How would you define Occupy?
An upsurge of frustration and hope, touchfires lit one from another, an almost visceral reaction to social, economic and environmental injustice which appealed to, enveloped, inspired and temporarily empowered a far more diverse collection of people than most campaigns/protests/political organisations etc.
Ordinary people experiencing and experimenting with being in control for a change – in control of our own autonomous spaces, our decision making processes, the media (our own and to some extent the mainstream).
A series of extraordinary networked communities.
What were you doing before Occupy ?
Involved in running co-operative micro-businesses, travelling, living lightly on the planet in mostly rural places.
Why did you participate in Occupy?
Occupy was the first thing I’d come across that seemed to be articulating the connection between capitalism/economics, environmental destruction/climate change and (lack of) democracy.
I’d been getting increasingly frustrated about these things, increasingly convinced that the problems couldn’t be addressed in isolation, and a bit overwhelmed by the complexity of the monster – having realised it was all one many-tentacled monster rather than lots of individual snakes. Few people I knew were really talking about these things.
Occupy in the US happened at a quiet time in my work life which meant I had time to follow it closely online.
I like festivals and living outdoors, camping, roughing it. Occupy appealed on that basis too.
Then suddenly it was happening in London. I wanted to be there, but I still had work responsibilities and I was a long way from London and I didn’t know anyone involved… it didn’t quite seem like a real thing that I could personally engage with.
Then I saw a TV clip of someone I know, involved in setting up the first OLSX kitchen. On the same day I saw a request for LED lights, I was involved in an LED co-op and could access suitable lighting immediately. I told my (work & life) partner I wanted to go, but ‘I can’t because of our responsibilities’. He said ‘go’.
What impact did Occupy have on your personal life?
I meant to stay for 3 days. I ended up staying for most of the 4 months of the OLSX occupation… and after that I spent time at Finsbury Square, Occupy Nomads camps, the squatted eco-village at Runnymede, various Occupy-related squats… & travelled to Occupy assemblies and events at St Paul’s & elsewhere. Throughout 2012 I was also writing for and co-editing The Occupied Times.
In doing this I largely abandoned my partner, family and friends for a year. I put the absolute minimum of energy into the businesses I’d been co-running. I spent all my small savings travelling to and from London.
During this time everything that wasn’t Occupy faded into insignificance.
I lost one longstanding close friend, and became temporarily estranged from a few others. I gained many new friends, some of whom have remained close friends and others are ‘Occupy family’ – people I don’t have much in common with or see often, but feel an emotional connection with when I do see them or hear of them because we shared some intense and historic moments/months.
I became closer to and more appreciative of my partner because he supported me practically and emotionally even when I was ignoring him / ranting / obsessing / hardly ever being home / not sleeping when I was home / ignoring our business etc.
By the end of the OLSX occupation I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted (but had gained an enormous amount too). It probably took a year to regain a more balanced outlook and overcome the obsession/exhaustion.
It’s taken several more years to tie the strands of my life back together and the threads are still not lying neatly like they used to. I still feel that I haven’t quite ‘caught up’ after having absented myself… but that’s partly because Occupy was a springboard to getting involved in more outward-looking stuff rather than keeping my head down and my own life in order.
Did Occupy change the ways you think, feel and interact with the world? If yes, how so? What do you feel that you learned (or unlearned) that was unique to Occupy?
I became more aware of and committed to fighting a variety injustices.
I became more aware of how class, privilege, mental health, disability and education affect people’s interactions with the world and with each other – including my own.
I became simultaneously more hopeful and more despairing of ‘human nature’, if there is such a thing.
I became more open-minded and non-judgemental (gradually, not all at once).
I gained confidence in some respects and became less certain of my own opinions in others.
I understand far more about the nature of ‘the monster’ – capitalism and its consequences. I question the media far more. I understand that class and privilege matter and elites replicate themselves, training their young for power.
I understand that a narrow focus on environmental issues can’t succeed without taking all of this into account.
I feel more confident and equipped to engage in direct action.
What impact do you think Occupy has had on the economic and political situation?
Probably more than most of us occupiers realise.
Terms such as ‘the 99%’, understanding of how elites control power and wealth at the expense of the majority, and how different struggles are interconnected… these might not be mainstream now but I believe they are more widely understood and discussed. Therefore politicians, media etc have been forced to acknowledge these things to some extent.
‘The bankers’ became shorthand for capitalism gone wild. Understanding of economics grew as a result. Perhaps things such as bank-rate rigging and the extent of ridiculous bonuses wouldn’t have been uncovered without Occupy pushing and needling the establishment and stirring up media interest.
I wonder whether Occupy helped the Green Party make the decision to focus as much on economic and social justice issues as environmental ones, and whether – along with plenty of other factors – it sowed the seeds for Jeremy Corbyn to be elected as Labour leader.
Subsequent campaigns and justice networks have since Occupy tended to focus on a broader and more nuanced understanding of how interconnected ‘single issue campaigns’ really are.
Given the current political and economic situation, what is your view on what people can do to bring long lasting systemic change?
Avoid being personally sucked into structures and behaviours that support and feed capitalism and ‘the 1%’. For example: seductive advertising, rampant consumerism, disposable culture, mass media, divide-and-rule, competition, greed, over-consumption, selfishness, debt, separation from the natural environment…
Explore alternatives (sharing, co-operating, mutual aid, permaculture, repair cafes, ‘junk’ food cafes, cycling, co-housing, squatting, free shops, transition, resilience, local food etc etc). Join with likeminded people and groups to support, expand and create co-operative, capitalism-rejecting, alternatively-organised networked projects, communities and workplaces… that are appealing beyond a narrow audience. Appealing = no hairshirts, don’t focus on restricting people’s behaviours. Focus on fun, social and economic and practical mutual support, empowerment, skill-sharing, self-organisation, entertainment that isn’t based on mass spending and resource consumption. Big up how such projects, communities and workplaces can help us free ourselves from financial struggle, social isolation, workplace oppression etc. Use social networks (on and offline) and media (mainstream and alternative) to showcase these alternatives. Network these alternatives, internationally as well as nationally. Encourage and join in with solidarity and mutual support and shared learning between projects and groups. Research to find out what else is happening before trying to reinvent the wheel… there are so many alternative projects and networks already existing which need more people to help them thrive and grow.
Also… or instead… directly confront and confound destructive capitalist projects such as fracking and war through whichever means suit the individual eg direct action, awareness raising, political pressure.
Also… or instead… provide social, emotional and practical solidarity to the refugees of capitalism; people struggling to survive in the face of famine, war, homelessness, mental health crises etc.
Before Occupy, were you involved in activities related to the reasons why you participated in Occupy? (Activist groups, campaign groups, media platforms, volunteering, research, etc)
Radical Routes, Transition, GM freeze, Stop Hinkley, Green Gathering, awareness-raising about renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Are you still involved in activities related to the reasons why you participated in Occupy? (Activist groups, campaign groups, media platforms, volunteering, research, etc)
Refugee solidarity (mainly in Lesvos – Lighthouse Relief and Dirty Girls of Lesvos Island), Radical Routes, Green Gathering, anti-fracking protection, awareness-raising about renewable energy and energy efficiency, Reclaim The Power. Social media, blogging.
Are you still actively working or engaged with people that you met through Occupy?
What kind of activities are you doing together?
Sharing information and solidarity. Meeting for social reasons. Occasionally being involved in the same projects.