How would you define “Occupy”?
An attempt by the people on the bus to take control from the maniac robot at the wheel.
Why did you participate in Occupy?
Because I don’t like where the bus is heading.
What were you doing before Occupy?
My position at a language school came to an abrupt end amidst colourful language the day before Occupy, during a disagreement with my boss.
What impact did Occupy have on your personal life?
When I started working on the Occupied Times, it took up most of my free time.
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?
Change begins with doing stuff, not asking permission to do stuff.
Occupy also made me acutely aware of how deeply ingrained the psychology of coercive control is, even amongst people who reject it (including myself). The penny dropped when people voted to introduce a safer spaces policy with clauses about not touching people without permission and not using long words. If someone doesn’t know whether a touch is appropriate or not then rules of engagement aren’t going to clarify it, and the remedy is more direct than the grinding cogs of a committee.
The only difference between the day before a financial crisis and the day after is in terms of what we believe in – i.e. what we “credit”. There’s no less food and no more disease, just a new constellation of problems in our heads, and in our heads is where those problems are to be solved. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is our natural tendency for tribalism, which manifests in how we tow the party line of whatever party we are in, and that is difficult to navigate when things get fractious. Yahweh demanded that the Israelite tribes all gather together periodically to drink and sing and sacrifice together, and get up to who knows what wildness. Our ritual was the General Assembly and the ritual sacrifice of naivety.
What impact do you think Occupy has had on the economic and political situation?
On the economic situation – none. It is collapsing under the weight of its own towers of hubris.
Regarding politics, on a personal level I think that many more people feel empowered to get together into small groups and take to the barricades. There’s more interest in the ideas of Anarchists.
The Bernie Sanders campaign was an eye-opener, showing us on the one hand that the critique of the financial industry had made deep inroads into the population, while remaining entirely outside the circle of executive power.
What, in your view, were the strengths and weaknesses of Occupy?
Those of young lovers. There was a wonderful sense of possibility, precocious intelligence and delicious experimentalism as the boundaries dissolved. There was also naivety about power. We have all grown up under a state that has become almost the sole arbiter of power and voice of authority, so we are not used to expressing ourselves freely, to reeling each other in when we go off-balance, to criticising and taking criticism. The dynamic of loving your neighbour requires that we challenge each other as well as support each other, and this constant flow is vital for communal living in any healthy family or association. As Heraclitus put it: “The finest attunement stems from things bearing in opposite directions, and all things come about by strife”.
When we come together uncritically and overlook what we find hateful for fear of being the weak link in the chain or the fracture in the front, and save our fire for only the most distant wrongs, the famously fractious left shatters. Personally I underestimated how tribal things would get once the factions had stabilised.
It is important to bear in mind that Occupy was prefigurative as much as proactive. We were living in tents on the concrete, trying to maintain cohesion amidst the jetsam of late capitalism, in preparation for a day when everything collapses. It was a practice run, and it is no bad thing to make mistakes when practicing.
Given the current political and economic situation, what is your view on what people can do to bring long-lasting systemic change?
Seize the means of production. In the Age of Outsourcing that might include co-operatively generating electricity, media, culture and commodities, while disrupting the efforts of the state to do the same in an exploitative manner. This is bare-knuckle capitalism, with Hinkley Point approved for construction on a retreating coastline, and the violations of the planet and her people are too frequent to keep up with, which means that the general critique is key. BP or not BP hasn’t managed to get the British Museum to drop BP yet, but reports in the Times and the Metro about a splashmob of hundreds of mermaids at the Sunken Cities exhibition do, I think, help to galvanise public opinion against not just BP but the state that supports it, and the whole idea of extractive capitalism.
Tinkering with law, trying to regulate the banking system or whatever, strikes me as a waste of time when it is precisely regulations that keep me from storming the City of London with whip in hand. My heart beats regularly without regulating, thank you very much, speeding up and slowing down appropriately. My bowel obeys its own timetable.
Alcoholics and depressives don’t seem to change gradually – they either stay as they are or they change abruptly in response to some kind of insight. I think the same is the case for systems of oppression. When tens of thousands had the courage to defy the Stasi on the streets of Leipsig, they were joined by hundreds of thousands, and the police were in no position to escalate. The limits of the power of the state had been defined, and the Berlin wall would fall within a month.
If you were were participating in an Occupy general assembly now, what would you say?
One Pai Nosso, three Ave Marias, the Prayer of Saint Francis and the Curse upon the Constabulary.
I’d probably plug my new book too.
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.)?
No. I used to go to marches, but when Blair invaded Iraq regardless of the march, and shortly afterwards Spain pulled out of the coalition in the wake of the Madrid bombings, it became clear that my opinion counted for nothing. If violence was the only currency in state politics, I wasn’t going to be involved.
Are you still actively working or engaged with people that you met through Occupy?
I’m involved with BP or not BP, focussing on arts institutions that are funded by oil companies, as well as other groups targeting museums. I also chair Occupy Faith UK, with its excellent acronym. We did a pilgrimage from St. Paul’s to Canterbury during the occupation, raising awareness at meetings, which was made into a film, and since then we have targetted the ‘interfaith industry’ – assisting Druids, pagans, Spiritualists and other marginalised groups into the Interfaith Network from which they had been excluded. This nasty quango manages interfaith in the UK by funnelling tax money towards known war criminals, hate preachers and apologists for sexual abuse in the church, so we have challenged them on all those issues.
My work combining publishing with activism has continued, raising awareness with research and media projects on the subject of neocolonialism, indigenous land rights and the struggle between medical cosmologies at the Amazonian frontier of the empire.