Travelling to London regularly induces a sense of despair, whether the reason for the journey is work, family, politics or pleasure. Its enormity coupled with its anonymity makes for a bad combination. After I quit living in London for the second time, around the turn of the century, I read Roy Porter’s London: A Social History, to find out where our capital city went wrong. Porter’s thesis, that all of London’s current problems were entrenched by the year 1600AD, seemed to nicely justify my departure. If only it were as simple as that. As galaxies revolve around black holes, so it is with much our economy and this forbidding urban behemoth.
After I moved my homestead away from London, work drove me back there many times. Either I had to work in London or else travel through London to get to work elsewhere. Everyday social niceties, such as apologising when brushing up against someone else, evaporate as soon as you step of the inbound train. The traffic waits for no driver and, contrary to rumour, the streets are not paved with gold. On the contrary, they are expensive to sleep on. I speak from personal experience; I slept rough in London at the start of 1998. Everything in London is rough and tough, even the animal life: I have seen foxes using the Docklands Light Railway and pidgeons making nests from twisted metal.
After I quit the Bar, I decided to avoid London at all costs. Generally speaking, this Brighton blogger found that relatively straightforward. There was the odd social trip, sure, but on the whole I managed to keep away. The result was that I experienced the full shock on each return visit. Each one of these trips was a stressful affair, relieved only by the sight of the South Downs on the journey home.
On 15th October 2011, I once again travelled to London. This time was different. The anticipatory stress was still present but unlike with other occasions in the previous decade, I could easily have stayed away. I travelled alone to meet total strangers. My mission was to help set up Occupy London with my tent, my enthusiasm and my determination that the thieving Tory bastards would not steer us into social and economic oblivion without history recording that the people had persistently protested and called for a fairer world.
On that journey I mused much about the Labour Party, of which I had once been a member, pondering why it had chosen a policy wonk to lead it, instead of a leader with policies. I hoped that the Green Party, of which I am a member, would support the Occupy movement and give some coherent leadership. It did, by the way. I wondered how the Occupation would turn out, particularly in terms of how long it would last. Certainly that day I expected to end up in either a police cell or a hospital bed.
Today I travel to London again. Tomorrow marks the two month anniversary of Occupy London. There are now three major sites in and around the financial district surrounding the Stock Exchange. Much has happened which has been predictable, notably the dithering and cowardice by the Church of England worried about its absurdly precious mansion dedicated to the tent maker, St Paul. Surprisingly the authority charged with looking after the corporation’s interests, the positively medieval City of London Corporation, revealed itself to be incompetent in managing popular protest and to lack the loyalty of its own staff. Amazingly, many bankers have come to talk to us, the campaigners sleeping out on London’s freezing streets to make our point persistent. They talk to us casually in their lunch hours and their evenings and they make more formal contact too. This is exactly what Occupy London set out to do: to establish channels of political communication where it counted, at the heart of the capitalist economy. The parliament over at Westminster is now largely irrelevant; it’s influence is restricted to purely social affairs, which is why every party in charge continuously undermines our education system. That’s pretty much all they can mismanage without being externally controlled.
When we arrived, the established press and most commentators said we’d misunderstood the City, that nothing happened on a Saturday and that we’d all be gone by Monday. Despite lacking the cohesion of a party structure and mostly strangers to one another, we have maintained a good discipline. Our occupation has been completely peaceful. When we were still in situ a week later, the press mocked us for not knowing what we wanted. We didn’t make for a good story, apparently. Perhaps that is a reflection on our times: attention spans appear shorter than ever, largely thanks to proactive dumbing down by our media. We were never going to be a short story. Here we are, two months later, an epic novel in the making.
Tomorrow marks a new turning in the campaign. We know that we have many supporters who have not yet visited an Occupation, let alone set one up. We know because you tell us. Perhaps you too suffer the fear that I did on 15th October? Fear not, my friends, help is at hand. Your contribution need not be massive. In fact, small efforts by many are more worthy than grand gestures by a few.
15th December 2011 is the day to Occupy Everywhere. We’ve prepared a handy A4 leaflet with some helpful advice and instructions on how you can help Occupy Everywhere. There’s something for everyone to do in it. Now’s your chance. Whatever you do, wherever you live, whoever you are, you can now join in the fun. We’ve been peaceful, positive and powerful. Compare and contrast us to the Summer’s rioters. Which ‘protest’ against our economic masters do you prefer? The government is in trouble. There’s likely to be an election in 2012. The political agenda will be set by what the main parties think matters to the people. If you’ve had enough of just complaining about politicians and bankers, here’s your chance to make your mark. History will record this movement as far more influential than our established media currently admits to. This is your chance to become part of the main event. After tomorrow, you can look your friends and descendants in the eye and tell them you made it happen. Let this be your finest hour.