Occupy London – a popular movement?
|December 14, 2011||Posted by Tom Wooldridge under national|
The Occupy London protest began in October, and despite an ongoing legal challenge by the City of London Corporation (possibly the least democratic council in the UK) it has not yet been evicted. This legal challenge will be heard in the High Court on Monday 19th December, and if successful will lead to eviction. This can happen as part of the land that is being “occupied” is what is known as ‘public-private’: the land is owned by a private company, in this case the London Stock Exchange. The private company maintains it and lets the public use it on its terms, for example how some shopping centres ban the wearing of hoods or items of clothing which cover the face. The companies also have more powers to restrict political demonstration than councils do with public land.
I was in London for the weekend and decided to see the camp for myself. I should say that I didn’t get as long as I wanted to wander around and absorb the atmosphere, so this won’t be the fullest account available of the camp.
My first impression of the camp was its compact size – it wasn’t what I would call intrusive (although the mass media has portrayed it as such) and the shops nearby were still busy with Christmas sales. There didn’t seem to be any more than a hundred tents, although I didn’t count. The camp was clean and tidy, and there was even a man (pictured below) who was sweeping the pavement.
While I was there, an interview / speech was being held by a very opinionated man about global democracy and the actions of multinational corporations. He touched on many of the points I have recently been studying for my politics degree, even citing some familiar examples. As I was leaving he stated his radical belief that the effect of economic liberalisation in Africa is equivalent to the Holocaust; this was met with some, but not lots, of hostility and questions from the twenty or thirty people listening.
This raises the question of how representative the people participating in the protest really are. From my experience, it certainly wasn’t the popular movement of ‘normal’ people that the Guardian portrayed it as in October. The crowd listening to the speaker was not large enough for one person per tent on the site – and this was a Saturday. The others living at the camp were alternatively dressed, similar to the stereotypical image of protesters. There was also a debate going on in the “Tent City University” with no more than ten people in attendance, but I didn’t get a chance to hear this.
The most interesting part was the broad range of posters and banners that were present, representing the broad causes that have been associated with the protest. From opposition to Julian Assange’s extradition, to a particular law firm’s cleaning contract, there were many left-wing banners as you would expect, including plenty denouncing the banks.
From my experience, it seems to me that although the first couple of weeks were ordinary people protesting, the Occupy movement (in London at least) has now turned into a protest more akin to the continuous protests outside Parliament against Afghanistan. I would not call it a popular movement.
Included in my pictures below is a blurry picture of one of the funnier participants – I couldn’t get a better picture as I had to take it discretely. Sorry about that.