Occupy is a new manifestation of an old idea. The notion that established political forces have failed the people has been around for almost as long as democracy itself. It’s the nature of the beast. The longer a representative democracy persists, the more the population believes that all politicians are lying, conniving expenses fiddlers. Democracy gives us the freedom of speech to enunciate these opinions about the corrupting influence of power. In the most established democracies, many people don’t bother to vote. Instead they choose the express their political opinions in other ways. Often this is restricted to pub talk. Sometimes they join campaigning organisations and, from time to time, a mass movement springs up to ventilate their dissatisfaction.
Occupy seeks to be one of these mass movements. In keeping with the anarchist tradition of many grass roots protests it denounces concepts associated with traditional democratic politics, such as leadership, responsibility and enforcement regimes. The advantages of this approach are that no-one can be blamed for any mistakes made by the movement, which claims to represent us all. Well, 99% of us anyway. The disadvantages are that it is doomed to remain at the margins of serious politics because whilst it can create one dramatic media stunt after another, it does not appear able to either issue a manifesto for change or actually look after its own people.
Occupy London is both typical of and a major part of the movement. It is easily the largest network of activism within the UK, has the perfect location with its original & continuing encampment right next door to the London Stock Exchange and has attracted a long list of high profile speakers to address the crowds gathered there.
To date, the official pronouncements from Occupy London have fallen into two basic categories. Firstly, there are the mere statements of desire, such as the so-called Initial Statement (which is actually being amended as time goes by – I’ve included it at the bottom of this post, lest it ever gets removed from the ‘official’ Occupy London blog) but remains enigmatic as to any plan of how to obtain the policy changes sought. Secondly there are the actual policy demands. There are three policy demands (they’re also not easy to find on the ‘official’ Occupy London blog). As radical political demands go, they meet the mark but they are a rather short manifesto for change. They make no call to reorganise society. They don’t even specify who the demands are addressed to. They are proposals for corporate law reform. Nothing more, nothing less.
Compare and contrast to the Green Party’s policies. You couldn’t read them all in any one day - you probably wouldn’t get them finished in the week you started. The Green Party’s policies have become so detailed not only because a very large number of people have been working on them for a long time but also because the Greens have a constitution which defines how they make decisions. There isn’t much there that the vast majority of the people in Occupy London could take issue with in the Green policy platform. There is much in the Green Party’s organisational efficiency that they could be envious of.
Whilst the established media was wrong to attack Occupy for not knowing precisely what it wanted, the Occupy movement has been guilty of considerable political naivety. As time has gone by the purpose of the various occupations has become less focused, not more. The policy demands travelled some distance to meet the problem but did not cure it. Far too many people living at the camps now see the camps as the solution in themselves. Clearly these encampments are not any form of viable solution to the problems caused by corporate power gone mad. Life in the camps can be a bewildering experience, with the rhythm of life beating to an ever changing tune. For many of us, they have become too frightening to remain in. Physical threats of and actual violence are becoming increasingly commonplace. The police do not step in, preferring to watch the movement disintegrate by itself. This is not idle reportage but my own direct experience of living inside Occupy London, which my regular readers will know I have been a keen supporter and part-time resident of since its birth on 15th October 2011.
Anarchist communes are frequently overrun by people who act in their own selfish interests to the detriment of others. The anarchist model of organisation is fantastic in the pages of a Russian novel or a short lived and precisely defined society united by a common enemy but Occupy London isn’t any of these things. This weekend one key activist after another has dropped out because of the threat of physical violence. The camp diehards will complain of treason because they fail to understand that every society requires some measure of discipline and backbone to work. Occupy London came about because of a lack of discipline and backbone in our conventional politicians. There’s been plenty time for the general assembly at Occupy London to sort out its internal problems – there’s yet another meeting tonight – but it cannot resolve them. The problem lies in Occupy’s refusal to accept leadership from anyone, even itself.
Whatever decisions get taken tonight won’t help unless there is a radical revision of the founding principles. Some people will have to be excluded from the movement. Specifically, the people with severe drug and alcohol problems – they need to be helped elsewhere; a political movement cannot offer a change in society if it tolerates the violence visited upon it by these people. Some other people will have to be excluded from the working teams they have attached themselves to, in which they are only wrecking balls. Some people will have to be recognised as having formal responsibility for certain aspects of maintaining the occupation, notably security, and awarded extra powers in order to manage their new responsibilities. Whether Occupy London can manage this reformation must be severely doubted because of its unwillingness to follow any leadership. These changes require leadership.
I’ve been in the Green Party for ten years. When I first joined the Party, it had no leader. Instead it had a series of Party Speakers. Eventually the Greens realised that they could never engage with the established media unless they had a leader. We debated the matter at length and decided to elect a single party leader. At the time of the debate, I was opposed to giving into the demands of conventional politics. I wanted the party to remain purist. I’m now persuaded that my views were mistaken. What has changed my mind? The answer lies in the subsequent success of the Green Party, which now runs my local authority, Brighton & Hove City Council. My party leader, Caroline Lucas, is also now my local MP. Whilst I agree with many of the activists in Occupy that Westminster has become somewhat irrelevant in the economic world we live in, nevertheless it is the place where legislation is made in the UK. One Green MP is a good start from a party which has not compromised on its radical policy platform. Green candidates are getting elected around the country and have form for sticking to their guns. Witness Jenny Jones, the Green candidate to be Mayor of London in 2012. Unlike the other bandwagon jumpers with Occupy, she didn’t just turn up, she spent the night in Occupation. She put her head and her heart where her mouth was. She took her personal responsibility seriously and gave a witness statement to help defend Occupy London from eviction. She’s expected to give evidence in the High Court trial next week. This is what real leadership is all about: promoting policies addressed to specific issues whilst staying loyal to stated principles, being prepared to face hard truths and being personally accountable to others for your actions.
Occupy London’s Initial Statement
This initial statement was collectively agreed by over 500 people on the steps of St Paul’s on 26 October 2011. Like all forms of direct democracy, the statement will always be a work in progress and is used as a basis for further discussion and debate.
- The current system is unsustainable. It is undemocratic and unjust. We need alternatives; this is where we work towards them.
- We are of all ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, generations, sexualities dis/abilities and faiths. We stand together with occupations all over the world.
- We refuse to pay for the banks’ crisis.
- We do not accept the cuts as either necessary or inevitable. We demand an end to global tax injustice and our democracy representing corporations instead of the people.
- We want regulators to be genuinely independent of the industries they regulate.
- We support the strike on the 30th November and the student action on the 9th November, and actions to defend our health services, welfare, education and employment, and to stop wars and arms dealing.
- We want structural change towards authentic global equality. The world’s resources must go towards caring for people and the planet, not the military, corporate profits or the rich.
- The present economic system pollutes land, sea and air, is causing massive loss of natural species and environments, and is accelerating humanity towards irreversible climate change. We call for a positive, sustainable economic system that benefits present and future generations. 
- We stand in solidarity with the global oppressed and we call for an end to the actions of our government and others in causing this oppression.
- This is what democracy looks like. Come and join us!
 Article 8 was added to the statement following a proposal being passed by the Occupy London General Assembly on 19 November 2011.