How would you define Occupy ?
Occupy was a radical political movement employing direct action – specifically the ongoing occupation of public spaces – to protest against an unjust political and economic system and promote and work towards better alternatives.
What were you doing before Occupy ?
I was working as a teacher in a further education college and in the years before Occupy, active in various alter-globalisation and environmental organizations.
Why did you participate in Occupy?
When I heard about Occupy Wall Street it pushed all the right buttons for me – the scandal of the bank bailouts and the injustice of the resulting austerity programmes called for a direct (but non-violent) challenge to existing institutions. When I heard that a similar call-out was being made in London, I knew that I had to participate.
What impact did Occupy have on your personal life?
A very significant impact! I gave up most of my free time over a period of several months to take part in Occupy. I spent almost every weekend at the camp, as well as travelling there two or three times during the week after work.
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 learned a great deal from the amazing speakers that came to talk at Occupy, in particular about just how corrupt and unjust our institutions are – the City of London Corporation with its direct influence on Parliament, and the network of tax havens with which it is connected come to mind in particular. However what was really unique to Occupy was the construction of an alternative community and the development of processes of decision-making which allow all to participate and influence collective decisions. I learned how hard it is to conduct a democratic experiment which is open to all in the context of a society which produces so much destitution and desperation. I learned how the privileges education and class – including my own – can lead us to unwittingly reproduce the power structures which prevail in the wider society. But also that the careful design of processes and institutions are the most effective protection against this.
What impact do you think Occupy has had on the economic and political situation?
Most of us hoped for a greater impact, that we would continue to grow until we became a powerful political force which could not be ignored by mainstream politics. In the UK we did not achieve this, though it could be argued that our sister movement (M15) in Spain did, with the creation of Podemos. Nevertheless, I believe we did have an impact. At the time, we highlighted the injustice of the bank bailouts, and public discourse – and though to a very limited degree political action – changed as a result. Many thousands of people engaged with the Occupy movement across the UK, gaining knowledge of political and economic issues and valuable experience in organising. Many of these have subsequently been involved in other radical political movements such as the anti-fracking movement and Momentum. I imagine that in the US, many ex-Occupy activists have been involved in Bernie Sanders’ campaign. It’s still too soon to say what the long-term impact of the Occupy movement will be.
Given the current political and economic situation, what is your view on what people can do to bring long lasting systemic change?
The Occupy movement had some success and highlighted the possibilities – but also the limits – of acting outside the system. In bringing about change, sometimes it will be better to act from inside the system, sometimes it will be more effective to act from outside. In the present context, there are opportunities in the UK for influencing things for the better in the Labour Party and the Green Party, and the regional parties, as well as outside party politics in the anti-austerity and anti-fracking and climate movements. If we’re talking about systemic change – and our ecological and democratic situation dictates that we must – then the role of researchers working patiently to free economics from its ideological bias or rethink democratic institutions for our time, is just as critical if we are to avoid a long descent into barbarism and darkness, and construct more just, democratic, and sustainable alternatives. We urgently need everyone who can see that our present institutions are leading inexorably to social and ecological catastrophe to get involved in whatever way and within whichever organisations suit them best. As always, the future is open and depends on the actions that we take – or fail to take – in the present.
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)
Are you still involved in activities related to the reasons why you participated in Occupy? (Activist groups, campaign groups, media platforms, volunteering, research, etc)
Climate movement in Portugal, online activism.
Are you still actively working or engaged with people that you met through Occupy?
What kind of activities are you doing together?
Until recently, organising discussions (ACCESS), since then, helping organise support for ex-Occupiers (Tina), plans for the 5th anniversary etc.