A new political movement
Thus far the Occupy movement in London has been ambitious, punched above its weight and seized the moment beautifully. The sight of a mighty Cathedral closing its doors whilst campaigners for the poor sleep on its steps has been a troublesome moment in the relationship between the English Church and people. What on earth would the venerable Bede make of all this? What on earth would St Paul himself make of it? Before his famous journey to Damascus, he had been a tent maker.
Cathedral is a bankrupt business
The Occupy movement was a beautiful gift for the Church of England. An entirely peaceful campaign, comprised of the widest possible demographic, landed on its doorstep with plenty of warning as to what it intended to do on the ground. A distinction needs to be drawn been the Church of England and St Paul’s Cathedral. The latter is running a business. The purpose of the business is to facilitate prayer to a specific God but it is a business nevertheless. It claims to require £20,000 per day in running costs and to receive approximately £16,000 per day in donations normally. Therefore, it is a bankrupt business and must be relying on subsidy from elsewhere. The Church of England is a religious organisation led by a cleric said to be on the verge of early retirement because he cannot cope with the muddled nature of his flock and their confused purpose in the modern world.
Occupation movement expanding rapidly
The Occupation movement has an international reach that all organised faiths would be very proud of. We are ambitious, determined and sophisticated in our organisational strength. Last night, one week after the Occupation in London began, we set up a second camp in Finsbury Square which is a stone’s throw from the Headquarter’s of the Royal Bank of Scotland. The Royal Bank of Scotland has been a major criminal in the international fraud committed on the people. They have deliberately created a debt crisis, held the country to ransom, had the ransom money delivered and still have not done anything to assist with solving the economic structural problems which allowed them to commit these crimes.
Passive aggression by St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral began the week well by ordering the police off its premises. I caught the precise moment Giles Fraser told the police to leave on video (4 minutes, 20 second into the video at that link) Doubtless they were concerned about the international image of their impressive frontage guarded by police from the people. The Occupation commenced a dialogue with the Cathedral. The Cathedral has been secretive and uncooperative in its approach. They have publicly announced that they have closed their doors but then they were quietly reopened for paying guests. A wedding was held and the happy couple’s guests lent their support to the Occupation. PR company account manager Natasha Ighodaro married Nick Cunningham declaring afterwards that it had been “wonderful, really amazing” and that there “hasn’t been any disruption at all”. The current position is that the Cathedral is citing Health & Safety reasons for the closure but has not yet revealed the details of the perceived problem. OccupyLSX sent the following open letter to the church:
Open Letter from OccupyLSX to Cathedral authorities
To the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s Cathedral,
We are grateful to the Reverend Canon Dr Giles Fraser, Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, for reassuring us that our activities are not harming the Cathedral’s commercial concerns – that has never been our intention. Our intention was to highlight the iniquities of the global economic crisis, in a peaceful manner, especially as the Cathedral has been so hospitable.
We have endeavoured to clarify perceived health and safety issues and continue to place these as a priority for the health and safety of everyone, both inside and outside of this historic Cathedral.
Unfortunately, despite our requests of the Cathedral, they have not provided us with details and information as to how we are perceived to be threatening health and safety. We once again urge the Cathedral to bring to our attention, immediately, the particular details of the health and safety issues to address them. Our concern is if there are health and safety issues (which we in any event refute) by the Church failing to tell of them, they are exacerbating any perceived dangers.
Due to the urgency of the situation you have raised, we would appreciate your immediate response so that we can deal with these concerns.
Occupy London Stock Exchange
Whose side is the Cathedral on?
Within a week the Cathedral has gone from obtaining superb publicity to appearing disorganised and hostile to poor people’s concerns. They have squandered the gift. All the nonconformist Christian churches in the country have given their support to the Occupation but the Church of England has remained silent. Our beef is not with the Church of England. We would have been happy to have them as friends but if they wish to side with the financial institutions against us, we are big enough to cope.
Our encampment now includes several residential districts, a tea tent, a legal tent, a media tent, a tech tent, a piano tent, a prayer and meditation tent (somehow the Cathedral did not seem appropriate for us), a Sukkah, an extensive field kitchen (which receives daily food donations from Londoners and serves nutritious food to the occupiers), a library (to nourish the mind), a university (which will also serve as a school for extra-curricular lessons during the forthcoming half-term week), a medical centre and an information tent for visitors. Our waste disposal is a tightly organised system, with the focus on separation and recycling, although of course we prefer not to have to recycle at all but to reuse instead. We have our own portaloos for our night time calls of nature. All this has been achieved in adverse circumstances on the cobblestones between an historic church and the London Stock Exchange. We hold our own parliaments, called General Assemblies, at least twice a day and countless other workshops so that we can learn new skills to further the occupations.
In one week we have created a space for hitherto unknown debate. The great and the good have queued up to speak at our encampment. Julian Assange may have been the first high profile speaker but he certainly hasn’t been the last. We’ve set up a ‘university’ to hold lectures, debates and seminars in. Having been busy with legal work, I’ve missed all of these lectures. Hopefully I’ll catch some soon. John Cooper QC, who leads a team of barristers giving legal advice to the camp, has requested that he might be able to give a law lecture. Britain’s leading expert on the French Resistance, Professor Rod Kedward, has asked to speak. This new engagement in intellectual and policy debate blows the dusty political establishment away. We have only being going for one week yet we have set up a fully functioning community which can now facilitate policy making and further direct action. Our campaign of mass civil disobedience has only just begun.
Movement not manifesto
The only substantial criticism of our occupation movement is that we have not turned up with a neatly packaged manifesto. The press and the right-wing institutions want to know what we want. Our point has been that we want everyone to start talking about this properly. If we were still in occupation in six months without having crystalised our thoughts into any declared policies that might be a valid criticism. At this stage in the game, it is not. This is not a protest, it is the resistance. We know we are in for the long haul. Our movement will continue to grow. Expect us.
Green Party support missed the point
Politically speaking, it is notable that only one party has stepped up to the plate and declared unequivocal support: the Green Party. I doubt that you could get the proverbial cigarette paper between the views of the occupiers and the Green Party’s policies. Certainly almost everyone I have spoken to in the camp has been voting Green, if they vote at all. However, there are precious few Green activists on the ground. Turning up with a stall or a pamphlet would be inappropriate; this crowd’s sophisticated sense of smell would detect such blatantly patronising behaviour a mile away. Predictably the Socialist Workers’ Party tried to do precisely that and we told by a General Assembly to fuck off. However, when the time comes to set policy, to formulate demands, the Green Party could be in the position to provide leadership. There is a major obstacle though. Green Party activists need to be on the ground now. Physically. They need to be helping with the practicalities of camp life, with gaffer taping tents down, helping with our night time security patrols, becoming legal observers, washing dishes in the kitchen. Being actually in occupation in numbers would give Green Party activists considerable air time when the policy debates begin, as they will. Turning up as Caroline Lucas did, for a few hours, betrays more alienation from the movement than it lends support. Had Caroline Lucas chosen to stay overnight, even only for one night, that might have counted for something. Most people in the camp remain blissfully unaware of her support. They are aware of the support from the trades union activists in London. Unite made a big noise when they turned up. Links have been built with the electrician unions. These emerging relationships between activists old and new is something the Green Party has been cumbersomely slow in obtaining. Had Green Party people been on the ground this week, they would have been in a better position later on to capitalise on these new relationships. This is a simple plea to my fellow Green Party members: get yourself involved with the Occupation movement! Do not preach, do not canvass. Just help out and become part of this new movement. There is a window of credibility which is going to close. If you don’t get in when that window is still open, you’ll blow your chances. Here’s a whole new generation of political activists, ready to be recruited and largely in agreement with Green Party policy but completely cynical about any of the established political processes. Only by being on the ground in occupation with them will you manage to break down that mistrust.
Positive Policy Proposals
Rather than end there for today, I’m going on. I’m aware that my blog is read by Green Party activists and also by those in Occupation. Here are the Green Party economic policies for the occupationists to mull over. Pretty soon we are going to have to get real. We are going to have to be completely positive about what we want, rather than complaining about what we don’t want. We are going to have to publish a list of demands to campaign for. That time has not yet come but when it does, we’ll want our position to be reached by consensus. Here is a ready made set of policies which covers every branch of economic life. They have been developed over many many years. Doubtless they can be improved but they are an excellent starting point.
I’m going to publish here an extract from this policy document. It contains the Green Party’s short term aims (as opposed to the party’s long term aims). Here goes:
- To undertake urgent research into developing transitional strategies to move trade into new regional patterns.
- To introduce import and export controls on a national and/or regional bloc level, with the aim of allowing localities and countries to produce as much of their food, goods, and services as they can themselves.
- To introduce into the World Trade Organisation (WTO) a social clause, based on ILO standards, establishing minimum labour rights and conditions for participation in the multilateral trading system, together with new rules to prohibit countries from weakening existing social and environmental regulations to attract, or retain, foreign investment.
- To establish new international trade rules to reconcile conflicts at national and international levels between free trade and sustainable resource management, which would place environmental protection and sustainable development above the pursuit of profit. These would include rules to enable countries to internalise the full environmental costs of international trade, including the true costs of transport. Trade rules would permit legitimate border tax adjustment to compensate for energy or pollution taxes imposed on domestic industries, and enable countries to discriminate between products on the basis of the way they are processed/produced. Obligations on developing countries to comply with higher standards should be linked to the provision of transitional technical and financial support.
- To incorporate into trade policy making the commitment given at the UN Beijing Women’s Conference (1995) to mainstream gender analysis into all levels of policy making, and in particular to incorporate a gender impact assessment into all trade policy making and policy reviews.
- To integrate the WTO more closely into the UN system. The WTO should be answerable to the UN through regular reports to the Secretary-General, the General Assembly, and the Economic and Social Council.
- To ensure expanded and timely public access to all WTO documents, and access for representatives of civil society to WTO meetings.
- To introduce into the WTO a food security clause, which would allow developing countries to protect their food systems up to the point of self-sufficiency for social, ecological, and economic reasons.
- To prohibit subsidised agricultural export dumping, and to redesign the agricultural policies of the industrialised countries to encourage less intensive production, and to redistribute income support from the largest producers to the small-holders.
- To introduce an international tax on currency speculation, both to raise revenue for development, and to deter a form of financial activity which is deeply, destabilising for all countries.