Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Ongoing War Against the Corrupt Financial Elite

Occupy LSX, outside St Paul's cathedral, has been evicted. With most of the camps gone, it might appear to some that the Occupy Movement has lost. Nonsense. Occupy is an idea, and the people involved haven't gone away. We're all still talking, and Phase 2 is taking off quite nicely. That's not to say that the loss of the St Paul's isn't a tragedy - as a friend of mine put it "why do things always have to end with a fence and bastards in hi-vis?".
Occupy LSX
Back in the mid-90s, occupying physical spaces was an almost as widespread form of direct action as in the last 6 months. Back then, the target was the government road schemes. Some occupations of the land made the national headlines - in particular the protests at Solsbury Hill, Twyford, the A30 and, of course, the Newbury Bypass. Their dedication to holding onto those physical spaces was much more than those trying to hold onto Occupy camps, for good reason - the woodlands and other important habitats were under threat. The pavement outside St Paul's and the land at Queen Square and College Green are not under threat, and not home to rare wildlife. It didn't matter so much where the camps were. The Newbury Bypass protest, and many of the other road protests, failed to achieve their primary objectives - protect the natural habitats faced with imminent destruction. But although those battles were lost, the protests scored some big wins in the long-term. The road protests caught the attention of the media in a big way, and turned a large proportion of the public onto the issues. By the end of the Newbury Bypass protest, scores of camps were set up along the route and many thousands of people had participated in some way in opposing the bypass. It's one of the biggest regrets I have, that I wasn't one of them. It was one of the most important battles fought in my lifetime. I visited Snelsmore Common (the site of several of the encampments) recently and was horrified by what I saw. The legacy of the road protests is that hundreds of proposed road schemes never happened, and that environment and wildlife laws are now enforced much more strictly at the planning and development stages. Another scheme like the Newbury Bypass would have a lot more difficulty getting off the ground today with the current planning laws and demonstrated the importance and effectiveness of direct action. As Swampy put it when evicted from his tunnel at Fairmile:

"I think it's the only way to get a voice these days. I mean if I had written a letter to my MP, would I have achieved all this? Would you lot be here now? I think not!"

The victories scored by those brave people who put their lives at risk deserve never to be forgotten, and their achievements need to be upheld and protected. The coalition government are now branding our wildlife laws as "red tape", are trying to make developments easier to get through planning and attempted to sell off our forests. They are eroding our right to occupy, with the squatting laws and enforced evictions. We need to stop them at all costs.

It's easy to overlook a one-day protest, but long-term high-profile protests get the media interested and, despite some media sources painting negative pictures, a chance to get the word out to the public. Occupy has started an international conversation. When we had the camps in Bristol and Bath, we were constantly on the TV, radio and newspapers. We were given the opportunity to get our message across to the general public and the people in charge, and they were listening, even if only to dismiss us. The camps were in central locations. We had so many people walk past, shouting at us to have a bath and, then go to the pub, start talking about why we were doing it and come back with questions. Already the politicians are speaking about "fairer capitalism". I'm not convinced they completely mean it, but there have been some positive outcomes - the government are now cracking down on tax avoidance by the banks, and the Move Your Money campaign has seen many people move to more responsible ethical banks and credit unions. People are now more aware than ever, thanks to the months of Occupiers using whatever means they can - from social media to newspapers, TV, leaflets, talks and tent city universities - to get the messages across.

But even though we're onto the next phase and few are still camping, I don't think it's the end of direct action. If things get worse, the protest side of things will heat up again. The UNITE union leader is calling for protests during the Olympics, and the 15th of May is a significant date for Occupiers (the Spanish Indignados - the pre-cursor to Occupy - started on this date last year). Both of these are opportunities to expand on showing the fat cats, the government and the rest of the world that we're not happy.

I see the Occupy Movement as the latest manifestation of an ongoing war against the corrupt wealthy elite of this world who are hell-bent on wrecking societies and the environment for the sake of profit. Newbury was part of this fight - some of the dialogue from the protestors in videos from the evictions could just have easily come from an Occupier - as were the war march, the G20 protests, the CND movement and countless other protests and movements. From my perspective, the way forward involves "joined-up thinking". We need to connect poverty, environmental degradation, wars, loss of public services, political oppression and human rights violations with corrupt corporations, bankers and governments. There are many organisations and individuals out there fighting different battles of the same war. We need to come together as one, and attack them on all fronts.

In other news, the Move Your Money campaign is gathering momentum - more info here: March is Move Your Money month - if you don't want the big banks to hold the power and want to support better alternatives, now is the time to do so. If you haven't signed it yet, the petition to get Bath and North East Somerset Council to move from NatWest to an ethical bank like the Co-operative is here.

Further Reading:

Occupy LSX eviction:
Guardian article -

Surprisingly neutral Sun article -

Where next for Occupy?:
Guardian opinion piece on the next step -

Road Protest Movement
Lots of resources on the Newbury Bypass here -

Videos of the Newbury camps and some of the evictions here (not always comfortable viewing, but highlight how insanely vicious police and bailiffs can be when they want to) -

Swampy's speech after leaving the tunnel at Fairmile (A30 road protest) -

For an account of Newbury by one of the protestors, see Merrick (1996) "Battle for the Trees"

Also worth checking out the songs "Battle for the Trees" by Julian Cope and "Snelsmore Wood" by New Model Army.

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