Four months after its inception, occupiers in London are waiting for the outcome of a landmark court case seeking to evict tents, although not people, from outside St Paul’s. (The judgement on the eviction appeal has been postponed until 22 February.) For much of the media this is another stage of the “dwindling” Occupy movement’s demise, for whom the novelty of pitching tents in public spaces is apparently wearing off. Yet we would do well to remember that “Occupy” means different things to different individuals, and in many ways the movement is as alive today as it was last autumn, if not more so. This article will step back from the particular battles over square-feet of “public” space and re-examine the current state of the movement I am most familiar with: Occupy London.
The first thing to note is that we are still occupying, in its literal sense. Although the St Paul’s camp has been centre of attention to the media and for many activists, new Occupy spaces are popping up on a regular basis. This includes the new “School of Ideas”, which has repossessed a disused primary school in North London, turning it into a community project that is asking local residents what they would like to do with it. Also, Occupy London has started a weekly “pop-up” assembly, temporarily occupying public and private spaces around the city in order to make decisions and engage passers by. Although four months at St Paul’s has been both mentally and physically tiring, and for some it has got too much, the tactic of Occupying is alive and well.
Secondly, whilst occupying public spaces has brought us to the world’s attention, we remain peripheral to the day-to-day lives of the vast majority. For this reason a surge of energy is currently going into diverse outreach projects, taking the Occupy idea into schools, workplaces, community centres, and even homes of individuals across the country, asking them what Occupy can do to help. Central to occupy is the process of dialogue and consensus. Realising the failures of parliamentary democracy to provide for the 99%, we are re-making democracy from the bottom up. Occupy is not just a tactic, but a process of doing politics.
Thirdly, as we take Occupy on the road, and re-build it in the process of asking, we seek to keep the spirit alive by taking action and re-thinking what it means to be part of a global movement. The month of May has been set aside as one of global action, with calls from Barcelona to Oakland for strikes, walk-outs and sabotage. London is already planning a 150-mile walk around the boroughs, and no doubt numerous other actions as we saw last year. Whilst the process of asking and forming consensus is long and at times slow, we realise the importance of taking action now and celebrating spontaneity in our politics. They say it’s going to be a hot spring this year, and one full of surprises.
Occupy is far from perfect. We have numerous internal issues, arguments over how to spend money, complaints of lack of transparency, informal hierarchies, etc. People also get tired at times, and occasionally lose hope. But standing on the steps of St Paul’s in sub-zero temperatures, watching everyone busy at work in the kitchen, setting up live-stream videos, taking part in meetings, and speaking to passers by, I am reminded that this is a movement of real dedication and commitment made up of thousands of individuals fighting together across the world. What will come next we cannot say, but I would challenge the doom-mongers so eager now to sound the death-knell. This is only the beginning.