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The Occupation is Our Refusal to Forget #OccupyLSX #OccupyFS

By Tim Hardy

The struggle of humanity against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

Milan Kundera

Our lives are based on forgetting.

We forget the misery of low-wage work in the UK when we casually spend more than the cashier’s hourly wages on a sandwich and a coffee then get angry because they did not smile.

When we applaud the athletes preparing for the Paralympics, we forget the disabled people driven to suicide as their benefits are wrongly stopped by a cruelly stupid system created and administered by the company sponsoring the Games.

We marvel at our shiny new gadgets and the glittering icons distract us from the plight of those who labour in inhuman conditions to make these devices.

All is not for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Our riches are built on the misery of others and too many of our good causes are used to whitewash the evil done by those with wealth and power.

We are encouraged not to think of these and countless other injustices every day. It makes life easier to do so. The occupation is our refusal to forget.

Our libraries are closing, our universities are stripped of funding, our health service is being offered up for sale. Wages are frozen while the cost of everything goes through the roof. The poorest are attacked and threatened with homelessness. And over and over again a small clique of obscenely rich men and women sneer and tell us that we’re all in this together as they use a crisis caused by those that fund them as an opportunity to further increase their wealth.

We all know how convenient are the friendships between ministers and editors and senior police officers and the wealthy heads of transnational corporations. They’re not going to change anything without pressure. They’ve never had it so good.

This is why people occupy.

Some people don’t come because they think the occupation is too radical, others stay away because they don’t think it is radical at all.

Those who have already made up their minds as to what the answer is to the current crisis struggle to come to terms with the occupation. Too many turn away when people are not ready to instantly fall behind their flag.

The claims made about the occupiers are many. The occupation has many voices, many faces. This makes it almost impossible to understand. Outside commentators pick the voices that fit their prejudices and pretend that these views alone are what it is really about.

Some here want celebrity endorsements, others are sick of rich people cashing in on their fame. When some will be happy to walk away when asked to go, others insist that they will have to be dragged kicking and screaming away when the time comes.

Some are upset to be called anti-capitalists while others are outraged by calls to remove the “Capitalism is Crisis” banner.

A few at St Paul’s are in open communication with the police and have stated they would be willing to hand over others “to save the occupation”. Others view such behaviour with total disgust.

There is something here for everyone to hate, there is something here for everyone to love. It is maddening, frustrating, slow and messy. And it is beautiful.

The occupation is many things, one thing it can never be is harmonious. If the majority the movement terms “the 99%” all agreed, then those called “the 1%” would never be able to maintain their hold.

Can such manifestly different points of view ever be reconciled into a set of demands on which all can agree?

The occupation is a chance to experience politics as lived experience, as a self-determining body of people living together and engaged in discussing both the things that affect our immediate existence, like food, shelter, health and sanitation, but also to discuss the possibilities of applying the lessons learned here to the larger world.

It is not an economic blockade. It is not direct action. It is not an attempt to create a position of counterpower from which to negotiate with power. This is what people mean when they say the occupation is its own demand. These are its weaknesses in the eyes of some.

Even if there is no consensus here as to what should replace the global system of systemic inequality whose latest crisis has provoked this and countless other protests worldwide, the occupation is still a collective “No” to those in power. It is a refusal to forget that the solutions proposed by politicians are more of the same things that caused the crisis in the first place.

The occupation is the beginning of a conversation the whole world needs.

Representative democracy is failing us. Free market capitalism is failing us. Some persist in thinking capitalism can be reformed, others demand more radical solutions.

While politicians from the main three parties in the UK differ only in the degree to which they want to turn the knob marked “shock”, people are here, standing up and demanding that it is time for their voices to be heard not the voices of corporate lobbyists working for the rich and powerful.

A government that ignores its people and represents only the interests of the rich is tyranny.

Whatever we might eventually decide should replace the current system, nobody is sleeping on the cold London streets because they think the chance to vote for the usual suspects in a few years time is going to solve anything.

As the establishment slowly prepares for the future eviction of the occupation, using a compliant state media to repeat half-truths that will justify the eventual act of police aggression that will inevitably come, we need to prepare to remember.

The occupation will continue long after the physical encampments have gone. The contacts we make, the techniques we learn, the experiences we share and the conversations we take away with us and will continue to have long after will be our collective memory and our refusal to forget.

Whatever happens, we cannot rest until we have built a world based on mutual respect for all in which no one is forgotten.

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16 thoughts on “The Occupation is Our Refusal to Forget #OccupyLSX #OccupyFS

  1. Jamie says:

    Great stuff although I am not convinced it will end so suddenly. There is a chance that the idea at the centre of the camp holds steady, grows and gathers much wider attention and support than anyone could have expected.. Even a Tory MP this morning seemed in approval of the key ideas and said a wide section of society will be behind this. As a result, I think anyone with time free should go and support by adding their voice and spreading the message .

  2. Thanks Jamie. Perhaps I give the wrong impression by imagining what will persist after the encampments are no longer there.

    I agree, we’re a very long way off the end. The occupation is still continuing to grow daily not just in terms of numbers and support but also in, dare I say it, political maturity.

    The case by St Paul’s against the occupation is very weak. The BBC’s repeated comparison of the occupation to the Blitz is making them look increasingly ridiculous. MPs like Louise Mensch have just humiliated themselves when trying trying to criticise it and call for its end.

    The establishment definitely is preparing for the eventual eviction but they’re failing to get much of a foothold at the moment.

    I’d definitely echo your appeal to people that they should come down. The birth of the second space yesterday at Finsbury Square opens it up even more and the second space has a slightly different atmosphere to the first so may appeal to some dissuaded by St Paul’s – and vice versa.

    As Jamie says, if you can, please come by and take a look but don’t just be a tourist – engage in the general assemblies and the discussion groups while you are there.

    There’s no point in standing on the sidelines and disagreeing. If you’re not willing to share your views with those there who might in fact be sympathetic with your perspective once it is expressed then you’re missing an opportunity both to educate and to be educated. It may be that what you believe doesn’t make so much sense once it has been stated out loud and that you find you’re revising your own opinion or that you find new converts to your views. It’s only by engaging in that conversation that this can happen.

  3. peter laughton says:

    Wish I could share this on facebook. It would enable this to be spread much further afield. Any suggestions?

  4. I am one of those calling for the banner “Capitalism is Crisis” to be taken down and replaced.
    I was informed that it was a consensus amongst a thousand people to put it up, then I found out that the vote meant putting up the banner and then replacing it with others, on a regular basis.

    It has not been changed for a week. I do think that it portrays a negative and divisive outlook and Occupy London is to be an inclusive direct democracy.

    • Do you know when and where this consensus you describe occurred? All I have personally seen is isolated small groups agreeing within themselves that they don’t like the banner but the fact that a dozen people can reach consensus on this does not mean the whole occupation has reached consensus on it.

      I’m sorry you find it divisive although I honestly struggle to understand why you do. Why should an inclusive direct democracy exclude those who are anti-capitalist? It feels particularly unjust given the role people who identify as anti-capitalists have played in setting up and maintaining the occupation.

      I understand that you personally may feel uncomfortable with lazy and dishonest journalists calling the entire occupation anti-capitalist but the answer to that is to challenge the press and let other voices be heard, not to censor the expression of your fellow occupiers.

      As I said above, this is a messy process. Rather than struggle over the banner, why not spend your time making the case for a more benign model of capitalism if that is what you believe in?

  5. Rakehell, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with a real problem.

    I fully support the occupations and have been down a number of times, and while I agree that we need to be inclusive we also need to be political, saying a banner reading ‘capitalism is crisis’ is negative and divisive during the largest crisis of Capitalism since the 30s is to be frank, bizarre and completely unpolitical. I don’t believe people would find it off putting in the way you describe and if they did then we need to argue with people why that banner is true.

    We really are in a desperately dangerous world situation, the occupations need politics they’re not just about people feeling good about themselves because they were part of (a still pretty exclusive) discussion

  6. Thank you Tim, you’re spot on.

    The occupation is not just a ‘statement’ or an occupation, but a carefully carved out space where we can literally live and breathe in a different system, and debate where (and how) to go from here. Any truly democratic system will be slow and messy – and the ‘lack’ of one single voice should be seen as a proof of its inclusive nature. Contradictions are possibilities rather than obstacles, and what we are learning is already stretching way beyond in time and space, past the Cathedral and Finsbury Square, out into the lives of people across London and the globe.

    Let’s make sure it keeps spreading.

  7. Tim, I agree with your sentiment and your passion for politics. Yet, I am at a loss to understand what this will achieve in the end. I understand times are bad and there are people without work, but this is not the Great Depression (yet) and unlikely to be one (if EU sorts out currency and US remains stable and China keeps growing moderately). At the same time, this is not about the crisis of democracy that the West saw in the 1930s.

    To put it differently but directly, I do not see the fascists marching and a stark choice between Communist Tyranny and a Fascist Tyranny. I agree that there are shades of oligarchy to some of the western behaviour, but we, in the UK and the US, are not living under a Tyranny.

    At the same time, the “occupation” seems to be more an attempt to recreate the social contract within a society, which is rather easy (relatively speaking) because someone else keeps the order (the police) someone else makes sure the rubbish is cleared (local government) and someone else makes sure the land is available (Church of England (up to a point)). In other words, this appears more to be a political camping trip than a serious attempt to redirect the politics of the nation or the nations. I do not mean this as a harsh criticism, but rather as a direct challenge to understand that politics requires more than self-directed action, it requires words, slogans, and above all promises so that others can follow. By that, I mean there has to be a manifesto and a political action plan to change the country. To change a democracy, you have to change the laws. Yet, there does not seem to be an effort, either directly or indirectly, to engage the mechanisms necessary to effect political change.

    Yes, we can occupy buildings and we can even take over parliament, but what will that change? Even if the movement “won”, they would have to sit down and figure out what they are going to do. They too will have to make sure the order is kept, the rubbish is cleared, and the land available and the budgets met. In the end, I fear the movement is showing a political naivet√© that allows it to become captive to demagogues and those wishing to use that huge positive energy for their own political purposes. I wish you luck, but I have not forgotten the past and what sacrifices were made in the 1930s and the 1940s and the 1990s.

    In the end, I cannot join because I do not see this as a democratic process within the proper understanding of a democratic regime. Good luck and keep up the faith in humanity and the power to change the world because it needs that energy.

    • Thanks Lawrence.

      It’s a shame you’re not willing to go down and engage with people in debate. Perhaps if you did so, you might find that people there have a far greater understanding of politics, democracy, history and strategies for change than what you are willing to give them credit for here.

      This is not meant to sound harsh. Your heart is clearly in the right place. Please come and join the debate – not here on this website but in person.

      • Tim,
        Thank you for the offer. I am going to have to decline. For me to come visit would entail quitting my job. If I did that, then I would be unemployed and my house would be repossessed and my wife and children made homeless. I am sure that I can benefit the “movement” more by going to work, paying my taxes, supporting the social welfare state that helps others, and contributing to the debate. I see no advantage to coming there in person, when social media, allows us to amplify our voices across the world.

        I am certain that there are bright, articulate, and knowledgeeable people amongst the movement. However, my point about politics was not a question of knowledge or even expertise. Instead, it was to suggest that the attempt to found a state if fraught with amazing difficulty. In that sense, if the occupy movement is attempting to found a new political order, they are doing it on the back fo the existing. As I mentioneds,someone else clears the rubbish, someone else makes sure the lights are on, someone else brings the food, and someone else enforces the law. It is this latter issue that is most problematic for the movement, and its deepest weaknes, because it goes to the core of what it means to found and maintain a political order.

        Aristotle pointed out 2500 years ago that we come together for security and we remain together for the pursuit of the good life. However, there does not appear to be this understanding of security within the movement. By that I mean, it seems to believe that human nature is good when the the reality is that human nature is deeply flawed and it is those flaws that require the institutions and organisations that maintain the order and stability that allow us to have a civilisations, with the leisure within which we can contemplate politics. One must remember that Socrates and his compatriots had leisure on the back of slaves. Moreover, Machiavelli pointed out that the founding of new modes and orders required violence, audacity, and a vision of the future state. In other words, unarmed prophets were not successful.

        In the end the movement must decide if it is trying to found a new political order or reform the existing one. Once it decides that, it will need to consider how it will do that. If it seeks to reform the existing system, it will have to show what is still working and what is not working and disentangle the two before the system web of politics can be woven. I wish the movement well in this undertaking, but history forces me to remember that such ventures rarely succeed, without copious amounts of good fortune and even then they rarely resemble what they intended.

        For me, I see a simpler way forward given the source of the economic and political crisis. If we can teach our kids to obey the laws and live within their means as well as find the spiritual worth of their fellow human beings, we will have gone a long way to reminding oursleves and socieity what it is that the West stood for and its greatest traditions. Perhaps it is Socrates who said it best in his ironic jsteing when he said what was needed was for every citizen to mind their business, except that he left it unsaid what every citizens buiness was and how they were to go about that business.

  8. I agreed with everything you said, except your final sentiment of pessimism, that the movement will be dispersed and so fade. Personally, I don’t know if that will happen, and until I know better, I would rather expect it to grow, hope it to grow. Expectations determine futures. In the face of not knowing, believe what is useful, what helps your cause… peace.

    • Thanks John. Jamie said something similar thing in his first comment. Sorry if I gave the impression that it would fade – quite the opposite, I think it will continue to grow even if the physical encampment is no longer there. This is just one expression of the voice of the people who have had enough and are finally demanding change.

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