Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
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
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook