Friday, 4 November 2011

The Occupy Movement - Occupy Bristol: The beginning

In solidarity with the Occupy movement that went global on 15th October 2011, Occupy Bristol met and set up camp on College Green, overlooked by Bristol Cathedral and the council offices. The scheduled meeting time was 12pm. Numbers grew steadily throughout the afternoon, and the first general assembly took place.

I arrived in the late afternoon, curious to see how things were going. Within 10 minutes I had been offered room in a tent and a sleeping bag for the night. The atmosphere was incredible and throughout the evening more people came and put up tents. A small disagreement broke out over whether or not a fire would be appropriate, with some arguing that they were cold and others arguing that a fire may give the authorities a reason to evict the occupation. But this minor event did not cause the occupation to fall apart - a valuable lesson was learned on why consensus decision making was a crucial part of keeping the parcipitants in the occupation together.

The first few tents at Occupy Bristol
The fire was eventually lit in a wire basket, and the fire brigade came. They confirmed that the fire was not a health and safety risk, and many of those initially opposed to it (including myself) breathed a sigh of relief. The fire was soon transferred to a metal wheelbarrow and the basket was turned over and used as a grill to cook food on. A friend phoned me from Occupy the London Stock Exchange with news of kettling and the Julian Assange speech. Later, several people returned from London with further news about the occupation there.

Reggae music played at a moderate volume until the early hours of the morning. Many people out on the town that night came over to dance and to talk about what the occupation was there for. Several police officers stood on the outskirts of the encampment and occasionally chatted to the occupiers. One officer that I spoke to seemed sympathetic to the views expressed by people at the camp, as police jobs are among those threatened by government cuts. At approximately 1am, someone attempted to call a general assembly. Few people were interested, and most people I spoke to were of the opinion that that night was a time of celebration, and that the real work would begin the next day.

I spoke to a wide range of people that night, and almost everyone gave a different reason for being there. I met teachers, nurses, IT technicians, veterans soldiers, students, homeless people, shop workers, gardeners, pensioners, people on incapacity benefit, freelance journalists, film makers, cooks, parents, environmentalists, owners of small businesses and people from many other backgrounds.

Due to a combination of music, talking and the cold weather, many people did not sleep well on the first night. But few were willing to give up just yet. Like all happenings, a few teething problems are to be expected, and many of them were ironed out in the coming days and weeks. After a litter pick, a meeting was called the next morning under the Occupy Bristol banner.
Morning general assembly on the second day of Occupy Bristol
A number of items were discussed, in particular statements to the press and a wish list of items for the camp. The BBC came along during the meeting, and someone was elected to give a short interview. Throughout the morning, people made signs. Members of the general public came to the camp to see what was happening and to talk with occupiers. A Spanish couple, aware of the Indignado movement back home, came and played songs on a guitar. Some people did not venture further than the signs, highlighting their importance in explaining why the camp was there. Aside from a single man shouting "you should all have your benefits cut", the general public were largely supportive, with people coming over to tell us what a good thing we were doing and asking how they could help. Donations of food and equipment started to come in. Around mid-day, a general assembly was called. There was much to discuss, namely the role of the police, the reasons for being there, engaging with the public and the future of the camp.

News came in from London that Giles Fraser, Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, had asked the police to move on, and said that he was happy for the protestors to stay on his land. Word circulated around the Bristol camp that the Dean of Bristol Cathedral was happy for the camp to stay for the time being (although he later stated that he did not actually give his permission).

Many people put a lot of effort into founding the camp that weekend, from making food, putting up tents and banners, engaging with the public, providing music and other entertainment and playing an active part in discussions. I walked away that afternoon in the sun with a smile on my face, wishing I could stay, but also with a reaffirmed sense of responsibility towards my job and my personal life. I promised I'd be back.

Further reading:

Occupy Bristol Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/occupybristol

Occupy Bristol Website: http://www.occupybristoluk.org


Some videos from the first weekend of Occupy Bristol can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/user/supersonixstudio1


News articles:
Bristol: http://www.blottr.com/bristol/breaking-news/occupy-bristol-takes-over-college-green

London: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/15566

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