Photo: Christopher A Tittle (Flickr)
On the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, 250 people listen to a proposal for a call to action in solidarity with the Egyptian revolution. After the woman finishes reading a passionate solidarity statement from Egyptian activists, the facilitator does a ‘temperature check’ to see how everyone is feeling. A few people ask questions, and then begins the process of finding a proposal that will pass the consensus process.
The crowd is mixed, a mash-up of new faces and old friends interspersed with passing tourists and even the occasional banker in a suit. Anarchists, teachers, socialists, liberals, anti‑globalisation activists, musicians and artists, students and pensioners have come together to demand change.
We’ve seen the initial Occupy the London Stock Exchange (‘Occupy LSX’) demonstration turn into a camp of resistance, complete with infrastructure to feed and care for the campers, spaces for learning and reflection, a vibrant collective process of debate and active participation in decision-making, working groups that range from political strategy to sanitation and hygiene, and various systems of communication and functionality.
Beyond the everyday structure of the camp, alliances have been built across movements and various coordinated direct actions have taken place – some anti-capitalist, some in solidarity with students, workers and global resistance movements. The camp has created a space not only of visible resistance but also for creating and imaging change in real and tangible ways.
The first day of the occupation illustrates the unscripted nature of the camp. On 15 October, thousands of people arrived at St Paul’s, responding to a call to occupy the nearby stock exchange. Although the police prevented us from reaching our initial target, Paternoster Square, activists held a general assembly and quickly decided to set up camp at St Paul’s.
Photo: David Sandison
In contrast to the well-greased machine that was the Camp for Climate Action, this time comparatively little infrastructure or long-term planning went into the initial call. Later that day, impromptu working groups were set up to take on the immediate needs of the camp, such as ‘internal communications’, ‘water and food’ and ‘toilets’. An organic, spontaneous movement was emerging, largely from newer activists stepping up with fresh ideas, energy and enthusiasm.
The make-up of ‘newer’ activists is one of the most inspiring aspects of the movement. For many of the protesters at the camp, this is their first time collectively organising on a large scale. In the words of Pete, a social worker from Leeds who came to London for Occupy LSX, ‘I have never been on a protest in my life, but I have recently been made redundant, and I just knew I had to be involved.’
Now there are 35 working groups, all accountable to the general assembly. Occupy LSX is creating a culture of care and mutual aid that can only come from the collective. Mariya Protzenko from the Queer Working Group, which was part of introducing a ‘Safer Spaces’ policy to the camp, says: ‘We think we need to be the change that we want to see. One aspect of that is creating an environment in which we all feel safe and supported. When we first introduced it at an afternoon general assembly people had a lot of questions about it, but after they had time to think and discuss, it was passed.’
Photo: Erase (Flickr)
One frequent critique of the movement is that it is not offering alternative solutions – that the protesters ‘don’t know what they want’. Sara, a teacher who has been at the camp intermittently since the beginning, is weary of this comment.
‘We may all be here for diverse reasons: criticising a culture of consumerism or resisting cuts to our welfare state,’ she says. ‘But we are brought together in unified indignation at the current status quo. We are beginning to understand that each of our struggles are interconnected and that the only way to create change is together.’
At Occupy LSX, and the sister camp in Finsbury Square, we are creating spaces where we can imagine change on our own terms, discuss and debate what is broken and collectively envision new possibilities. The forging of alliances across previously guarded lines is fermenting a new culture of collective dissent – creating fissures in the system to allow space for imagination.
The dynamism of Occupy LSX is partially down to its links with the global movement. Inspiration is drawn from struggles around the world: visitors, international statements, calls for parallel action, international ‘Occupy Skype’ connections and messages of support have all illustrated its global nature, with solidarity flowing back and forth across borders.
It is very much of the moment. It is infusing a psychic break – the crashing of the economic system – with leftist rather than rightist politics and values, which is rare and important. Occupy has succeeded in pushing radical critiques deeper into the mainstream. People are talking about inequality in real and meaningful ways. Suddenly, a fundamental questioning of capitalism has become more acceptable.
That said, the camps face significant challenges in the near future. One of the strengths of the movement, its fluidity and constant flux, also poses an interesting challenge to maintaining functionality and consistency from day to day, and even from the morning general assembly to the evening one. As the weather gets colder and more people need to get back to other commitments, the camp will need a continual stream of new people to maintain its presence.
Photo: James Guppy (Flickr)
The connectedness of struggles also poses a real test. The rallying cry, ‘We are the 99 per cent’, although useful when talking about some class inequalities, falls short when factoring in race, gender and other privileges. Many communities and people who make up the 99 per cent are not represented at the camp, for a multiplicity of reasons. The movement will have to address the complexity, diversity and inequality that is inherent within the 99 per cent to become a more incisive, inclusive and representative movement. As the anti-prison activist and scholar Angela Davis has said, ‘The unity of the 99 per cent must be a complex unity.’
Occupy LSX has created a symbol of critical dissent, but how will it be built upon? We have given people a focus for their anger, but how are our actions and those of others going to interlink to cumulative effect? Capitalism is indeed in crisis, and it is clear the political elites have no solutions, but can the plurality of ideas and protests currently emerging give rise to a powerful movement that continues to gain momentum and opens space for new forms of social economy? These are questions that will not just be determined by those at Occupy LSX but by people everywhere.
Whether the camp carries on, disbands or re-invents itself, the significance of what has happened will not be lost – a spark was lit in our collective consciousness that is only the beginning. In the air is a lovely, unspoken echo of the Arabic chant, ‘the people want the downfall of the system!’
Kelly Bornshlegel is involved with Occupy LSX. She writes in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the camps
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram