Monday, January 23, 2012

St Paul's Occupation makes its mark

As the tent city Occupation outside St Paul’s, supported by sister occupations at Finsbury Square and the Bank of Ideas, approaches its 100th day, it’s time to celebrate its achievements.

The Occupation has defied countless predictions of its demise, enabling thousands of people to manifest a collective will and powerful determination to challenge the existing order of things at many levels.

The state with its many arms has acted against those who, inspired by Occupy Wall Street in New York and other global occupations – in particular in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and Madrid’s Sol Square - headed to the City of London’s Paternoster Square on October 15, 2011.

When the original intention to occupy Paternoster Square, where the London stock exchange is located, was thwarted by the laws of private property, the Occupation was forced on to the space outside St Paul’s Cathedral. The then canon, Rev Giles Fraser told the police to leave and gave the occupation permission to remain on the church’s property. Under pressure from the St Paul’s hierarchy, Fraser resigned his post.

Undaunted, St Paul’s activists have confronted the City of London police; the legal system which defends private property; misleading reportage by the London Evening Standard and Daily Mail in particular; hostility from sections of the Church of England hierarchy; and last but not least the antithesis of democracy in the shape of the City of London Corporation, which won its court action against the Occupation last week.

The Occupation has had to deal with the welfare problems that are rampant in society at large: ill health, substance abuse, mental instability, and homelessness. Many at St Paul’s courageously decided to try to help those suffering from these problems as best they could, a heavy task which at times threatened to overwhelm the action.

The greatest achievement of the Occupy movement is its struggle to liberate and colonise physical space – a highly political question in a London where public property has virtually vanished under the impact of corporate assimilation of the commons. Countless thousands who have walked past Tent City or had contact through other means have seen their preconceptions melt away when they have spoken directly to the occupiers or sat in on discussions. Inspired by the Occupation and the daily general assemblies and offshoot working groups and talks and discussions at Tent City University, the movement has built up a massive “virtual” presence. The Occupy website, its many Facebook and Twitter platforms are only the tip of an internet iceberg.

The publication of a hard copy and online newspaper, The Occupation Times, has formed a record of what has happened. The current edition includes a crucial discussion under the heading of “Revolution or Reform”. The working group offshoots have involved people from the Occupation itself as well as countless others who have take part in debates. These continue to function to develop concepts to take the movement forward.

Inspired by the US and Spanish occupations, the form of organisation has put into practice concepts of consensus democracy and “leaderlessness”. There have been many problems and criticisms associated with organising in this way. But these remain secondary to the undoubted need to find a really 21st century way of unleashing the democratic energies of those who have been hitherto excluded from decision-making processes.

The Occupation is a physical and mental learning process for all those who seek to change society. It has embodied and embraced a huge range of ideological tendencies. A World to Win has participated, with others, in raising the crucial questions of the need to transcend the cruelly limited and restrictive nature of capitalist democracy and the profit-driven economy which is in such turmoil and crisis. Facilitating these kinds of debates is one of the Occupation’s key achievements.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

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