Occupy London has come a long way since we first pitched tents outside St Paul’s Cathedral over seven months ago. Whilst some have maintained a focus on camping, such as those now facing eviction at Finzbury Square, others have gone nomadic, occupying parks in East London. Others still have focused on days of action and new forms of community outreach. For many, Occupy May was a crucial moment in the birth of so-called “Occupy 2.0”, in which we explored new tactics and ideas for actions. I will give a brief (and personal) overview of some highlights from Occupy May, and look at how Occupy London is moving into the summer.
Occupy London took to the streets on May 1st with an assortment of flying tents, maypoles and white roses. Following an intervention at Liverpool Street station, the majority of the day was spent in solidarity with trade unions as they marched on Labour Day, with an afternoon action against the government’s workfare scheme targeting retailers on Oxford Street. Following a temporary Occupy camp at Trafalgar Square the police began an indiscriminate targeting of crowd-members, using their powers of stop and search to detain anyone they suspected of being part of Occupy.
May 12th was called as an international day of action for the 99%, and London played a significant part. Assembling at midday on the steps of St Paul’s, dozens became hundreds, and by the time we set off following our teach-out, we were in the thousands. The theme was a “tour of the 1%”, with an interactive map helping activists intervene with the Corporation of London’s territory and target the culprits of the ‘crisis of capitalism’. Following the tour, Occupiers converged on Bank outside the Royal Exchange, and decided to set up camp. A huge police presence subsequently made itself known - imposing a “Section 14 Order” due to the apparently “immanent public disorder”. Violently, they started removing occupiers, but many refused to leave and remained on the square until late at night.
If May 12th explored new targets, and potentials for further city-based encampments, May 15th was about spontaneity, encouraging activists to be creative and take autonomy in their actions. Following a training session at Russell Square, we meandered through the City, “melting” inside banks or on cross-roads, reclaiming spaces to sing, dance and show solidarity with each other. It was a day that signalled an overarching message from May: we will continue walking forward together as we experiment with the many possible ways of creating other worlds beyond this capitalist nightmare.
The focus is now on building radical and achievable alternatives. “Occupy Community” is seeking to help foster grassroots initiatives towards autonomous organising and resisting the cuts. “Occupy Corporations” is helping put on a Carnival of Dirt, building solidarity with indigenous movements from the Global South and making the links to London-based corporations such as Xstrata, who Occupy London targeted last year. The “Occupy Research Collective” is focusing on the ethics of research and activism, and struggling to radicalise the academy. And “Occupy Faith” is staring a Pilgrimage for Justice. For many Occupiers, however, summer presents a crucial moment to reflect on the last seven months, build links with numerous other emerging projects, and explore new ways forward.
Central to Occupy is the continual process of experimentation. Its diversity recognises that there is no single answer or tactic, and that we should remain open to how to continue our project of creating real alternatives. Occupy May showed that public indignation is only growing - that people are determined to take direct action and create the worlds they want to live in. The South-American slogan popularised in the Argentine uprisings seems more relevant now then ever: Occupy, Resist, Produce!