Monday, 21 November 2011

Occupy UK and Ireland Conference

The Occupy LSX general assembly at St Paul's Cathedral

This weekend (19/20 November 2011), delegates from most of the UK and Ireland Occupations came together in London for the first UK-Ireland Occupy Conference. Starting in the early afternoon on the Saturday, delegates gave short speeches to the crowd assembled outside St Paul's Cathedral about how things have gone so far with their camps and the activities that they have been involved in.

The Occupy Bath guest tent in Finsbury Square
Camps represented included Bristol, Bath, Peterborough, Plymouth, Glasgow, Isle of Wight, Cork, Brighton, Norwich, Birmingham, Liverpool, Northampton, Portsmouth, Exeter, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Sheffield and London (and probably a few more that I've forgotton - I met a LOT of people this weekend).

The speeches were followed by a series of informative and sometimes moving talks from representatives from organisations and groups such as UK Uncut, Climate Justice and Women Against Rape.

In the late afternoon, we relocated to the quieter Finsbury Square camp and were allocated tents for the night. It was a bit of a cram (4 of us somehow managed into squeeze into one average-sized tent), but the tents were kitted out with decent bedding and REAL pillows - a luxury after many nights of using my rucksack as a pillow! After a cup of tea and much mingling between the delegates and the Finsbury Square camp, we reconvened to go as a group to visit London's third Occupation - The Bank of Ideas.

Occupy Finsbury Square
The Bank of Ideas, a derelict building owned by UBS, whose main office is situated just across the road, was repossessed by the public just last week. A huge building with numerous offices and large open areas is now in the process of being converted into a place where people can trade ideas through debate, discussion, talks, arts and music, not through money.

Dinner was served later that evening at Finsbury Square, and the camp General Assembly took place in the meeting tent, followed by a speaker bringing news from Wall Street.

The rest of the evening was free, and a bunch of us wandered back down to St Paul's and sat on the steps listening to music and talking to people. I struck up a long conversation with a few sixth-formers who informed me "even the chavs are talking about politics in the playground these days". I was reminded of my primary school days, when kids used to make up rhymes about Thatcher - "2, 4, 6, 8, who do we really hate? Maggie Thatcher, put her in the bin, glue the lid on, sellotape her in". It really hit me there that these times we are living through, and this movement that we have started, have got everyone talking.
The Bank of Ideas
The atmosphere at all three sites is vibrant, with late night tents serving tea, musicians singing protest songs, lively debate inside and outside of tents - and so many warm hugs from so many genuine people. As a certain senior politician once said: "We're in this together".

Finsbury Square was peaceful at night and despite having little space in the tent, I slept better than I have done in any night I've spent on Queen's Square, Bath or College Green, Bristol.

In the Bank of Ideas
On the Sunday, the real work began. A large discussion took place in the morning on welfare issues such as security, drugs and alcohol and burnout, with all of the delegates sharing ideas and experiences. After lunch, we broke up into separate groups to discuss various aspects of the movement, including government cuts, climate change issues and squatter's rights. After a small debate in the climate change group, a consensus was reached that climate change is directly related to the economic and political situation and the group decided to return to their camps and try to incorporate climate change issues into events and camp statements. A group dealing with communications debated at length the various ways that the UK and Ireland Occupations could keep in touch, work together and share ideas.

This blog entry presents a very brief overview of my experiences at the conference. I have omitted many details, mostly on purpose. All of the delegates present know what's going on and will be reporting back to their various Occupations. I now feel confident enought to state the following (as an individual, not on behalf of the Occupy Movement) to any doubters still out there:

We are now organised, our support is growing by the day, we are connected and we are one step closer to creating a fair and equal world. 

Watch this space...

Meanwhile at Occupy Bath, a debate was held on the Occupy Movement that was apparently enjoyed by most who came, with some commenting that they now have a better understanding of the Occupy Movement. Read about it in the Bath Chronicle link below. We will be supporting the trade union march in Bath on 30th November and some of our Occupiers will be marching with them in solidarity. Also, one of our number has been selected to go on Question Time this Thursday, and the Occupy Bath Info page on Facebook is asking for suggestions for questions - there will be a vote this Wednesday night at the General Assembly from 7.30pm. Oh, and our kitchen is getting a makeover this week - looking forward to dinner afterwards!

At Occupy Bristol they are organising a Move Your Money day on 2nd December, encouraging people to move their money away from the greedy high street banks to more ethical and democratic banks like the Co-operative and credit unions. Find our more on the link below. I shall be moving mine.

Finally, Occupy Bath have some potentially big plans that are currently under discussion (with a big announcement following the march on Weds 30th November) which are likely to be implemented in the coming weeks - again, watch this space...

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Further Reading

Guardian article on the conference:

Occupy London article on the conference:

Bath Chronicle article on the debate:

Move Your Money Day:

Disclaimer: All views and opinions above that are not stated facts are those of myself (as an individual parcipitant in the Occupy Movement), except where stated, and do not necessarily represent the views of a particular Occupy camp or those of the Occupy Movement as a whole.

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