Occupy This: Goodbye Discotents, Hello Discontent

Posted by on Dec 11, 2011 in OccupyTogether

3 Weeks at Occupy London Finsbury Square

The Background

BBC News – Mass arrests at Occupy Wall Street protests
“Happy Birthday, Occupy Wall Street,” sang protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge. Celebrating two months since the movement began, they cheered and held candles. It was a festive…

In four weeks, Occupy Wall Street sparked an international Occupy movement which is part of the response to the late 2000s financial crisis, subprime mortgage crisis and impact of the Arab spring. Occupations are now occurring in over 2,600 towns and cities across the world and there are over 20 occupations in the UK. The characteristics of the movement are non-violent protest, civil disobedience, demonstrations, internet activism, strike, direct action and, of course, occupation. In the first month, there were 4,000 arrests, 100 injuries and 8 deaths. These numbers have probably doubled by now. The movement properly started in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on 30 July 2011 with Occupy Dataran followed by New York and San Francisco on 17 September 2011.

Occupy Wall Street was initiated by the Canadian activist group Adbusters and partly inspired by Cairo’s Tahrir Square protests and the Spanish Indignants. The movement commonly uses the slogan “We are the 99%”, the #Occupy hashtag and organises through websites such as “Occupy Together”. Described by the Washington Post as a “democratic awakening”, the movement represents an international revolution on a scale hitherto unknown and while it is Karl Marx’s wet dream, the Socialist Worker Party seem rather bemused by the leaderlessness of it all and tend to remain behind their pop-up stalls. Some of the best analyses of the crisis still tend to be Marxist, but the solutions are more creative and anarchistic/liberal/ spiritual in nature.

From Glasgow to Birmingham to London

When Occupy Britain began on 15 October, I was in Glasgow visiting my daughter and dad. We had a fun afternoon of creativity in George Square making banners and flags on cardboard and sheets. Occupy Glasgow lasted only a few weeks as a female occupier was raped in her tent in the night and the local media had a field-day with “Rape Occupation”, arguing that the strategy was too dangerous and foolish for any sensible person to participate in. There were only about a half-dozen tents in the Square on that first day and I was concerned about the occupiers’ safety because of the low number of tents. Even in Finsbury Square with over 100 tents there were nights where I felt vulnerable and opted to stay up for Tranquillity duty (nightwatch) or a small party with the musicians on site.

It’s important for health to go home if you can after about a week or so to rest, have a bath and thaw out from the autumnal damp and cold, but this is not possible for the homeless people who live with us on site. There are about a dozen resident homeless living with us at Finsbury Square, some of whom suffer from combat stress and its associated addictions/emotional problems. Still, they are better with us because they have a tent, bedding, food, friends and safety that is lacking on the streets. We also have a combat stress counsellor who attends site regularly and a housing expert who offers advice and guidance. The housing expert also let me sleep at his home in north London for two nights when I became ill with a cold plus exhaustion after one week. Most of my first aid work has involved treating bad cases of athlete’s foot, common amongst homeless people, although we now have a retired Chiropodist on site who is happy to help with that, litter-picking, bin-emptying and other less popular jobs.

After my visit to Glasgow, my daughter spent a week with me in Shropshire so we also visited Occupy Birmingham who were at that time in Victoria Square. There were about a dozen tents there and, again, I felt that was too low a number for me to feel safe sleeping there. Also, I’d been invited to a magazine launch in London so I decided that I would be occupying London for convenience and safety. Occupy LSX were calling on Facebook for people to go to Finsbury Square and, as it had grass, that was my chosen destination.

Jeremy Corbyn MP: “This is the best use the front of St Paul’s has ever been put to”

Field of Dreams

There is a field
It’s called Finsbury Square
And beyond rightdoing and wrongdoing
I’ll meet you there.

I first arrived at Finsbury Square at noon on Saturday 29 October with a friend’s summer tent, sleeping bag and suitcase of bedding including inflatable mattress, fleece blanket and quilt. I didn’t get the mattress inflated for the first 3 nights but it still kept out the cold from the ground. The housing team showed me where I could pitch my tent and helped me to set it up. I counted over 100 tents, plus a first aid tent, large kitchen comprised of 2 marquees joined together, information tent, media tent, theatre tent and a small library covered with a canopy. There was also a round wooden yurt and two portaloos. I attended two lectures, one on Finance & Banking and one by the Brighton Energy Group. Later that afternoon, I visited St Paul’s Cathedral which, on its own, is an extraordinarily beautiful building, but with the multi-coloured tents surrounding it, it was an awesome sight to behold. There was something spiritual about it – as if a lost tribe had gathered under St Paul’s dome seeking shelter and protection. I returned to Finsbury Square for dinner and at the General Assembly we discussed what St Paul’s should do in the event of an Eviction Order being issued: the consensus was peaceful resistance.

After the GA I headed back to St Paul’s with a friend. We had a couple of drinks in the free house of the Rising Sun, a traditional English pub in the style of Eastenders with reasonable prices (two drinks for around a fiver).

On return to site at midnight, I realised it’s never dark in central London, unlike the Shropshire village in which I live where it’s pitch dark by 5pm. There was also an almost continuous stream of traffic on City Road, again a contrast to the silence I had been used to. I was also too excited in any case to sleep and stayed up for chat, laughs and music until about 4am. I then arose a few hours later full of energy and went for a run around the square! After a brief visit to St Paul’s in the morning for an emergency assembly, I returned to site feeling very hungover and tired, had a four hour nap and spent the rest of the day taking photographs and writing notes before an early night at 9pm. I found that as long as I didn’t focus on the traffic noise, it was filtered out and that I was tired enough to sleep like a baby with a tummy full of milk all night.

On Monday, the camp was quieter than it had been over the weekend and I learned that some of the people who sleep with us go off to work from Monday to Friday. The Environmental Health Department of Islington Council came around to inspect the square and kitchen. They had no issues with anything other than an empty gas canister being in the kitchen when they felt it should be outside. Currently, the Environmental Health team visit the square three times a week and help to keep us right with the square’s environment. The Council have said they don’t have the funds to take us to court for an eviction and just want us to care for the square while we’re there.

A man in a suit walking through the square as I emerged from a portaloo said, “This is silly!” I thought what was silly was the fact that he wasn’t smiling on such a beautiful, bright and crisp autumn morning. In the afternoon, I decided to help out in the library and compiled a written catalogue of our donated books at the request of Steve who does our IT.

At around 5pm, we were invaded by zombies (it was Hallowe’en and people from site had dressed up for a zombie march to the HSBC Bank). I joined them and danced through the streets with them to Bank and then onto St Paul’s. This was where I first met Sister Ruth who took a shine to me. She claims to be a Roman Catholic nun and wears a colourful vestment to match her colourful personality. I spent the next hour with Sister Ruth watching her turn discussions into arguments and alienating people. Eventually I realised she was not just completely barking mad but also trouble on legs and now give her a wide berth whenever I’m at St Paul’s. She means well but her passion rages well beyond any compassion one would hope to find in a nun. Mind you, the nuns at my secondary school weren’t particularly compassionate either and a little too handy with large rulers and the tawse, so no change there then.

On Tuesday I went home as I was due to sign at the jobcentre the next day. I was a little sad to leave the magical field of dreams in Finsbury Square so, before leaving Euston, I purchased return tickets for an 11 day stay after a 3-day break at home.

A look back at my FB Statuses

27 Oct
Antarctica – Occupied…
a local armed militia is protecting Occupy Phoenix with AR15s keeping the Occupation safe…
Life is groovy when you get up off your knees and dance…

28 Oct
The christian church and faith is being tested by political events and if you support the true message of jesus christ who cleansed the temple of the moneylenders, the Open St Paul’s Cathedral Fb page would really appreciate your support…
Oakland: you couldn’t make this up if u tried. Off duty marines escorted the protesters back to base, 80 hell’s angels joined the protest and the oakland police chief has been fired…
Bert from London helped me with luggage and to get a bus when we arrived in London – it was the wrong bus…

29 Oct
Bright, sunny day in FS…
Sitting on the steps of st paul’s. The vibe here is amazing. Beautiful to see so many people breathing life and love into the city. Met the wonderful rev james lawson and thanked him…

31 Oct
Good morning world, west and east. Great night’s sleep camping in the square. Amazing how the traffic noise just doesn’t bother if you don’t focus on it…
The dean of St Paul’s cathedral has resigned…

1 Nov
St Paul’s suspends legal action against protesters…
Zombie bank run vs Government of the Dead…

2 Nov
Finsbury Square is SACRED GROUND. It was sanctified by human beings in a spirit of peace, sharing and equality, without hierarchy or leadership. It is beautiful and it works…
Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius, and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.
4 hugs a day for survival, 8 for maintenance and 12 for growth…
after 3 nights sleeping outdoors I couldn’t bear the central heating in my bedroom and switched it off…
Anarchy… because neoliberal capitalism just wasn’t working for me… and because love is freedom…
Twitter continues to suppress all #Occupy in usa trending. Also suppressed is #generalstrike…

3 Nov
Each time an occupation capitulates, angels weep. Our souls have been crying long enough. STAND YOUR GROUND [addressed to Occupy Birmingham]…
it’s like living in the Great Depression. what a freakin mess. either we need to abolish money altogether, and all debt, or redistribute it. simple as that…
I suppose financial hardship motivates me to work for change more than someone who’s doin ok but we’ll all benefit from a redistribution of wealth so please stop sayin it’s all pointless and slagging us off as the great unwashed and support what we are tryin to do…

4 Nov
There are people who live their whole lives on the default settings, never realising you can customise – Robert Brault…
Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant al day so you can afford to live in it. – Ellen Goodman…
Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction…
Midnight in FS. Took the minutes, volunteered for first aid, made announcements re library. Place is buzzing with people: i jammin in quiet corner with musicians. Guitars, ukulele, didgeridoo and tambourine…

The Road to Parliament

After 3 days at home, I returned to FS on Friday 4 November for an 11-day stay. After a rainy night, the tent was wet inside by morning so I covered it with a blue canopy which kept out the rain for the rest of my stay. I met Laura [name changed for reasons of privacy] from first aid who gave me a briefing of the first aid supplies and the general treatments we offered. Laura is a pretty blonde 30-something who is great on camera articulating the aims of the Occupy movement. She spent eight years in the Royal Artillery and the next 6 recovering from combat stress. You would never guess to look at her that after returning from war and leaving the forces, she became emotionally unstable and wandered around homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol. She is one of the few ex-forces on site who has recovered through years of intensive counselling and support.

At 2pm we gathered at St Paul’s to march and rally at Parliament Square, a no-go protest area in terms of SOCPA [Serious Organised Crime and Police Act] legislation which covers the square mile around Parliament. After several hours of out-marching and sometimes out-running police, we arrived outside Parliament and held a General Assembly. We managed to stay until 6.15pm. A group of individuals refused to move and were arrested which was silly since we’d agreed to stay until 7pm and were only 45 minutes short of that, but some people wanted their day in the cells and court to feel important with their little criminal badge of honour and martyrdom for the cause. Moreover, the time people spend in cells and court, unnecessarily, is time they’re not at the occupation so we become more vulnerable when there are less people and the job they were doing at the occupation is no longer being done. There is a time and a place to be arrested if there are significant numbers willing to participate in order to challenge legislation as part of a campaign – that time has not yet come, but I believe that it will soon and then it will be worth having a criminal record and being controlled under bail conditions because there is a point to it. Meanwhile, people are more useful on occupation than in jail cells or court and this was an important step on our way to Parliament, no arrests required.

That night I worked as part of the Tranquillity team which was fine until 5am when coldness, tiredness and boredom began to wear me down. I went to bed at 7am in the yurt as a Spanish woman was sleeping in my tent (at my behest as I wasn’t using it for most of the night and she was only staying for 1 night) then when it became vacant at 9am, I slept there for another 2 hours. Later, I washed the dishes and attended my first (and last) women’s meeting – it was the last as I became too busy with TCU [Tent City University], library and first aid.

The Student Protest, 1 night at St Paul’s & 1 in hospital

Wednesday 9 November was the big student protest which was enjoyable, lively and musically excellent. Some of the FS people attempted an occupation of Trafalgar Square, but they were all arrested once the police realised their precious Olympic clock was in no danger: they had surrounded the clock as the protesters popped up tents.

Later, some students turned up at Finsbury Square for a drum carnival on the front lawn. We were also visited by a couple of trade unionists from the electricians march, which had been kettled to prevent them from joining us and doubling the numbers marching. One of them, from Glasgow, had occupied a crane for six days, was sacked by his construction workers union (for corruption) and had recently won his tribunal against them.

By Saturday, I felt that as there was little happening at Tent City, Finsbury Square, I should join the St Paul’s protest where I’d be more useful doing library/education work. However, my stay didn’t last long because, when I went to my tent to sleep that night, I found a man and a child sleeping in my tent who took some considerable time to be moved by the tranquillity team and the smell of the sweat and testosterone they left behind made me nauseous. Also, the noise of the London revellers was unbearable so by 2am I’d had enough, packed up my things and returned to a warm welcome in the kitchen at Finsbury Square with my friends.

I decided that if Tent City Uni was going to work at Finsbury Square, this depended on me working hard so on Monday evening we got consensus at the St Paul’s GA for a diesel generator and two marquees, one for tent city uni and the other for the Occupied Times newspaper. There was a lovely atmosphere back on site at FS when we returned until someone from St Paul’s brought a drunk and aggressive stranger onto site who threatened to murder us, said we were all “fakes” and, when asked to leave by Curt, punched him in the face. Curt then started going into shock, someone called the police and we got him into the first aid tent. I wrapped him in foil blankets and sleeping bags as he was shivering and requested some sweet tea and water for him. The police attended and called an ambulance who took us to St Thomas’ hospital. We left at 6am and used all our cash to get a taxi back to site. We only had enough to get as far as St Paul’s and walked the rest of the way. After 3 hours sleep, I got up really tired and was relieved to be on my way home that afternoon.

TentCityUniLFS Sunday events @finsbury sq: 11 social dreaming, 3 meditation on war & peace, 5 prison abolition 101, 6 the power of hemp, 7 GA [General Assembly]

3rd week at Finsbury Square

Rain on tarpaulins and puppies and kittens
Red generators and warm woollen mittens
Tents of all colours are tied down with string
These are a few of my favourite things…

During my third week at Finsbury Square I took no notes and find it difficult to remember events. I also sent fewer public messages onto Facebook but more emails to a friend as the nature of what I was experiencing became personal. I started to become paranoid, seeing politics and intrigue where there was none and my imagination was just over-active. I was not the only person experiencing this paranoia; it seemed to be moving around the campus like a virus.

The highlight of the week for me was the gig I helped to organise featuring The Pistolettos. I later spent some time with them in front of camera, post-gig, and was appalled to have been livestreamed while not at my best (ie drunk!). I will henceforth avoid all cameras.My political work this week involved trying to get a joint GA between Finsbury Square and Bank of Ideas, and an all-inclusive GA between FS, BOI and St Paul’s twice a week. I called and facilitated process meetings and GAs in order to proceed with my proposal as fast as possible because I knew I’d be going home for the next week. I succeeded in having the proposals passed at both Finsbury Square and Bank of Ideas but, to my knowledge, these joint GAs have not yet happened, largely because I was absent and it tends to be the case that if you want to implement a proposal that has been passed at GA, you need to take responsibility for making it happen as most people just go to bed and forget all about the previous night’s GA.I returned home from this third week to learn that my benefits had been stopped so even although I had a train ticket to return to London the next week, I had no cash to get back home or buy anything I might need in London. Also, a friend had told me they were struggling to feed everyone, had decided to feed only those in working groups from now on and, even at that, they were only getting two meals per day. I was also aware that we had no extra sleeping bags and had only two silver foil blankets for emergencies. Given that it was now winter, I would be better off at home trying to sort out an income for myself. Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao… [Goodbye beautiful…]

Goodbye Discotents, Hello Discontent

So now we are in winter and I still have no income or any idea how I can generate one as quickly as I need it. The hens will be okay through the winter as I bought a big bag of chicken feed with the last of the cash I had. I will be okay until Monday then it will be an application for a crisis loan which, if I’m lucky enough to get, probably won’t cover more than one week’s worth of food. Whenever I feel the panic rising, I embrace and soothe it, tell it not to worry and to go back to sleep because mum will look after everything. I am my own parent because I cannot rely on my birth parents to help or bail me out. Also, I have things to do that will not get done if I simply shift from panic to depression.

My goals are to write a story and paint a picture for my daughter by way of a Christmas gift and to keep applying for jobs, even as far away as Japan. I will also put up the Christmas tree on Tuesday and am going to do the 12 Days of Christmas as my Own True Love: each day I will deliver something unto myself that will be useful in generating an income, whether that’s filling out a job application, learning a new skill, acquiring knowledge, hunting and gathering, meditating or whatever else idea might come to me.

If I know I’m not going to have anything to eat on Christmas day, I’ll ask a friend to pick me up so I can work in Shrewsbury with the christians who will be doing christmas dinner for the homeless/hungry. I will also ask their advice on what to do if I have no food during my week’s contact visit with my daughter that starts at the end of the month. They will probably suggest I get a social worker which might not be such a bad idea, not just to respond to my current situation, but to get into a position where this never happens again.

I cannot work for the Occupy movement or the revolution while facing imminent hunger, except online where I am happy to continue activist work. I am not sure how effective this is, though, as most of my Facebook friends live in India.

As of 11 December, 2011, on checking the Events Calendar, there is only one event per day now at Finsbury Square: “Social Dreaming”, which is an exploration of the issues behind the protest through dreams. It’s been popular enough to be a daily event; I guess some people like discussing their dreams; and certainly Finsbury Square had something of a dreamlike quality about it and many of those who lived or visited there have dreams of a better world and a better life. But it is not enough to dream or just talk about our dreams. And nor are rock concerts or marching alone going to change anything. I don’t believe the tories, banks or corporations are going to change just because we’d like them to; they will have to be forced or coerced. I estimate that we will need 6 million on the streets on the day of action on 15 December but I don’t think we’ll get anything near that. Without that level of support, the reaction to the violence of the government and the state is likely to become less and less peaceful. More and more, every day, people are making references to guillotines online, and while references to the Red Terror of the French Revolution make it possible to make points about executions in a semi-humorous way, whatever you think about becomes speech, and whatever you speak about becomes action.

J’accuse the Con-Dem government of incompetence, carelessness, corruption and war crimes and demand that they stand down before they are pushed in ugly scenes that will hurt us more than it will hurt them. But when people have little or nothing left to lose, that’s when freedom to act becomes frighteningly real.

From the original: http://occupylondonfinsbury.blogspot.com/2011/12/goodbye-discotents-hello-discontent_11.html

Share

3 Comments

  1. Christine
    December 11, 2011

    Attached is the final draft. Feel free to use the background pic or the pic on the sidebar, both of which can also be found on my fb page in the OL Finsbury folder. Thanks again for all your help.

    http://occupylondonfinsbury.blogspot.com/2011/12/goodbye-discotents-hello-discontent_11.html

    Reply
  2. Byron King
    December 11, 2011

    Perfect. Thank you. I used the new version. Nice summary at the end. You are very welcome. It a story worth publishing. If you have the energy left try fishing it around. I could see this running at many publications because it gives the first person perspective of an occupier that is really missing in today’s news media.

    I haven’t read anything like it to date. I can really sense the anxiety and frantic energy that must exist in all occupations.

    It’s hard to get enjoyment from reading it because it’s so visceral but that is what is needed. It is a real testament to the occupation and the energy you put into it. Bravo for sharing.

    I wish you the best on your job hunt.

    Reply
  3. Christine
    December 11, 2011

    sorry you found it hard to enjoy. lol! 🙂 yes, it’s no pinic… but thanks for placing it here. it looks SO much better on your website. cheers, solidarity and love.

    Reply

Leave a Reply