In honour of today’s general strike, the DLR recalls its last trip to church on a Sunday recently.
To clarify: we didn’t actually go into church, just to its environs. And the church in question was St Paul’s. Because we were there for the Occupy protests, not for religion. Sorry, God.
While it may be too early to gauge the results of the strikes, the Occupy protests have been continuing for much longer than anyone expected (a mini-round-up of good articles, from the usual suspects, is below). Despite the fact that as we write these very words the Los Angeles and Philadelphia camps are being evicted (as was Zucotti Park two weeks ago — though it continues in a different guise), the London Occupy protests still continue outside St Paul’s, despite a legal challenge now being mounted against them by the City of London Corporation. Occupy London has now been there since 15 October, but they will be taken to court on 19 December in a bid to evict them as well.
The first thing the DLR noticed about Occupy is that it’s not that big. DLR estimates place the number of tents at about 100. Let’s assume, then, a presence of between 200 and 300 people at the camp. That’s a big sit-in, but it’s not huge numbers of protesters. They are, of course, limited by space and they can act as a focal point for the wider movement, but it demonstrates the difficulty in today’s more regulated world, where demonstrations require application processes and property is jealously guarded, of hosting a long-term sit-in.
The second is the diverse range of opinions and voices at the Occupy site, largely visible through the posters and flyers put up on the pillars of Paternoster Square. Socialists, communists, feminists, anarchists, humanitarians and others all jostle for space, belying the lack of a coherent, unifying ideology. All agree that bankers earn too much money and taxes should be higher, but beyond this there is little in the way of a clearly epxressed or viable alternative.
So, full respect to the Occupiers, then, for being able to garner so much publicity and to some extent debate over their modestly sized protest. We refrain from saying that Occupy has changed the terms of politico-economic debate in this country (although, arguably it has in the US), but their presence is a small indicator of the level of frustration and anger with the injustice of the current economic system.
But it also highlights how difficult it is to affect policy significantly with such a small, if semi-permanent, grouping; Iraq man (aka Brian Haw) outside Westminster, despite his fortitude and stamina, proved that point. He was there for almost a decade – the DLR would see him going for his morning jog around Parliament Square as we cycled past during our south London days – but after a while the media and public appetite for such long-running protests dissipates and the debate moves on.
Such sit-ins (or sit-outs) need momentum or movement to gain traction and change things: a slowly building presence of people; a series of coherent, thought-out demands with popular appeal; a heavy-handed attempt by security forces for eviction. Tahrir Square was (partially) successful because the momentum kept growing until it became totally unsustainable, threatening the socio-economic status quo and thus requiring a response. Tiananmen Square was similar, but came up against a stronger-willed military. Paternoster Square, unfortunately, while a very valuable vocalisation of the insidious, amorphous ills of today’s political and economic order, does not currently have this momentum. The DLR therefore fears that come eviction day, it will be more whimper than bang.
Read all about it
But don’t just take our words for it. Both the New Yorker and New York Times ran profiles of one of the logistical masterminds behind Occupy, Kalle Lasn, an Estonian-born (vaba Eestiriik!) Canadian who co-founded Adbusters. Hendrik Hertzberg, lead political writer for the New Yorker, had a similar analysis to ours in a separate NYer article — essentially, organise, be more like the Tea Party, for chrissakes. London-based design correspondent Alice Rawsthorn also has a very nice text about the branding evolution, specifically focusing on the use of the hashtag here.
And from The Atlantic Wire comes the breaking news that the Philadelphia and Los Angeles camps were evicted in the middle of the night. So, the fight goes on, on different sides.