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Occupy London: how others see its demand for change


10:45 am - October 26th 2011

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contribution by Luke Denne

Like many others, I have found myself captivated by the “Occupy” movement. It is inspiring seeing hundreds of protestors camping outside St Paul’s and in cities around the world in demand of a fairer system.

“We are the 99%” is a simple message, but I couldn’t help questioning how the protestors could have an impact upon society. I headed to St. Paul’s, the location of the “Occupy London Stock Exchange” camp to try and find out.

I came across William, an Argentinian immigrant who had come down to take a look. He had previously worked as a teacher and an electrical engineer but was struggling to find work: “The last two years have been very very bad, I only have 15 pounds for this week.” He claimed he was “angry” and wanted “to see what the people are going to do and when the next big protest will be.”

These sentiments were shared by many others I spoke to, including an elderly passer-by who added: “What is happening here is incredibly important, this is history. It’s not an anarchistic destruction of property. It’s people standing up and saying: this is our country, not the banks’.”

Jon, an IT worker, claimed he “sympathised” with the protesters but argued that the message “needs to be clearer”. He added: “I hope it causes change, but it doesn’t offer any real solution, it’s no good just saying we hate everything.” An accountant on his lunch break who wished to remain anonymous argued that “it’s not focused enough on one particular thing and the message is getting a bit lost.” Despite this, he claimed to appreciate what they were doing and wished them good luck.

Another commonly held view was that the demands were too severe. Another city worker who also wished to remain anonymous argued that it seemed it was “all about bringing the successful people down when in fact we need to work on raising up the people at the bottom.” He argued that if the protesters were instead focusing on important issues like social mobility then he would “totally be on their side”, but as things stood they were “too extreme.”

This seemed typical of a kind of ‘us and them’ divide between members of the public and the protestors themselves. A touring American musician who didn’t want to be named but was curious to see what was going on told me that he believed that the biggest obstacle facing the protestors was “ideological.” He argued that “people that aren’t really politically involved sometimes see protesting in general as kind of the opposite side of the fence. Therefore it’s hard to appeal to them and to cross that ideological barrier.”

And it’s true, the general consensus appears to be that this is just a protest for the far left when the issues at hand are much bigger than the traditional left vs. right political divides. Clearly, this is an issue of perception that needs to be overcome.

A young mother, Kim, provided an excellent example of this, she told me that although she thought it was excellent that people were standing up for change, they seemed to be “too political” and that demonstrators were “doing it for their own political agenda rather than speaking to the people really feeling the pinch at the moment.” To gain her support, she felt that they should “focus their aims on class sizes, hospital wards or energy bills; the things really impacting on peoples’ quality of life.”

An Anonymous UK activist responded to these concerns, saying: “it’s not that we don’t have a clear message, it’s just that no one message stands out amongst the rest.” He added that although people may not feel there is a definitive message, the definitive message is simply that “we need to talk about these issues.” He argued that “it’s not that we have all the answers” but that those “we’ve put into power need to be addressing these concerns.”

Despite the unfair portrayal by elements of the media that the protestors are an unemployed “mob”, the truth is that many people are sympathetic; they just don’t see the movement as accessible.

But the public sympathy I encountered was remarkable, especially as much of it came from workers in The City.

Maybe we’re witnessing the start of something bigger. The same thing is happening in hundreds of cities worldwide. We may not be able to see change yet, but they’ve got people talking and that is an important first step.

As one activist said to me: “the beginning is near”. Let’s hope so.


A longer version is at Luke’s blog. He also tweets from here.

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Reader comments


There’s an ideological barrier because the hard left do have a very wrong ideology that most people know is nonsense.

I don’t think the protest does have a clear message in terms of a solution to the problem. It is all about stirring up righteous anger – which can be effective, but is typically most effective in serving the needs of the movement, recruiting activists etc. Actually solving the problems would require a sober analysis and policy ideas that would divide people more than uniting them.

An Anonymous UK activist responded to these concerns, saying: “it’s not that we don’t have a clear message, it’s just that no one message stands out amongst the rest.”

Yep, that sounds muddled to me.

But they are an unemployed mob , otherwise they would be at work. I don`t suppose anyone objects to them much but its vaguely irritating in that it seems to imply everyone else is not privy to their magic solution which they came up with in a squat.

They are not the 99%

99.9% of us would no more let one of them near our countries Economic Policy or laws than they would let an infant play with a loaded gun or a food blender.

I think the “occupy” movement’s problem is not lack of a clear message. The message is clear: “We’re unhappy”.

The problem is the lack of coherent ideas of what to do about it. Is the solution communism, anarchism, or more regulation for market economy? Lots of people have different ideas.

You can’t make a clear message out of that, because the fundamental thinking behind the unhappiness has willd variation and totally conflicting solution proposals. Much of the policy thinking is naive, misinformed and ignoring economic fundamentals.

@3 some do go to work each day and/or night. Which is why the tents are not all filled at any given time.

It may be that the Occupy protest is speaking for the 99% in that they want something done. Unfortunately for almost all Occupy’s members, it is unlikely that they will manage to represent the vast majority of the 99% further in suggesting what they want done. So whilst the London protest had symbolic value as a peaceful (remember, that is important in itself) event to make people see there was alternative viewpoints, I would actually question whether it is not now heading towards being a liability – it is becoming more politically located, causing controversy and increasingly is a target, not doing the targetting (that happens when you sit still I suppose).

Does anyone know whether the Occupiers (as they should be called?) have any plans for at what point they will give up – because I think there are serious doubts that a long-term protest will achieve much here. It’s time for something new (again).

Cylux,

some do go to work each day and/or night. Which is why the tents are not all filled at any given time.

That implies 90% of the Occupiers work night shifts… If so, I think this is particularly notable but requires some explanation.

“requires some explanation.”

Bar work, catering industry, cleaners, prostitution, organised crime.

The sort of industries you’d find low paid workers/students in.

Planeshift,

Bar work, catering industry, cleaners, prostitution, organised crime.

Not sure about organised crime myself – organised and students don’t really go well together…

I don’t know about Occupy London, but I’ve just walked past ”Occupy Belfast”, and it’s just like it’s described here.

http://sluggerotoole.com/2011/10/24/occupy-belfast-camp-in-writers-square/

They seem to be making no impression whatsoever, and aren’t bothering anyone so aren’t even getting on the local news. They are across the road from Belfast cathederal, so maybe they should close it down if they want to get some media attention.

What I saw yesterday was the usual .001% I’m afraid, plus a few interesting new faces. I did like the interaction between curious bankers and protesters though. Overall I was disappointed with the self righteous attitude of protesters as bankers probably know a fair bit about finance and a bit of learning on both sides might actually hatch a solution which no one had yet thought of. I’d like to see a series of meetings between bankers and protesters organised down there but I can’t see anyone taking the suggestion seriously.

I did hear some really funny stories about a mate called Joy, a short and crazy Scot who wanders the streets of London in a kilt with his “joystick” which is a pole with various fluffy toys, strange icons and tambourines stuck to it. Apparently they all wanted him to leave because he was blowing his horn at 5AM and ranting at them.

One of the Met police said

“Oh right. You are one of the real ones aren’t you?”

13. Chaise Guevara

“A young mother, Kim, provided an excellent example of this, she told me that although she thought it was excellent that people were standing up for change, they seemed to be “too political” and that demonstrators were “doing it for their own political agenda rather than speaking to the people really feeling the pinch at the moment.” To gain her support, she felt that they should “focus their aims on class sizes, hospital wards or energy bills; the things really impacting on peoples’ quality of life.””

That’s not so much “too political” as “not political about the specific things that interest me”.

@ 13. Chaise Guevara
– I agree but do you not see that this is entirely the problem? If they are to succeed in provoking some change in society then they need to find a way to relate to the mainstream in society who are crying out for an organised movement that they can lend their voice to. As it stands, they’re preaching to the converted and the movement appears to be exclusive and inaccessible. I don’t know if you’ve been down but one activist is flying a Stalin flag – that’s just not going to help.

15. Chaise Guevara

@ 14 Luke Denne

“I agree but do you not see that this is entirely the problem? If they are to succeed in provoking some change in society then they need to find a way to relate to the mainstream in society who are crying out for an organised movement that they can lend their voice to.”

It’s a problem either way. Get too specific and you cut down your base. I think protesting on the grounds that the poor and middle are suffering for the excesses of the rich is a fairly good general point that has the potential to resonate with most people.

Take the example of our friend Kim, above – does she think that protests about government cuts are unrelated to class sizes, hospital wards and energy bills? It’s really not Occupy’s fault if she and others need to have politics spoon-fed to them. And spoon-feeding everyone isn’t an option – by recuiting one you alienate another.

“As it stands, they’re preaching to the converted and the movement appears to be exclusive and inaccessible.”

Almost any politicised group can be accused of preaching to the converted. It’s not a problem in this case – Occupy are generally trying to rally the converted and maybe convert some people in the middle, not win over arch capitalists. As for exclusive and inaccessible – how so? This is the group claiming to represent the least powerful 99% of the population. That phrase may be annoying and arrogant, but it’s hardly elitist. I’m sure Occupy would love it if you got involved.

“I don’t know if you’ve been down but one activist is flying a Stalin flag – that’s just not going to help.”

Well, no. There’s always nutters, though – only way to avoid that is to have a really unsuccessful protest where nobody shows up. The real problem with this sort of thing is that certain sections of the media are just desperate to find the biggest idiots and wankers and put them on the front page, as if they represent the entire group. Unless you think Occupy should forceably and illegally remove the Stalinist from the area, I’m not sure what you expect them to do about it.

Chaise/Luke,

I think you are both making a key assumption which is not justifiable, which is epitomised by this:

If they are to succeed in provoking some change in society then they need to find a way to relate to the mainstream in society who are crying out for an organised movement that they can lend their voice to.

I think you may underestimate the political acumen of people like Kim, who I would suggest probably knows what she wants, which is better services, but is not necessarily happy that this is provided by throwing money at things – a common view. What she definetly is not doing is wandering round looking for a political movement to join – that is the action of political junkies (you and me…) rather than ‘normal’ people who engage with politics in a way that suits them. Those who think the Occupy movement will become a revolution as it attracts people misunderstand how most people deal with political grievance.

I’d suggest give Kim the credit for knowing the difference between overtly politicised and the actual day-to-day work of government (which is political but not so ideological). Assuming she is misled and wrong without further evidence is surely arrogance on our part, not ignorance on hers.

Chaise Guevara:
That’s not so much “too political” as “not political about the specific things that interest me”.

She must be one of the 1%.

It’s interesting you mentioned Kim and said that it’s not Occupy’s fault that she “needs politics spoon feeding” to her. It’s exactly that kind of response to everyday people who aren’t “politically involved” that means that the protest is seen as exclusive. Not all the poor and middle are “arch capitalists”. But there are many people who want a fairer system but not a complete end to capitalism. I would imagine that these people probably feel that they weren’t welcome as their views aren’t extreme enough. Do you see what I mean? I’m not saying it IS exclusive, just that is how it tends to perceived.

It’s an issue of image and public support; without it a movement will struggle to develop. I’m not saying I have the answers, I don’t know what they should do. All I’m saying is that for this to succeed, the movement must reach disaffected, everyday people. Right now, people are talking – that’s good – but the next stage is gaining visible support from larger swathes of the population.

19. Leon Wolfson

@3 – Right, 99.9% of your “us”, Tories. But you’d not let anyone not Tory near them either unless you had to anyway, so…

Why should we expect ‘us’ to have a clear concise answer to the politcal situation? Our ‘elected’ politicians are supposed to do that as it is they who have their hands on the levers of power and the facts. I must say that the ‘meeja’ neither inform nor educate ‘us’ despite this being in the BBC charter document. I resent the fact that the discomfort and misery of a large portion of the population of this country is being dismissed as irrelevant by those who have more power than is good for them and certainly don’t have a compassionate thought in their soryy twisted mind.
Why do we have politicians if they don’t work for the people of their own country?
They seem to be fat cats feeding at the same trough as city pigs


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Occupy London: how others see its demand for change http://t.co/zhrFAhAO

  2. pamdawson

    Occupy London: how others see its demand for change http://t.co/zhrFAhAO

  3. CAROLE JONES

    Occupy London: how others see its demand for change http://t.co/zhrFAhAO

  4. Luke Denne

    My article on the #occupylsx protests —> RT: @libcon Occupy London: how others see its demand for change http://t.co/vpT2quPj

  5. Alex Reeves

    Some interesting points. Not a perfect movement. RT @libcon Occupy London: how others see its demand for change http://t.co/ozgGXvSV

  6. Kelly

    #OccupyLSX Got people talking,an important first step RT @libcon: Occupy London: how others see its demand for change http://t.co/dhD38oe1

  7. sunny hundal

    It is also a problem for #occupyLSX that even some sympathetic visitors feel their politics are too narrow http://t.co/qaF1wSVx

  8. Zippo Marx

    It is also a problem for #occupyLSX that even some sympathetic visitors feel their politics are too narrow http://t.co/qaF1wSVx

  9. Luke Denne

    @OccupiedTimes @OccupyLSX Wrote article about public opinion after visiting camp. Some points that could be discussed? http://t.co/WY5pti0Z

  10. David Smout

    It is also a problem for #occupyLSX that even some sympathetic visitors feel their politics are too narrow http://t.co/qaF1wSVx

  11. Tom Cracknell

    Agreed – make it relevant to the masses: Occupy London: how others see its demand for change http://t.co/KMm99Zeo via @libcon

  12. Luke Denne

    It is also a problem for #occupyLSX that even some sympathetic visitors feel their politics are too narrow http://t.co/qaF1wSVx

  13. Blade

    Occupy London: how others see its demand for change | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/S1CAOcIn via @libcon
    #OccupyLSX #occupyGlasgow





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