The End Of The Beginning
So, the Occupy London camp between St Paul’s Cathedral and Paternoster Square (home of the London Stock Exchange) has been cleared. The area has been emptied, “deep-cleaned” and generally botoxed such that now there are no wrinkles, no character and no sign of emotion. It’s actually harder to walk through from Ludgate Hill than it used to be due to a “ring of steel”, erected as a deterrence to re-occupation.
The eviction itself was a relatively calm affair although not without some predictable heavy-handedness from the police. The foresight of Giles Fraser, who resigned his post at St Paul’s rather than be an accessory to violence, was vindicated as people praying on the cathedral steps found themselves repeatedly kicked by riot police. Questions need to be asked both of the police and the St Paul’s leadership as to why this was allowed to happen.
So far, so predictable. The Occupy LSX campers knew eviction was imminent and had made their own decisions as to how they would deal with it. Everyone knew it was an inevitable step along the timeline of the movement.
Almost totally unexpected, however, was the raid on the “School of Ideas”. Although legal proceedings were underway, as far as I know no timescale had been announced and I don’t think anyone was seriously anticipating eviction. As it was, the building was stormed by police and about 20 people were dumped out on the pavement with what belongings they could gather. As dawn broke, demolition contractors with bulldozers were ushered into the site and set about rendering the building beyond use.
This last action, of everything that happened over that sad night, is the one that most strikes at the heart of common decency and common sense. The School of Ideas was a wonderful example of simple people power. Of folk pitching in to make the world a better place. You could almost call it Big Society (if that weren’t such a devalued concept). By taking an empty former school building, cleaning it up a bit and making it available as a community resource, the Occupiers were doing more for the local area than Islington Council and Southern Housing have managed in three years of botched planning and wrangles over “affordable housing” quotas. See here for a flavour of local feeling. To see the authorities (at the behest of no less a figure than Ken Clarke, Minister of Justice) literally bulldoze both the efforts of the Occupiers and the hopes of the local community is an absolute affront to democracy. The lack of media coverage of this event was also troubling. If the people behind the insane decision making think nobody has noticed, they’ll feel vindicated and justified.
Despite my sense of outrage at this ridiculous state vandalism, I want to end on an upbeat note. And that is to say that any talk of “the end” of Occupy London is not just premature but spurious. To my mind, “The Occupy Movement” was never defined by the Stock Exchange camp; that was simply one action among thousands worldwide. Some have been brief, some lengthy, some quiet, some noisy. All have been making the same general point: that the status quo of economies being run for the benefit of a tiny elite at the expense of the majority must be challenged. And anyone who tries to pretend that political dialogue (certainly here in the UK) hasn’t been dramatically shaped by Occupy must have been living in a bank vault. Different people have different solutions but the strength of the movement has been to hold together folk whose hearts are in the same place even when their minds have been at odds. I don’t see Occupy as an ideology. It certainly isn’t a dogma. It’s more of a gut instinct, an innate emotion against unfairness and institutional stupidity. I believe and hope Occupy can continue to be a friendspace where people come together in a profound sense of solidarity to examine alternatives and try living in better ways. I feel sure that many good things lie ahead and I know that the world is a better and more exciting place thanks to the Occupiers.