Just come back from an interesting 3 hours spent at the Occupy London Stock Exchange camp in front of St Pauls. Surprisingly the police presence was really chilled, relaxed and small, I think the fact that the Canon of St Paul’s had told them to back off is a big reason for that. It’s church land, not public land, hence the police not really having much power to move them. I took some donations of warm clothes and a pac-a-mac with me, and intended to help them with their media side as they’d put a call out for a video editor…more of that later. I took some Ustream videos (which if I can work out where they are ‘saved’ on my device I will upload to YT if possible) and some pictures.
I spoke with a few people – one a pensioner at the camp, they were staying over…brave people! I sat in on the process meeting – discussing how the organisation of the community will work, and the media skills sharing – which was about talking to the established media rather than what I’d hoped and the lesson taught by Occupy Wall Street is the importance of social media as the established media aren’t listening…it does seem on my brief experience this is being organised in more traditional ways.
I personally think the real struggles for OccupyLSX will be this:
1) The cold/wind. After Saturday’s struggles with the police being well over, the real issue seems to be the cold and the wind almost blowing the tents away! Egypt’s Arab Spring was in the spring, and in a hotter country, and the Occupy Wall Street started in the summer or late summer. The cold and wet weather will be a real logisitical and mental issue. I’m sad to sad I scuttled off home when it got cold and dark…what will happen when it reaches freezing?
2) Organisation. I’m factoring in several things here. One I am not used to working within ad-hoc structures of working groups, anarchist or communist approach to organisation – this seems to be the model that they are suggesting/using. Two is my conversations with John about his activism and some of the issues in organising something like this. The shit needs to be sorted. The water needs to be sorted, etc. but it does seem in these things that to be involved you have to be the sort of self-starting, self-organising, loud, extrovert ‘just do it’ type that usually tends to be involved in these sorts of things anyway – the usual subjects. The danger of that is one of inclusivity; resentment or being turned off that it’s all already wrapped up and they are the one shouting on the megaphone, not you – ironically reinforcing the existing (male? white? anarchist? trade union? straight? confident?) power structures.
Thing is, not everyone works like that…I can see the problem that unless someone does it, it won’t get done, but I saw a few people in the meetings turned off by this way of doing things. Three – it will be chaotic, and no-one will know what is going on…I tried to offer my services several times re: the needed video editor (I even took all my kit with me, laptop and all) and the ‘content creation team’ were AWOL, maybe I was asking the wrong question? Maybe I should have sat down and just done it? But such confusion leads to talent walking out of the camp, and I wasn’t the only one wanting to offer than service who did so. Also if you’re not used to this sort of structure – ie. a member of the public wanting to be engaged, but used to something more hierarchical – real danger you will just drift off unengaged or confused?
The worrying thing with the suggested structure (see picture) was the fact the groups sorting out the basic needs were autonomous – kitchen. technical team, media etc – and someone actually said in a meeting something along the lines of ‘their job is to support the dreamers’ – NO! The idea that they are at the bottom of the stack serving others will lead to alienation and upset, and it was obvious to me that the proposed structure needs work as people will wear many hats, as John would say. And should rotate and be amorphous, otherwise everyone will organise the drumming circle and no-one will sort out the food. And everyone will go hungry. And spokespeople for each representative group/working group? Again, egos and those ‘self-starter’ types will come into play here – and all the usual white male power structures?
3) The media skills sharing was interesting as someone pointed out a lot of it was 2 people talking (they did break off into teaching groups when I left), but I did learn several things. I think the idea of having a sort of manifesto so early – the 9 points mentioned on their website – is a little premature, and kind of immediately falls back into an old anti-capitalist mould – a point raised by someone there until he was shut down. I can understand the idea of being ‘on message’ with the media, but isn’t again that falling back on old ideals – that the broadcast media set the schedule? No discussion about content creation in the media skills sharing – maybe I was in the wrong place – but the really important lesson of OWS is the bypassing of the old media using social media…I think apart from the twitter, facebook pages and sporadic Ustream this has been lost a little here. That’s not to say loads of people – members of the public passing by and those involved in the camp weren’t streaming, taking pictures, etc…but how to find those? How will they be tagged? Where will they be uploaded? Could those people be brought in to be more ‘on message’? Could they be engaged? Their social circles used to spread the message or at least engage with the camp? Rather than moaning about BBC or CNN not rocking up and delivering it to you on a plate…(although I saw LBC and a few journalists there, the odd press camera etc.)
That’s not to put a down on the whole process, I did feel it’s a real start…but the revolution must be organised, but in ways that engage and invite the common person, I thought those pushing the buttons were still part of the usual squatting anti-capitalist occupation set – obviously they have the experience, but to build real power you need to unite and bring in those who are from very diverse background, including those who won’t agree or know about how anarcho-syndicalism works.
Part of the strength of the Occupy Wall Street is the very thing they were criticised for: their lack of cohesive message and diversity…I worry that OccupyLSX sees that as a ‘mistake’ and is trying to run before it can walk. It’s a chicken and the egg issue I can see, cos without the message you won’t attract the people, but then again you might put the people off, or later arrivals will get turned off as they think it’s all been wrapped up…constant revolution(s) and fluidity might be better in that case, to keep revisiting that message as people come and go…because otherwise, you will get stasis.
Anyway the welcoming sign was they were erecting more tents when I left 😀 Thinking about how the best way I can help, if I can, and a return visit, maybe tomorrow. I do think they have something here…and if it grows it could become as relevant and vibrant of any of the other occupations – and I have the utmost respect for those camping in the cold for their cause.