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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON BY: H ARRY C ATHEAD

THE MOVEMENT'S FIRST BIRTHDAY CHECK UP

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13TH OCTOBER 2012


PROBING OCCUPY LONDON

Probing The Occupy Movement 13th October 2012

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON Occupy London Is A One Year Old virtual movement, embryonic revolution, poetic cluster

“Their imaginations were flywheels on the ramshackle machinery of the awful truth.” – Kurt Vonnegut Apart from a few encampments and meetings, the Occupy Movement has kept itself out of the press pretty much since May. There have been a few achievements the movement has pulled lately, which is probably why the Global Noise Day today, Oct 13th, two days before the one year anniversary of the now defunct St Paul’s tent city, has 739 FB users ‘going’ and 441 ‘maybe’. Back to the movement’s small but earnest victories: firstly, the arrests made by the police snatch squads on the 12th of May have been declared illegal by a judge who said “[the officer] was not able to give details about arrest, which is worrying. Directed on the evidence before me, as far as I am concerned, as far as the arrests are concerned, they are unlawful”. The case was thrown out. Secondly, a group of squatters obtained the right to live in and operate from Friern Barnet Library, until December at least, when the case is due. There is strong community support for this initiative, and it will likely continue to grow for as long as the library stays open and functional in the way Gutenberg meant it to. Occupy London

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON activist Steve Cullan said “This is a victory for the people of Barnet. It sends a clear message to this government that the communities are ready to fight for their local libraries. People come in every day dropping off books, bringing their children in, telling us how wonderful it is to have their library back. The fact that ordinary people are willing to resist a forcible eviction shows just how far this government has gone against the public.” In the meanwhile, it is five minutes to noon in Mitcham, Laings Corner, and I am fixing myself a greasy breakfast before setting off to take notes, photograph and drink biblical amounts of beer at today’s meeting at the London Stock Exchange and subsequent “party and two-day occupation of a secret location” as OccupyLondon.org.uk says. Although the theme of the protest is banging metal kitchenware together, I solemnly abstained from carrying any such equipment for the sake of dignity and journalistic principle.

I – The aimless march of joy

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON

As I arrived in Paternoster Square at 2:30 PM on sunny weather, I recognised many familiar faces from the May 12th Bank of England protest. According to Mike, a regular, the turn-up was better than expected considering this was strictly an Occupy event with no trade union support. Talks commenced about the Friern Barnet library, lead by Sabah Barakat (approximate spelling) on the microphone. She’s a woman who works in a school across the street from the library and she helped the squatters set it up and re-open, to an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the local community – in stark contrast to the Council’s will. A court date has been set for December and faith in the nation’s judges appears to have grown. Said Tom, member of Occupy London’s core group, but uninvolved in the Friern Barnet project: “It’s really more about having a nice place to live during this weather, but that doesn’t make good publicity.” ...’Course it doesn’t, bro. It’s a good compromise, though, having live-in, volunteer social workers and librarians. You could re-build a big part of the public sector like that. The media people want heroes, that’s why they leave out parts of the story. But let’s not jump on that negative

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON tangent right now. We shall have enough time to tread atop the high moral ground they report from some other time. To the point: Anti-austerity speakers from Greece, Spain and Portugal, all affiliated with Occupy in some way take turns on the mic. A Portuguese woman is revolted at what the IMF and the World Bank are doing to the world; she gives a 14 year-old boy who set himself on fire in Portugal as an example of the decay these institutions brought to humanity.

Next, a girl called Cat Brogan gave a fiery set of revolutionary poetry, which I’m not sure if it was memorised or improvised. It was nevertheless refreshing, after all the reiterated drama from other parts of Europe, and the crowd seemed to share my sentiments. Walking around I noticed the Zeitgeist Movement had a stall in place next to the Socialist Worker. I chose to ignore that paper, because the guys selling it told an old hippie dude they are better anarchists than him, which might have been true, but it made me afraid of what they’d say to me. In their eyes I might well be all kinds of scum and I was determined to avoid anger that day. I spoke to the Zeitgeist DVD salesman

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON and it turned out all we need to know about society, humanity and how to solve our problems is contained in those microscopic polycarbonate grooves of the disc. Having already budgeted for beer, I couldn’t simply re-evaluate my expenditures, as it were, in order to finally figure it all out. Apparently the world had to remain a dark mystery for a while longer.

It was about 3:30 when a drizzle started, which didn’t deter an occupier from LA from singing and skanking as the crowd dispersed towards the sheltered entrance to the cathedral and to the neighbouring buildings. “Maybe this democracy business is too difficult for all of us...” I overheard someone say. Everyone quickly huddled up on the covered terrace by the main doors to St Paul’s and the banter kept going despite the rain: “Fuck your couch!” “St Paul’s? Fuck that noise!”

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON “Who came here for free Jaffa cakes? Who has free Jaffa cakes? That’s fucking unacceptable!”

By 4:00 the rain stopped and it seemed that the movement learned a little from The Revolution Will Be Televised (BBC3) or viceversa, not exactly sure. A healthy sense of humour could be one of the most effective activism tools, on par with those photogenic Guy Fawkes masks. An engulfing sense of light heartedness and satire was obvious in the local organisers’ behaviour, unlike their Latin colleagues who insisted on bringing up self-immolating kids. It wasn’t all tears, though – they did bang a mean salsa on those drums.

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON

The guy wrapped in the Union Jack standing in the trolley-cum-mobile-pedestal at times wearing a police hat was asking for money – “The Government is in big trouble. Give me all your money so we can pay off the debt.” And furthering the sarcasm, “Thank God for lobbyists. If it weren’t for the lobby industry telling politicians what’s going on in the world, the poor souls would be completely out of touch.” Side note: Dubstep music is conspicuously blasting out of a masked man’s green backpack. I’ve had 5 cans of Holsten. Where do these people come from?

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON

At 4:30 we were marching to find freedom, justice, democracy and equality and we must have been getting close enough, because the air reeked of it and the guy with the bullhorn swore he’d previously seen it in the immediate area on a few occasions.

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON

“El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido” – whatever that means, I don’t speak Spanish. Must be something about siestas and sangria.

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON

As the march was crossing the bridge to London Bridge station, the sun shone bright again.

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON

It was 5:23 on the dot when we stopped at More London next to Tower Bridge, the drumming to Latino rhythms still going on. It’s been proposed that a camp be set up amidst the glassy buildings over the weekend. The proposal appeared to have been accepted, although it was still unclear who exactly will be occupying, as there was only one tent as far as I could tell.

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON

The police was mostly passive, but they did take pictures and intervene politely to curb enthusiasms when they felt spirits running high. The two-day occupation didn’t happen anymore and the march went on for another hour or so, with honourable mentions going to a brief moment of hilarity at a Tesco’s where protesters linked arms by the entrance refusing passage to anyone. The two policemen who were with us all the time broke it up, after what was quite possibly a £5 dent in the supermarket’s sales for the day. Every bit helps. The rally halted at the Bank of England at 7 o’clock when it was already dark and too cold to enjoy it anymore. I passed around some beers and tried to make friends with ‘the anarchists’. Most of the people went home, there were only about 20 left by that time. Global Noise, now over, was perhaps more of a victory dance than anything else. A celebration of the movement’s survival and small legal triumphs, one year after it first

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON emerged in the UK. Hectic, random and not very well-planned, the event once again proved to be a metaphor for the state of Occupy London: good fun, inspiring, childish, innocent and refusing to die. On this occasion, a booklet was launched and distributed under the title “The Little Book Of Ideas� – containing theories and solutions for a sustainable, egalitarian economy, as well as putting financial terms and concepts into a simple language. It makes for interesting and surprisingly objective reading given the source, acknowledging the pitfalls of a transition from the current infinite growth-based system to saner economic models. It was distributed for free (or a voluntary 30p donation to cover the printing costs) during the march. Although it contains nothing new and one wonders why go to the bother of writing, editing, designing and printing such a thing with all the information available online, a possible answer is that Occupy London still needs to condense its ideology and goals and this booklet is a fair attempt.

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON

II – Hobo Hotel: the exorcism of what instinct suggests was a call centre

On the steps of the Bank of England, Georgia, a young blonde girl with a clever smile and a boyfriend by her side, both from the ‘blacbloc’ group asked me for a light and we started talking. She’s been with Occupy since last year, and it’s been nothing but good times. I told her I work for a new progressive politics newspaper based out of North London and she pointed me to libcom.org – a very useful resource for radical anarchists. She also told me about Hobo Hilton at 203 High Holborn, a squat, art gallery and site of congregation for “all nomads and general vagabonds”. Most of the nucleus of Occupy would be there. I asked her if she was going, but she said no: they were going home. Having no other solution, I joined Rob (pictured) and his friends in a walk towards High Holborn. “Rob who?” you ask? Never Get A Job Rob – ‘Death before employment’ is his creed, to which he’s been faithful for years. All the very long way, he shouted football terrace chants, such as “I know a song and it won’t take long/ All cops are bastards”; “If

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON you wear a dog collar then you must be a nonce/ All priests are nonces”. Just after barely being missed by running taxi, he bumped into a Big Issue salesman yelled at him “You give homeless people a bad name, fucking wanker.”

a and you

I stopped at the shop to pick up eight cans of Red Stripe and the rest of the way I talked to another occupier, who told me about the Black Pope – the shadow master, more powerful pope. “There are many orders above the Rothschilds, and the Black Pope sits at the top of them all”, he explained. I took notes: ‘The Black Pope – the boss of it all. Google.’ We walked into Hobo Hilton at 8. The reception, to be precise.

It’s an unused office building which the activists have taken over and made into a place of music, dope, fun and wholesomeness. I was greeted with reluctance by Jason, a happy Irishman of 28 whom by the looks of it was the administrator. “Oh, yer a jeeernalist, are you? One of them cool jeernalists?” “Dude, I’ve been invited to check out the place. I won’t write anything about it if you don’t want to.” Changing twang, he replied that “It’s just that journalists don’t always write the truth. Editing, is it called? Go on, do your thing. I believe in freedom.” So I went in.

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON

It was a well lit, empty space with white walls and people sitting on the floor in small groups smoking weed, drinking beer and laughing. There was no furniture. This is probably the best thing that could happen to what might have well been a lettings agency or a call centre or both. I relax. Hobo Hilton ain’t no spa. It’s actually sort of an experiment in empirical anthropology – bare humanity, community and compulsion the demanding world has stripped of all artificial conveniences. An urban tribe, it is not at all different than any other group of people living together. Because of the lack of means, they’ve been pushed to the fringes of society, forced to squat and at times break the law – for which the police are usually more than willing to arrest them, but essentially it’s a commune in primary form. Howling, breaking bottles and lying on the floor smoking and using a dog as a pillow was quite liberating and only right given the situation. Let the good times roll, whichever way it comes natural to do so. We’ve all gone through different kinds of madness at one point or another, but are ultimately driven by the will to survive and enjoy it. Introspectively, what makes me pass off as an almost respectable citizen are my selfish tolerance of norms and blind faith in the possibilities of life in Europe. It’s a fragile balance that comes and goes, though. I’ve also been somehow deemed bearable by the established social structure, as

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON far as I intersected with it in universities, public institutions and companies, which is probably more my family’s merit than mine. There is still not more to the Occupy Movement in the UK than maybe an optimist estimate of a hundred people spread between Red Lion Street, Friern Barnet Library and Hobo Hilton, disproportionately few of them in employment and in legal dwellings. There are few others who directly support from home, editing The Occupied Times and various websites, but until more people get involved it cannot really be called a social movement in this country, unless talking about the internet, where tens of thousands are taking part in spirit. Then again, that’s merely a social media movement. How can we expect to be delivered from the evils of a overbearingly greedy and cannibalistic social paradigm by those who are – in the most literal sense - fighting every day for their own existence? Panhandling, menial day work, shoplifting and relying on each other for food and shelter is what keeps many of the activists I’ve met going, and with sickening conceitedness they’re despised for being too weak to integrate in mainstream society. But leave it to them to start the revolution we’ve been waiting for since the last generation failed to carry it through. Whatever’s right. What an illusion we are living, thinking that clicktivism makes a serious difference. To my mind, the only significance clicktivism has is to reassure the Occupiers that despite bitter appearances, they are actually not alone in the struggle for a better world. Hohohoooo... carried away by that unhealthy philosophising bollocks. It is Saturday night, beer and hashish are abounding all around us, and a guitar started making music just now. There is a band playing somewhere close – three string guitar, plywood box and harmonica expertly operated keep up with the Street Dogs’ “The World Needs A Little Punk Rock’n Roll” blasting out of the speakers. Next minute the music stops and lights go out. “Crack on, you can do no wrong” someone shouts. All 50 or so eyes are now turned to the wooden pallets covered in canvas that make up the stage, completed by some traffic cones and a roll of paper spread around. ‘Reloveution’, the wall behind says. It was indeed time for the Hobo Hilton Weekly Cabaret.

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON

The following poem wass recited by the bald guy (a talented beatboxer and spoken word artist) as an invitation for the shyer performers to step up: “Get up on the copy bike There’s room for all on the mike Sharing ideas with everyone That’s why copying is fun.”

Then Tom from earlier played a blues song going somewhat like this: “I’m a twisted cat, standing in a corner with a baseball hat, yeaaa, I’m a twisted cat.” Upon such waves of inspiration, beer and originality, I felt compelled to write a poem of my own: “Purple sunset Ten of clubs London sirens Wailing round. Beer from Tesco’s Break it out Give me money

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON Fill my rut. Go on laughing Roll a blunt Mary Wanna Never doubt. Late upheaval Get a home Winter coming Still alone.” As I walked across the room to take a few pictures, I ran into an Estonian drifter involved with writing code for BitCoin I’d met on Brick Lane a couple weeks before, at the time looking for a place to live. He had just hitchhiked across Europe and was pennyless. I helped him by means of taking him to a park gazebo in Shoreditch and lending him my date Rachel’s phone to call a church charity and reserve a bed for the following night. He didn’t even have a sleeping bag, yet could absolutely not be bothered. I wanted to write my dissertation on BitCoins, and still do if I don’t get kicked out of university, so Margus the Estonian promised to be a source of valuable information one cannot easily find online. Sadly though, when we met this time at Hobo Hilton he was focused on seducing a college girl, so I decided to not bother him with technicalities. Later on I asked him if he was still with Bitcoin, to which he sincerely replied “Beatbox? Sure.” Back to second-hand Internet research, then. So here I am at 11 o’clock in this squat after eight Red Stripes and six Holstens – that’s fourteen cans of beer in total – and I’m getting the feeling that what we marched all through the City looking for (I do not dare repeat it) was not there. However, up in this derelict office building there is something. It’s impossible to define yet, but it’s brewing in a strange, electric concoction. Not by far a revolution, but definitely some kind of turn. It sure is bohemian if not a little romantic, which is politically useless but attractive to youths from many parts of the world. Anyway, it’s still too early to keep score. I have to get the last train home – there are notes to transcribe, bottles to empty, pages to fill and livings to be made, so enough dreamy foolhardiness for now. Time to take off. Just as I was leaving with these peaceful thoughts pacing through my head, two cops and two NHS workers walked in. They were there on call – somebody needed medical

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON attention. No fatalities, just a temporary loss of conscience. The hippie lawyer in charge of defending arrested activists started talking to the cops. I then assisted to a very long conversation between Raff and Chris – police officers in service for four years the former and six months the latter, and the designated legal expert of the squat - let’s call him Stapleman. My notes recorded this: Stapleman: “Corporations such as IBM own certain police services around England” Raff: “I’ve got a loose understanding of the law”; Stapleman: “The Freeman Act is useless in court” Raff: “We carry on with the standard procedure and let our experts go through the legal minefield”; Stapleman: “Do you feel police is in the wrong when dealing with ordinary people who protest their grievances?” Chris: “At the end of the day we live in a prosperous country where people from all over the world come and are free to do whatever they want. When police acts forcefully it is only because to keep public order and safety and not to subvert freedom.”; Stapleman: “An arrestee may respond to street police inquiry with questions such as ‘What is a name? Should I have one? What is ID?’. However, officers tend to rely on the citizen’s lack of legal knowledge.” Chris: “We do our best to carry on our duties.” – It went on in this manner for a while. After the conversation, Stapleman seemed to believe that he had actually softened the officers’ hearts – “I’ve just had the most interesting conversation with two coppers. I deprogrammed them beautifully. Harry here listened in on the whole thing,” he said pointing to me with harmless pride. The way I heard it, though, was that the two officers had some spare time on their hands and were willing to take a few minutes to listen to the crazies’ version of reality, for amusement. One must me a bit of a chump, albeit a legal expert, to think he can undo in half an hour the thinking patterns inoculated in the cop brain and soul over years of training. I couldn’t deal with that level of innocence coming from a lawyer of all people, so I shook hands and retired. I left the place with a blown mind – not because of the squat itself, but because the police were acting strangely human, displaying impressively familiar traits such as humour, empathy and even to a certain extent understanding. We indeed live in perverse and confusing times when the behaviour of the average cop doesn’t show open hate for the dissenting individual. That can easily throw one off and it is truly subversive. Food for brooding thought. It was actually a good ending to the day, so I had to fall asleep on the Northern Line going South and wake up in an empty carriage at Morden, way past 1 o’clock in the morning and past my place of dwelling, just to have something going bad. I didn’t mind

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON though, I took the bus back and copy of the Independent on the paper which I can’t often afford in hard copy. Reading through made little sense. On page 23, Rawlinson spoke of “Occupy’s

found a seat, a to buy it, it Kevin legacy”:

“[...] Yet he (i.e. Matt Varnham ‘Occupy’s legal adviser’, as the puts it) has not given up on Occupy’s ideals, and is working online network to give people a discuss local issues and contact groups which may be able to kind of virtual St Paul’s camp, library, tent university and campfire debates.

– paper on an forum to activist help - a with its

This as its first birthday approaches, is perhaps Occupy’s legacy. It did not radically change global capitalism, but it did leave a band of activists willing to carry on trying. It was perhaps, as Ms Weirdigan put it, “the biggest activist training camp ever”.” The camps moved online, fair enough, and he article also allows a little room for the possibility that Occupy has not died out. However, when you speak of a legacy, doesn’t that imply finality? There have been camps after St. Paul’s – most recently Finsbury and Hobo Hilton. They did the same thing as St Paul’s, despite not being as featured in the media – holding workshops, debates and artistic performances, all politically oriented. As for the “activist training camp” expression used in the paper – picture Tom or Jason rounding up young bucks at 6 o’clock in the morning and making them do push-ups while smoking joints while reciting memorised paragraphs from No Logo by Naomi Klein. Maybe high-brow newspapers such as The Independent are too proud to acknowledge the real impact of Occupy: prompting the same idea which has been simmering around for decades – that another way to live is not only possible, but necessary. They pointed to the elephant in the room, as it were, but leave it to the established press to completely ignore the gist: If it’s not visible from the 97th floor office they operate out of, it doesn’t exist. Amen, Hallelujah, Namaste, back to business.

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III – Occupy’s Predicament in jaded scholar eyes

The London School of Economics and Political Science, or LSE in short, hosted an open lecture on Thursday October 18th, named “Occupy’s predicament: the moment and the prospects for movement” in the New Academic Building on Kingsway. The main speaker was Todd Gitlin, Professor and Chair at Columbia Journalism School, Columbia University, New York City. He teaches journalism and sociology there and has written 15 (fifteen) books, among which is “Occupy Nation: the roots, the spirit, and the promise of Occupy Wall Street”. To forge some kind of credibility to this piece as well as for the sour fascination of observing the academic community’s interest in Occupy – at LSE of all places, a world class institution geographically situated just round the corner from Hobo Hilton, I felt it necessary to attend the talk. As I tweeted the night before, “tomorrow, #LSEoccupy will finally explain why the 60s are not back, why weed is still illegal and why all cops are allegedly bastards.”; I wasn’t going to leave without answers either. I figured if they don’t know, nobody knows, so I prepared to mingle with the brainiacs, extorting precious insight from their wonderful minds. I arrived early and went for two pints down at a pub called George IV, frequented by students of the famous university. They were all talking amongst each other, so I resolved to drinking in silence and scanning a leftover copy of The Times before I got back to the theatre. The Times is a thick paper I try to avoid under normal circumstances, but these were far from, so why the hell not stoop a little? In the nick of time, I enjoyed the privilege of switching seats twice in the amphitheatre before I found an optimal viewpoint. As a preamble to the actual talk, prof. Anthony King got awarded the BJS prize (no clue about what that is and how it relates) for a piece he wrote some time before in remembrance of the British soldiers who died in Helmand, Afghanistan. He dedicated the award to the Afghan civilians killed by living British soldiers, probably for fear of heckles from a crowd assembled to hear a guy’s thoughts on radical left politics and social reform movements. Then he introduced Craig Calhoun, Director of LSE, who said he was “very happy to occupy the podium” before he introduced Mr. Gitlin. He talked exclusively about Occupy Wall Street, as follows:

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON He began with a review of American bipartisan politics, mentioning the Tea Party and focusing on the electoral system and ongoing presidential campaign, which he called “an obscenity beyond obscenity”. After the introduction he moved on to Occupy Wall Street, considered “a qualified success” by American sociological academia, although “A movement to remove plutocratic power must endure for years”. What sprung it was the “moral default of society’s chief institutions” combined with an “ideological vacuum”. The same school of thought that brought the world to its knees through economic murder still dominates the way American universities today. “It’s not wrong to speak of an educational-financial complex at work here,” said Todd, pointing to Bob Diamond being a member of the board of trustees at a college in Maine, and financial giants constantly donating buildings, funds and grants to universities across the USA. Right after the 2008 presidential elections “the proto-Obama support movement had gone into early retirement,” hinting that some of that misplaced enthusiasm might have transpired into Occupy as an expression of hope that change can actually come to America. Recession and widening of class gap hastened “a moral awakening” among many of the nation’s disenfranchised youth, who made “assembly a way of life”. So the movement had been born out of the hype Obama created around himself as a saviour, catalysing the subsequent disappointment to re-ignite the flame of activism in an otherwise largely apathetic youth. OK. Duly noted. Combining “18th century constitutional principle with 21st Century means” and “theatrical vigour with brutal and clumsy police”, support roared and tens of thousands adhered to what is quite possibly the most well known slogan of recent history: “We are the 99%”. “People largely disembodied from social institutions make up the core of Occupy,” was the euphemism of choice when describing the homeless, unemployed and general failures of capitalist eugenics who are always the first to join any kind of rebel group. An assistant played the Youtube video of two cops macing some people at a demonstration in NY, then he put on the viral footage of the ‘casual pepper-spraying cop’ soaking students at UC Davis in orange poison for no reason at all. The advantage to this was that “As you can see, to a considerable extent, there is a conscious intention to push this to a more confrontational level on the part of police.” Martyrdom. It worked for early Christians and as the professor cynically pointed out, it did wonders for the Civil Rights movement as well. Apparently it’s well entrenched in Occupy’s tactics, too. Therefore, the cops are helping the movement by spraying them in the eyes with OC. Got it.

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON “The care and feeding of infrastructure outweigh the building of exostructure” – Occupy is consolidating after arrests and media denigration so there’s no time at this point to expand. That train of thought leads to the conclusion that expansion is a tactical decision to be made arbitrarily. To wit. According to the professor, there were moments when support mushroomed and that “briefly changed the political landscape,” inspiring “supermajorities” of Americans to adhere to the progressive politics advanced by the more moderate members of Occupy Wall Street - “The first movement in collective memory to be thrust by large scale public support.” But the middle class working folks are for the most part too tame to get on board with this thing. The so-called “inner movement” is riddled with young radicals of the anarchist and communist descriptions, while the “outer movement” is an episodic middle class which lends its support from time to time at big demonstrations, but mostly browses the internet. That applies perfectly to London, by the way. After almost an hour of listening to this, it seemed to me that Occupy London needs more radicals, to even out the playfield. Anyway. Listen: Radical elements within Occupy Wall Street have created repulsion in the outer movement and “most respectable citizens pulled away.” ...so, then, we are the 89%? 79%? Describing it as “whimsical, inventive, useful, inspired and inspiring, but self-limited”, the professor was talking as if about children who are learning to behave and interact with the outer world, which is funny because it’s true. Showing considerable hope and affection for the future of the young dreamers, he tried to come off maybe not as a parent, but as a caring uncle: “predictions are cheap; however, there might emerge a long-lasting, full-service movement,” drawing up possible paths for where it should go next: Addressing “general forbidding of access to public space”, encouraging “moderate activism” and combating “collective narcissism from inside” were all on the list. “Occupy was a dramatic performance,” but we shouldn’t lose faith - “such movements are always coming back from the dead,” he assured us. The phenomenon shows distinct traits of “romanticism and expressive individualism” – which lead me to instantly think of Occupy London, who probably do more of that than actual political activism, which in my opinion is part of British misdirected sentimentalism and also the reason why guns are illegal in this country.

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON Accomplishment is not the end-game of the movement, but only a sign that it’s going in the right direction. Occupy needs to be “constantly looking for scalable alternatives to the model” – which translated from the convoluted language of more education than experience, means that camps can only be so big; they need to find a way to bring more people together at once. “Next phase must build on the platform of Occupy, not try to restore it... it’s been proven that due to frictional conflict the horizontal way of running it cannot be done to meaningful ends... not insisting on demands was an involuntary stroke of genius.” These are inexact quotes I took and one way they can be understood is that there needs to be a leader or at least a frontman, who can come up with some demands and negotiate with the big boys, and who can also be assassinated and made a television hero if need be. It could be insane idealism talking, but my country gumption tells me the movement had better grow organically even if it takes decades, and change things through a sort of collective individualism which cannot be bridled with rubber bullets and sprayed in the mouth with mace. Of course, both the occupiers and the academics documenting their evolution would probably disagree with that. A minute later, Craig Calhoun cut in: “The Occupy story isn’t well narrated when excluding worldwide upheavals such as in Greece, Egypt, Spain or Canada.” No reaction. Everyone stared. As any teacher would find it necessary, Mr. Calhoun had some words of warning for the New Left – “Occupy’s predicament endures” as long as laws allow predatory capitalism and blatant elitism to continue. Citizens must practice lobbying of bills and form networks and organisations to meaningfully promote popular will and wisdom. He also suggested what sounded to me like PR: “The movement chose a tactic (i.e. occupation of public spaces) which drove a wedge between itself and potential allies such as liberal mayors, which is a concern.” Meaning that if a mayor is not a redneck slave owner from Alabama, there shouldn’t be an Occupy camp in his town? Wedges are complicated. Other things Occupy ought to do is relinquish its “severe phobias towards hierarchy and election politics.” Right. In other words, change is welcome as long as it’s not systematic. Keep elections, which attract big money and corruption, and by all means keep pyramidal structures which infect egos and draw psychopaths. Didn’t an American founding father (or mother, I forget) say that the first to be denied the job of President should be the ones who go after it? A crowd pleaser, he told an anecdote of Hank Paulson, who during a visit at LSE was asked what else was on his mind besides the economic recession. “I don’t know where it

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON comes from, I’m really worried about this issue of the one per cent and the 99%,” he replied. The room burst in laughter. This time it was a sure hit. Goldman is such an easy target – they have taken investment banking to the peak of professionalism and accuracy, in the same way a military commando is professional and accurate. And they’re proud of their work, which of course breeds haters like this turbid-eyed fellow below:

On that note, the lecture was over. The same feelings I had experienced before about universities I used to attend crept back: overly informative, pseudo-educational, not as enlightening as I had hoped. I still only had one answer (about the cops) to my initial

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON question, so I went to have a personal chat with the erudite professor after the theatre cleared. No doubt time was wrong to bring up the herb, so I asked him about the sixties: “Professor, you’ve been part of the Civil Rights Movement, do you see Occupy as a continuation of it?” “Occupy is much harder. We had specific aims such as stopping the War and the segregation. Also, back then we were actually moving towards more financial equality. Addressing economic inequality didn’t become necessary until the late seventies, and it only peaked now,” said Mr. Todd. Outside, during the ‘foyer reception’ in the lobby of the building I ran into Tashweka, a young entrepreneur who was curious about what Occupy means. She paid close attention to the talk, but still couldn’t quite get it. “I’m not picky on semantics, but there is a difference between a movement and a campaign. I see Occupy as a campaign for income equality and no public sector cuts. A movement should be higher-minded,” she asserted. I couldn’t agree more, especially about the high-minded part. I was always a strong believer in getting high and I know for a fact revolutions can’t be started otherwise. During the 1989 Romanian Revolution, at which my uncle was present and almost got shot (thousands died for no good reason) a huge drawback became evident: nobody was having fun. Never again. I invited Tashweka to join me for a visit at Hobo Hilton if she wanted to see how movements begin. Politely, she confessed: “radicals, squatters and hobos scare the living bejesus out of me. I have to go home, got business to do in the morning and a mortgage to pay on my flat.” She gave me her card. I wished her nothing but good fortunes, and went off myself. This long bastard of a piece wasn’t going to write itself, and I shuddered at the sight of the notes: 40 A6 pages of messy scrawling, through which I had to go ASAP, if I wanted any news value and maybe even the £50 reimbursement on my expenses, beer excluded. While I might have viewed the whole thing with a personal degree of scepticism and even disbelief, which are my natural reactions towards institutionalised education, at least when academics study anything, you can be sure it’s making a few pages of history somewhere. What’s more, when they personally write books about it and put their mind to working out strategies and methods of moving forward, it’s clear the idea has caught on. People

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON such as Todd Gitlin give traction and credibility to what others are doing at the other, dirtier end, and this far-removed collaboration is beneficial, however you look at it. Now then, after a march through London, a night in the Occupy HQ and a scientific observation of Occupy Wall Street, what comes out under the bottom line? More of the same: Dregs, drifters, losers of any type, unadjusted and crippled spirits are a natural draw for these things – the comfort of the crowd, the caring for one another, the common purpose and the pleasure of the company have the same healing effect as a loving family for people who never had one. They are by no means the direction-setters. Energetic, shrewd and bright people of wild spirits are the ones who come up with flashes such as Friern Barnet Library and The Little Book of Ideas and put them into practice. Add to them the artists and philosophers one meets at the gatherings, and there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about Occupy. If ridding itself of idealism and radicalism is what it takes for the Movement to gain mainstream popularity, that price will have to be paid by the middle and working class folks by taking it over. There’s no way the so-called blacbloc or the other members of what constitutes Occupy London today will go into marketing, PR, publicity and canvassing. They’ve simply been through too much bullshit in their lives to endure such dishonesty. In the USA, Occupy is well advanced into the wider public consciousness and as the professor said, has the potential to develop into a full-service method of social activism. On this side of the ocean things are still incipient. While there’s no big step forward in sight, it’s a certainty that it will not cease to exist any time soon – for the simple reason that it has given the disillusioned of this nation a community of their own; the current status-quo being its very predicament, Occupy will naturally carry on. When things get worse for society, it will rise to prominence and its numbers will grow; when economy gets better, it will sink back into anonymity, but only a major shift in the way the world works will make the Movement disappear. So there’s that. It would be interesting to see an academic talk about Occupy at a global level, with collated information from all countries where people have risen. Until then, I’m locking myself up in a room going to sleep for a week to let karma rebuild and maybe even bring a cheque in.

UPDATE:

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PROBING OCCUPY LONDON Hobo Hilton has been evicted by bailiffs and police Friday October 19th at noon. Despite rumours of impending intervention, the occupiers expected to have at least three months until it came down.

Reporter: Harry Cathead

Editor: Matteo Bergamini

Designer: Matteo Bergamini

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Probing Occupy London  

Apart from a few encampments and meetings, the Occupy Movement has kept itself out of the press pretty much since May. There have been a few...