How would you define Occupy ?
A place of undoing … where people gathered because aspects of life were so clearly going wrong and the solutions on offer, were not going to help. The heart of the City of London – the financial capital was where we came to stop and it felt like we were mutually agreeing that the road we were on, was going in the wrong direction and it was time to stop and consider before taking another step.
Our lives are to a large part impacted and crafted by the system of government and its performance and actions in our name, were and remain counter to what many of us believe to be wise, humane or appropriate.
What were you doing before Occupy ?
Life before Occupy had been pretty standard fare by comparison; job as copywriter for website content, family, travel, consumption and only vexing the times of anguish in essays and poems. I had concerns but hadn’t found a way to do anything about them… maybe I didn’t believe enough that I could have impact?
Why did you participate in Occupy?
I went on 15 October 2011 to Occupy the London Stock Exchange as a response to my own personal ‘enough is enough’ moment. Having seen events unfolding across the world with the Arab Spring, Indignados, Occupy Wall Street, I recognised the struggle within my own interpretation of the world I was living in; the one where education and health were seen to be market commodities rather that logically beneficial and essential; the one where too many in government, entertained lobbyists from industry and later ended up on their boards of directors and we were supposed to pretend that no favours were done; the one where bailing out bankers went hand in hand with cutting disability benefits; the one where the arms trade emanating out of my own country, meant that from my taxes, I paid to kill people and in none of the wars we started or armed, was there an ounce of honourable purpose… and then there was the deadly foolishness of keeping alive industries that should long ago have died but were clinging to us in a death spiral of fossilised pollution and waste that was overflowing into the bodies of our young.
There was a Facebook page already set up for the London Event and I took a click into commitment before going to read up on the international site ‘Meet Up’ about other Occupy events happening in the world. The London event was not listed but I saw a link that said: ‘If you’re holding an Occupy in your town or city, please place the details here’ and thinking I’d be useful, copied details from the Facebook page and put them in there.
Two days before our Occupy, I got a call from the mainstream US news company CNBC, asking if I’d be available for an interview the next morning on the ‘Squawk Box’ financial programme. Having never done media and having no contact with a single other person going to Occupy or involved in any of the planning, I was perplexed and asked why they’d called me. They pointed out that they wanted to interview the ‘Organiser of Occupy London’ and that according to the ‘Meet Up’ site, that was me!
I explained how wrong they were but they didn’t have anyone else to talk to at this late stage and said would I do it anyway and they’d help with my travel to get me there on the 14th. Reluctant, as I’d never done media before and felt a total fraud as I had no part in planning, I agreed only if they would ensure they made it clear that I was just another regular citizen who was going. I went, said no to the nice make-up lady with her glossy red lipstick and answered fast-fired questions. I didn’t embarrass myself and there started the journey.
A young man came up to me on the first day of Occupy to say his mum who was house-bound, had seen me on CNBC and told him he had to come and thank me; I was so moved in what would be the first of many encounters with strangers that would warm my heart, lift my spirits and give me the confidence to know that my concerns and actions, were not completely off the wall.
What impact did Occupy have on your personal life?
It completely changed it. Now… life is pretty unrecognisable in good an bad ways as I am fully immersed in an urgent campaign to keep the UK frack-free.
When I got home from Occupy London, a public information booklet about fracking had been sent to residents in Blackpool… rather wish it hadn’t! I am now part of the phenomenal UK anti-fracking movement that has grown from just three groups back then, to more than 500 now. Having toured the country and been part of the public meetings, demonstrations and actions that grew us, I can fairly safely guess that this movement is maybe 80% new activists – people who due to the immediate and now obvious threat, have come to their own ‘enough is enough’ moment and are standing for the first time to oppose authority in defence of their families, communities and futures.
Those tools Occupy gave me meant that rather than tell anyone how to do their activism, we delivered what I call ‘The Unwelcome Gift of Truth’ to communities and then asked only that they please act individually and together to find out more and respond. I didn’t want to say ‘save the planet’, that was too big an ask, nor did I want to tell them that along the way, all their original beliefs would come crashing down and that before it got clear and the self-empowerment kicked in – it would be a bit awful, isolating and crushingly real. There was no need to say though because I knew that once they started tackling this ONE issue, they would discover that the media lies (and come to ask themselves, what was ever true?), their MPs serve their party not the people, their Councillors are ill-informed and mostly powerless, lobbyists from industries as big as the energy sector, have the power to change our politics and laws and that THIS is NOT what democracy looks like.
Fracking is a symptom of a diseased system – just as wars for power, resources and profit are, just as privatisation of the things generations have paid for is, just as monopolisation of the media message is, just as the denial of new de-centralised technologies is… Fracking though is a great big ugly boil of a thing that touches everyone because it impacts air and water and therefore the health of our young; the one symptom that we each have a stake in curing. The act of standing with others in our communities, dropping social boundaries and getting on with dealing with this emergency, allows the gradual realisation of the presence of the disease of the system and the urgent need to act. Fracking explains Occupy in ways we couldn’t from our tents.
Although this life can be exhausting and the lack of money means being creative (reduced to just a day or two of paid work per week) I’d still say :
Thank you Occupy…
For cold nights on hard ground in harsh conditions
For hunger and sleep-deprivation
For damp clothes and difficult sanitation
For harsh words from blunt people
For sharp realisations that cut me to my core
and most of all… for helping me lose my way.
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?
Occupy gave me revelations:
…that when on passing through the door to activism, that I had been in the wrong room all this time and that there are so many more doors ahead
…that people contain the greatest gifts and it is in the whispers that you find the wisdom and the screams that you understand the pain
…that when you strip us of our trappings, our luxuries, our social status – that we find ourselves, in each other.
Each week that I came to stay for 3-4 days (going home in-between to earn enough for fares and touch base with loved ones), always involved a leap of faith when I arrived; the bit where I’d commit to the hardships of the reality of the conditions and more importantly, where I’d fall into a place of strangeness and strangers and just trust that all would be ok. Every night I spent in a tent at St Paul’s and every day I absorbed wisdom in our Tent City University and every conversation with a stranger in-between, was a treasure that would teach me more in a few months than life and travel had in nearly five decades. There wasn’t a single conversation that was small-talk.
None of this though is really past tense for me or many others I know from that enigmatic time and place… Occupy was where I discovered the tools in myself that would power me through the rest of my life in ways that felt more genuinely me. I don’t think it was the incidents and circumstance alone though, not simply the hand waving, mike-check-calling, tent-living, issue-confronting, stranger-appreciating that caused the change in me, I think it was the act of choosing to be there that did this.
What impact do you think Occupy has had on the economic and political situation?
Those with power know that we see them, it may not look like it has changed much but I believe there is an awareness that we are looking closely at the decisions, rather than accepting them. Will what we did have a lasting impact on the economic and political situation? I don’t know but I think maybe the question’s relevance is changing …because economics and politics is of less importance, than our impact on people, communities and activism in general. I think the influx of ‘fresh activists’ brought other tactics, other ways, shared solutions that changed the way people challenge power. For me, Occupy seemed to be about impacting people so that better ways could come by through our realisations of the problems, rather than being steered by them.
Occupy thrives; it just isn’t contained in one place anymore… it is in the flicking of the switch inside each person that turns on self-empowerment and the realisation that the greatest weapon we have, is a little bucket of truth.
Given the current political and economic situation, what is your view on what people can do to bring long lasting systemic change?
I’d say …do something. What you do is less important than the act of doing, the act of reaching a personal ‘enough is enough’ moment and digging into what is bothering you, finding a group or information that leads you to a next step and having the determination to carry on because you are acting from the best part of yourself… your sense of what is right. Whether defending the NHS, confronting the polluting ways of an industry, challenging austerity measures that harm the most vulnerable, objecting to wars, aiding those in need or exposing the dis-empowerment of people by our voting system, laws and cuts that limit access to justice,.. we’re all focusing on the symptoms that lead back to the disease in the system. Our system of government is supposed to serve the people of this country and yet we see the merging of industry with law makers to allow for bad practice for the sake of profit and the bailing out of banks at the expense of vital services and the privatisation of the things our parents and theirs have paid for.
It’s hard to challenge authority, to face the fact that laws aren’t always fair and may mean you are seen as un-lawful, to realise that not everyone around you will understand why you stepped off the usual path and stopped to confront things you see as unacceptable and that each issue will lead to the next – but you will feel a better fit inside yourself and know… that you’re on your journey, not passenger-ing on someone else’s ride.