In keeping with the organisational methods which launched Occupy the London Stock Exchange (OccupyLSX), there is now a public planning process to relaunch Occupy London. The activists have agreed dates and invited everyone to be ready for action then. The dates are May Day, 12th May and 15th May. Locations have not been agreed yet. Presumably the activists have realised that there is little point in premature location announcements. Landowners just obtain injunctions. Last time around mere rumours inside OccupyLSX caused the corporate landowners of both Canary Wharf & the land around Liverpool Street Station to apply to the High Court to prevent protests on their property. Their applications were successful. Further announcements about actions will appear at OccupyLSX and its public Facebook page.
There were two faces of the first wave of Occupy London. There was the image presented in the partisan and privately owned media which, unsurprisingly, depicted the protest as meaningless, self-indulgent and confused. Then there was the reportage from various left-wing groups and the trades unions, which presented the protest as a mass movement enjoying popular support, presenting a serious challenge to the establishment. Both were little more than propaganda. The truth lay somewhere in between.
I was involved in OccupyLSX from the first day, on 15th October 2011, and played a key role in setting up the legal team which defended the eviction case brought by the City of London Corporation. Here’s why I personally issued the original instructions to John Cooper QC, my analysis of Occupy London’s problems, my commentary on and the full judgment by the High Court, which evicted OccupyLSX, and my commentary on and the full judgment on OccupyLSX’s subsequent appeal.
Crudely, the chief complaint that can be made against Occupy London relates to its naive political attitude. It generated many slogans and contributed enormously to the rising consciousness about the problems of inequality (traditionally a job for the Labour Party but one it appears to have. dropped, like an embarrassing friend) but it never endorsed any holistic solutions. It produced a handful of proposals, all aimed at the City of London Corporation. Politically, it was ineffective precisely because it appeared unable to formulate strategy and proffer solutions. These problems were inevitable because of its internal organisation – it declared that nothing would be agreed unless everyone agreed. Whilst that inclusive methodology generated considerable cohesion amongst the disparate activists in the early days, it was also a hostage to fortune.
On the plus side, Occupy London filled a political vacuum with a positive idea. The idea was that we, the people could solve our problems by cooperation and, crucially, that we could do this peacefully. In times when none of the main three political parties appears to have even the slightest idea where they would like society to go, this protest proved enormously popular with Londoners. They flocked to it, especially in the first two months. Financial and physical donations poured into the camp.
Unfortunately, after the first couple of months, only the hardcore were left. Their cause subtly mutated into a struggle for the existence of the camp itself. Being situated in a churchyard, it attracted increasing numbers of religious preachers. The need to separate religion from politics is one of the fundamental lessons learnt early in the democratic age. Many of us original activists despaired of the spiritual quagmire that the camp descended into, characterised by pointless sermons in the day time but untrustworthy and often violent lost souls in the night. A significant number of activists did not spend the increasingly long nights in the camp. Consequently, they were defending something which they little understood.
I hope Occupy London 2.0 tackles these problems and roots out the antisocial elements which drove people away from the first wave. A great many good people were introduced to politics through Occupy London. A significant number of them weathered the winter in support of the cause. By May, they will have enjoyed a well earned rest and be ready for more. The public will also be ready for more because the thieving Tory bastards have thrown off the pretence of trying to help everyone. The challenge for Occupy London 2.0 is to successfully translate our anger into meaningful political action. Many of the activists fail to recognise that refusing to vote is antisocial. Until they overcome that puerile response to politics, they will be destined to remain on the outside edge of politics.