ay of the public sector strikes). He had been put in touch with my blog and read my coverage of the day, including video footage of police stopping and searching anyone moving in or out of the Bank of Ideas or Finsbury Square. The police had responded to his FOI request stating that although they had placed a Section 60 on Sun Street and Finsbury square that day, no one was stopped and searched. This would contradict masses of anecdotal and video evidence of the day.
I met with the journalist and managed to gain a receipt from an Occupier who had been stopped and searched on Sun Street that day. The receipt gives the date, the time, the location and the fact that it was under Section 60.
This means the Met Police gave a false response to a Freedom of Information request. The Hackney Citizen is now covering the story. Please watch for further developments, or by all means make your own complaint. If you were stopped and searched on November 30th in those areas and have video or a receipt: please get in touch via my twitter account.
The Geodesic Dome Arrives!
The dome in pieces.
The first element of the construction of the new Finsbury Square EcoVillage arrived in pieces, ready to build this morning. A good few members of the camp worked together with help from the owner of the dome, to construct it on site. I took some footage of the building in process. The team also built a proper pallet walkway, with a nice ‘yellow brick road’ undulation in it from the top end of the camp to the Kitchen, with a stop off at the doorway of the dome. The dome was immediately renamed the GA Dome, and will be used for working group meetings, General Assemblies and other work related purposes.
The Dome in one piece. Perspective is off, it is huge and seats 20-30 inside comfortably.
The newly constructed path across site. Chicken wire is being fitted across the top so no slipping in the wet.
While I was filming a young man with a quite wonderful black beard came over to let me know his mum loves reading the blog. I thought for a moment ‘Oh is she Pat?’ I asked and he smiled proudly. We spoke for a little while about the movement and life on camp. He’s a fabulous boy Pat, you must be very proud, and a pleasure to finally meet him.
There is alot of work still to do, this is just the very first step towards the creation of a sustainable EcoVillage at Finsbury Square. However, the creative energy, skill and team work evident on site makes this an exciting time to be at Finsbury Square. Moreover, a great thing to happen in Islington.
The Short-lived Occupation of the Bank of Iraq
The Occupy London Banner drop at the Rafidian Bank
While filming the GA Dome build, I did not think that in a few hours I would be smoking a cigarette on the roof of the Bank of Iraq.
There was social media callout: meet at the Bank of Ideas on Sun Street to walk to a new occupation. The purpose: to continue the work of the Bank of Ideas on a new site. After 10 weeks of occupation, the Bank of Ideas has delivered over 300 lectures, seminars, and events from the likes of Caroline Lucas MP, Mark Thomas, Jeremy Hardy, Thom Yorke and Massive Attack. The building’s owners, Swiss bank UBS, have won their attempt to evict the Bank of Ideas from their premises at Sun Street. As imminent eviction was awaited, a new location was sought to continue the work, including the Free University Campaign.
The Rafidian Bank 7-10 Leadenhall Street, London
At Sun Street, I joined an affinity group of 4, and we set off to Rafidian Bank, 7-10 Leadenhall Street. We were invited in through the high steel gate on Whittington Avenue, walked up 7 flights of the fire escape, and into the Bank through an open fire exit door. Once inside, we set off in all directions to explore. There were many offices, lots of mahogany, dark corridors. There was a hexagonal security desk in one room with many button filled panels; on the surrounding walls, brass plaques inscribed with New York, London, Paris – the clocks long since removed. It was exciting, to think of what could be done with this enormous and beautiful space, which had been empty since before the Bank’s liquidation in 2008.
Workers from the neighbouring office building came out onto their fire escape to chat with us, asking questions about why we had occupied the building. A woman gave us the thumbs up and told us ‘You have to stand for something in this world. Well done’. We got whoops and waves from the street below. Police helicopters circled overhead and the early police presence left for a while.
I felt really proud to be a part of this new occupation as it happened and able to cover it from the inside. It was scary and exhilarating and a bit confused. The key thing was the Section 6 (squatter’s rights) was in place and we were waiting for more people to come across with infrastructure from the Bank of Ideas. After several hours, I was out of battery on my phone so walked around to Starbucks to charge it up and get some tweets out. When I returned, the street was full of police vans and most of the people I knew inside were outside looking confused. I tried to figure out what was going on. The police were claiming that although the building had been empty for years and was being liquidated by PwC, that it retained its diplomatic status, as former Iraqi Embassy. Despite actually being a disused Bank.
There was shouting in the street as people yelled at the police to stop breaking the law. There was confusion about the diplomatic status of the building. We pitched calls to the legal team and tried to get a straight answer from somebody. But time was running out.
The police declared they would evict anyone inside the building at 1745hrs under Section 9 – giving us less than 30 minutes. Media and protestors were asked to clear the area, and then forcibly removed. Finally, the whole of Leadenhall Street was evacuated by the Fire Service who claimed they had been notified of a strong smell of diesel in the building.
After a tense standoff, three arrests, lots of un necessary pushing and shoving from the police and a small GA we agreed to leave. The Rafidian Bank now remains empty, rotting on its foundations while the search for a new Bank of Ideas continues.
A Little Bit of Racism....
During the scuffles I found myself at the side of the police line, filming. A young woman reacted to being filmed by putting her middle finger up at me. She then told me to ‘Get back to my own country’. I responded ‘Excuse me? I am in my own country you racist’. To which she replied ‘Get back to your own country if you don’t like our laws’. A fellow Occupier remonstrated with the policeman who witnessed the incident to support, but we were told to take any issue to our local police station. Apparently, you don’t have protection from racial insults on a police line. The video of the incident is below.
Back to St Paul’s for the One Love Weekend
I walked back towards St Pauls for the General Assembly, held on the steps. My back was killing me from all the walking and step climbing and I was feeling a bit odd after the police and racism. Luckily, on the way a sea of Critical Mass bikers went past ringing their bells and taking up the whole road. It made me smile and cheered me up. By the time I reached St Pauls I was bruised and achy but had computed the incidents of the day. There was music, some speeches, some words from occupiers on the eviction which we, at that point, assumed to be over the weekend (This was the Friday evening, after the 4pm deadline on the postponed eviction).
One resident of St Pauls, a homeless man named Joey, who works ten hour days working on the critical and unenviable job of recycling at the camp, and this night - a little drunk, interrupted someone speaking at the mic. After the Facilitator calmed him down a bit with a cuddle, he was asked to the mic to speak next and get out what he needed to say.
He took to the mic and immediately and humbly apologised to the crowd for his earlier outburst. He said he wanted us to know that he was struggling and he was sad. He felt so at home and he was just really sad that the police were going to take his village away, and he would lose his new friends, his new purpose. He cried as he spoke but his voiced stayed clear. It broke my heart. No one will miss St Pauls as much as the incredible homeless people who form part of its number. While presented in court as a place where homeless people ‘take advantage’ of the camp, the reality is there are many homeless people on the camp who have found their purpose again. They suddenly are in a community again, making a valued contribution, with a say over how things go, a roof over their head and three hot meals a day. There has been much debate about where next for the movement, but this might be the community which is going to be the hardest hit if we are prevented from gaining another, more sustainable site for Occupy LSX, as Finsbury Square is already full.
Another Occupier came to the mic after Joey and said simply ‘Don’t be afraid Joey. We aren’t stopping, we aren’t ending, we are just beginning and everyone is welcome’.
Back to Finsbury Square
I walked back to Finsbury to see the GA Dome had lights in the windows. I poked by head in, and despite it being 10pm, the GA was still going! There had been a long debate and they were just about to take consensus on the matter. I asked for the background. The camp was deciding on a proposal from the Housing Working Group to evict people who were staying on the camp but not contributing. Controversial. I had been mulling this one over for some time. Essentially, there are about 5 tents at Finsbury (including one tent entitled The Finsbury Hotel) which have people staying in them who no one sees or hears from until a) meal time, when they come in and grab food and take it back to their tent or b) in the middle of the night playing music and drinking while people try and sleep. It’s quite frustrating when you’ve had a hectic day, its cold, you are avoiding getting up to have a wee because you can’t face the dark freezing walk to the portaloo – and a bunch of eighteen year olds is keeping you up playing tinny music from an iPhone and talking more loudly with each can of cider. It has been an ongoing problem which has been discussed. I’ve generally avoided dealing with it. I don’t live on site permanently so it is easier for me to tolerate. How did I feel about asking these people to join a working group or leave? I asked more about the principle. The principle is, any and all contributions on site are valued equally- whatever working group you join, whether you are the ideas person, the get your hands dirty person, a builder, a writer, a cleaner, and you can also be all or any of those things at anytime. Your participation is yours to create, but the rule being proposed says ‘you need to participate to stay in a tent on camp’. If the proposal was agreed, the working groups were to meet the Housing Working Group at 10am the next day – to ask those people to leave.
I thought about it and decided to stand aside. This means I let the GA decide without me and would abide by their decision. I did this because something about the proposal bothered me, but I couldn’t work out if it was just me wanting to ‘be nice’ rather than be practical. I don’t want to tell anyone to leave, even though they’ve done nothing but irritate me for weeks. But neither am I going to stand in the way of the camp, which is restructuring itself as a long term, sustainable working eco-village. I didn't use my block because I don't believe that the proposal is inconsitent with the principles of the Occupy Movement as I understand them. In fact, in my belly, I feel that a good work ethic on the camp is paying big dividends.
I made my own proposal at the GA, which was for Joey from Occupy St Pauls to be given a tent here when St Pauls is evicted, and for him to join the Waste Working group. I’d been asked to raise this while at St Pauls. Before I could start on building up the proposal, there were nods and a couple of people said things like ‘Man Joey, he’s a legend!’ The proposal got consensus straight away and I contacted St Pauls to let them know. I went to sleep that night smiling.