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Occupy Democracy returns to Parliament Square

This is what democracy looks like

ale under a Creative Commons Licence

From the very beginning, the Occupy movement was always markedly different from any existing campaigns or grassroots movements. No leaders, no pre-made ideologies, no single issue, but a very broad appeal, lots of surprises and remarkably photogenic and newsworthy. The tactic was nothing new, but this was occupation on a massive scale, with over 800 camps globally at one point in 2011. Occupy London had four sites alone at one time: the St Paul’s or LSX camp; the Finsbury Square camp; the Bank of Ideas squatted bank, and the School of Ideas squatted school. Occupy was a beacon for new ideas, for genuine participatory democracy and for hope in times blighted by the excesses of greed, inequality, injustice and corporate-led, empty democracy.

If we thought 2011 were bad times, 2014 makes them rosy in comparison. Far deeper debt and inequality, more severe austerity, a massive rise in food banks, the fools’-gold vanity project known as fracking, secret trade deals designed to kill off the last vestiges of democracy and usher in global corporatocracy, the realization of Thatcher’s dream of privatizing the National Health Service, the rise of the UK Independence Party (party of choice for the 1 per cent) and a mainstream media that has congealed into a spineless blob of dutiful inanity. Despite (or because of) such inclement climes, a hardier Occupy returns.

The target is as clearly defined as the first camps in 2011. First it was the financial institutions of the London Stock Exchange and the City of London Corporation. In October this year, Occupy’s ‘Tarpaulin revolution’ targeted the home of democracy itself, or at least, the place where democracy is supposedly housed: Parliament The nine-day camp became a place where people were able to learn about the reasons why democracy, the political system and the economy are failing and where they could discuss the solutions and how to reclaim democracy and fight for a fair and sustainable future. If the level of police harassment is proportionate to the level of credible and cogent alternatives being developed, then Occupy Democracy was creating a perfect new world with bells on down there.

As with the original Occupy movement, it is clear to all those who participate that those who have created the crisis cannot be the same who fix it and that the only genuine political agency left in Britain are the efforts to generate vast grassroots movements that will eventually drown out and sterilize the virulent plague of deceit, greed and corruption that politics has become. Make no mistake, Occupy is less and less an extremist position peopled by fringe outsiders and more and more it is you, your neighbour and everybody in between. Perhaps a you that has been pushed just a little bit further into despair with modern Britain or sprinkled with a few sparks of hope or righteous anger, but they are you. We are told that these are domestic extremists, but the extremists are more and more those who sit and do nothing or who still believe that free-market economics and modern-day parliamentarians have all that is needed to put us back on the track to a fairer, more sustainable and equal Britain.

Occupier John Sinha tells me: ‘The main political parties no longer represent us. They have been captured by corporations and their lobbyists, and their policies are largely the same. Decisions are made for the benefit of corporations and the super-rich – not for the 99 per cent. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, while corporations pay an ever-decreasing amount of tax. The inequality is only going to get worse if we don’t act.’ Three years ago, this kind of Occupy rhetoric was fresh and compelling for the vast majority of British people, who were confronted by these ideas for the first time. Now they are becoming more mainstream realizations. Increasingly people in Britain and, in fact, the globally disenfranchized and cheated, are realizing that their last hope for a genuinely decent future is not through who they vote for but in how they, in huge numbers, represent themselves and shape their futures through direct action and creative mass civil disobedience. The spin machines have run out of lies, the political treadmills have come off their hinges and all that’s left is the sham that had always been there.

So what are you going to do about it? This current crisis is the best chance we have had in a generation to force change to happen. Far from being alone and powerless, we are many, and we have the power to make anything happen.  

From 6pm on Friday 21 November, Occupy Democracy returns to London’s Parliament Square for a long weekend of creative dissent, the construction of alternatives and building a new movement together. Occupy is an idea whose time has come. As the late, great Howard Zinn said, the real problem is not mass civil disobedience; the real problem is mass civil obedience. If you are someone who is still conscious and caring, nothing should keep you from taking part in the crucible for new politics, in the bloated shadows of the old.

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