How would you define “Occupy”?
I think of Occupy as a global movement which came to life in the Spring of 2011. The central premise was to occupy public spaces. Occupy Wall Street started in September 2011, situated in the financial district, to highlight the bad practices in the financial sector leading to the crash of 2008 and the subsequent loss of homes and jobs. Occupy in London, had originally intended to occupy the area in front of the London Stock Exchange (which turned out to be privately owned) and subsequently settled in the courtyard outside St. Paul’s cathedral
Why did you participate in Occupy?
I saw news items about it, and thought it looked interesting, so I went to the camp on October 18. I was impressed that a kitchen, library and information tent had already been installed and was inspired by the lunchtime General Assembly and its unique way of making decisions.
What were you doing before Occupy?
I had been actively engaged in politics since I lived for 4 years at the women’s camp at Greenham Common. I have subsequently viewed Greenham as my steepest learning curve. It was committed to working in non-hierarchical ways and was clear that each and every woman was her own spokesperson and could not and should not speak for the group. One of our slogans was ‘We have no leaders, all the stars are in the sky’. This did not stop the police trying to identify ‘the leader’ during direct actions, or the press wanting to interview a spokesperson. We spent a lot of time exploring how to refine our understanding of non-violence. It was at Greenham that I first fully understood the power of money to disrupt and divide communities in a visceral way, and this understanding informed my subsequent life. After Greenham I committed to working on a donations basis.
What impact did Occupy have on your personal life?
Once I decided to get involved I was there every day. I didn’t have a tent. I lived in west London and there was a night bus that went near my home so I could be at the camp at 10am and stay as long as was needed.
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?
Not really in the broadest sense, though I think that my involvement with the process working group was where we wrestled with the pitfalls of consensus decision making which became increasingly clear after the first couple of months and, in particular, once a substantial minority at the camp were people who were in the front line of cuts in social service provision and the more general problems associated with drug and alcohol abuse and mental health problems. This created an inevitable tension and I think we were unable to deal with the situation. Interestingly, two creative views of Occupy (a play and a film) have both focused on this group as being the embodiment of the issues Occupy was addressing.
What impact do you think Occupy has had on the economic and political situation?
I think that Occupy was significant in bringing the issue of social and economic equality to the forefront where it remains to this day and I suspect that many of the people who are supporting Jeremy Corbyn are articulating the issues that Occupy addressed.
What, in your view, were the strengths and weaknesses of Occupy?
I think its strength lay in the visibility of the protest and the provision of things like Tent City University, and the vibrancy of the General Assemblies in the first 2 months. I think the weaknesses lay in our inability to creatively reconcile differences.
Given the current political and economic situation, what is your view on what people can do to bring long-lasting systemic change?
I have to admit to being very concerned about the present situation. The war in Syria and the refugee crisis which I see as all too real manifestations of a global failure to address the needs of the people of the world, and the confusion in politics leading to a real threat of a resurgence of the right wing. It feels as if people need to re-empower themselves to address these issues and climate change which hardly gets a look in with all the slaughter that is taking place.
Before Occupy, were you involved in activities that were related to the reasons why you participated in Occupy (activist groups, campaign groups, media platforms, research etc.)?
I have described some of this above. I would say that the squat I had in Hackney in the late 80’s and the community arts project I facilitated, based entirely on donations, which was very successful for over a decade. Generally speaking I find it difficult to work in most organisations due to either misogyny or hierarchical ways of working.
Are you still actively working or engaged with people that you met through Occupy?
I meet up with people from the process working group and we continue the conversation. I also bump into people at events and remain the press contact for Occupy.