It’s been more than two months since London’s response to the global call out to Occupy. The movement followed in the footsteps of Occupy Wall Street, the 15M movements in Spain, and the uprisings against tyranny in the Muslim world. But its roots stretch back further than that to the networks of People’s Assemblies in South America in the 90s, to the consensus process from the Quakers in the 18th century and back, even, to the roots of democracy itself. The Occupy movement has always had roots but in a Black Swan fashion, we are all reading this story backwards.
Every night for more than two months, people from all walks of life have been engaging in real democracy, real politics; not waiting for one day every five years, but committing themselves readily to debate about political change right now. The People’s Assemblies are the key to the movement, for it is here that you get to see the truth of real democracy: it is dirty, tense, haggard and bent, at times a drain on your patience but it can also be the most politically liberating experience you have had in your life. To taste it is to know it, to see how your voice is as valued, how it is as powerful as everyone else’s almost makes you think there is a better form of life than the one you have been booted into.
On 19 December Occupy London went to court for the beginning of their eviction proceedings at the hands of the City of London Corporation. The gallery was awash with Occupy people who baffled the proceedings by spontaneously raising and shaking their hands in approval in true direct democracy style. And to their surprise, there was a lot to consent to. More than anything, when Justice Keith Lindblom interrupted the defence to state ‘as a matter of record’ that the issues the Occupy movement is addressing are of the ‘very greatest public importance’ was good reason to set a forest of hands waggling.
The defence, led by John Cooper QC, made short shrift of a witness for the prosecution, turning the City of London Corporation’s health and safety officer’s ‘intelligence gathering’ into a quagmire of hypocrisy and exaggeration. Cooper pointed out some of the ‘observations’ that were being used to force the eviction of the camp, stating that ‘groups of homeless older men drinking alcohol’ and a ‘dog leaving faeces’ is hardly an urban phenomenon exclusive to the Occupy camp and certainly not a reflection of the genuine Occupiers themselves.
Does Occupy sound febrile itself? A rickety sideshow that has the limelight for a while? A couple of kooks with a fine line in hand signals and attention grabbing? Or is this part of the global movement for change that so many thinking people of the world have been waiting for?
From the inside, it seems more than that even. It’s a new way of protest entirely where there are no leaders and no single issue. It is a forum for change and an initiative to allow all people from all walks of life to take part in shaping a better world for all. And as the New Internationalist has shown for so long, economic crisis is not an obstacle to life but an invitation to a better one, if you want it.