Occupy Bristol: One Week Later

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Bristol has been occupied for a whole week. What began as two tents midday last Saturday has grown to over 40 today, over the week numbers have fluctuated as people drop in and out to fulfil commitments to their work and family but steadily the movement is growing.

Talking to people around the site it quickly becomes apparent how well organised the campaign is, especially without a coordinated leadership. Meetings are held each morning to discuss the pressing issues of the day, the day to day running is delegated to those most willing and most able to help. Everyone is encouraged to contribute in whatever small way they can to collectively run the campsite. Occupy might not be getting much praise from our Conservative overlords but it really is the model for the Big Society.

It takes a lot of effort to keep the campaign running. The camp is run on donations from supporters of the cause, from local businesses, political groups and from regular people. A finance officer collects and distributes the money to buy food and fresh water. A chemical toilet is a possible investment once funds can be raised as the facilities provided by the Marriot and the local library will become stretched if the camp grows much more. A media centre is run out of the back of art gallery to allow the cause to be promoted and spread online and a kitchen tent provides food for the occupiers. Tai-chi and meditation classes are run in the day and a family event is planned for tomorrow.

The people involved have had little to no experience of doing this before, it’s all still a learning process for them but the progress made in just the last week is impressive. That isn’t to say that the camp hasn’t had problems. Trouble in the camp has mainly come from the revellers parading down Park Street, one incident last week had a group begin tearing down the signs and banners, and threatening the occupiers. The police however were helpful and recognised that the outsiders were posing a danger to the peaceful protest and removed them. Security at the site has been tightened up and there are occupiers staying up all night to protect the rest of the camp from any further trouble.

The camp is very laid back and engaging, plenty of friendly people sit around on the chairs and sofas that have been donated and talk about the problems they face, the solutions they propose and everything else besides. The camp acts as an open forum to discuss the issues we face as a nation, and there is lively discussion, from a surprising range of people. There were teachers, social workers, people working in community groups, a guy that had been a commodities trader, people in healthcare, charity workers, council workers, programmers, a surgeon, the unemployed and the homeless. Everyone has a different set of issues, and a different angle on the ones they share.

From the people I’ve talked to on the outside I think the protest has rather an image problem. Many assume that the people staying on the green are simply the work shy with nothing better to do, exploiting the donations of others for their own benefit. They’re dead wrong. To typecast the whole movement grossly underestimates the people there.

The most persistent and most visible may be those that can dedicate the most time to the protest. What the people that haven’t been down to see the camp miss is the daily turnover of those that are working that come down to show their support, the people that camp on weekends because their kids need to go to school and the hundreds that go past and read the banners and placards and walk on glad to see someone with the time to dedicate to the cause.

Some might see the campers as the undesirables that society doesn’t need, but they are the public face of many thousands of “normal” people who agree with what they’re trying to say and can’t be there in person because they have their own personal struggles to deal with. Discounting a movement based on the image of the people supporting it rather than the message they are promoting is the easy option, and exactly what the powers that be would rather you do.

But the message of the protest is has been completely misrepresented in the media so many ordinary people still have no idea of what the campaign is about. The movement has been branded by the mainstream media as “against the banks”, little further discussion is needed to maintain the narrative of “hippy protesters cause trouble for taxpayers by illegally camping and griping about the free market”. It is beyond the scope of the broadsheets to legitimise the protest by having a full discussion of what they are actually about.

Anyone criticising that Occupy has no clear demands has missed the point. At this stage Occupy is a focusing lens for discussion of the wider problems facing our society, to make a demand they need to form a consensus, to do that they need to organise and to do that they need to gather and collect people to the movement for change. To make a real contribution to better society a fuzzy and diffuse stage is necessary, over the coming months we can expect the campaign to harden into a tool that can actually be used to pry our government open and allow people rather than corporations back into governance.

A common thread is that the world we’re in now is no longer a democracy but a corporatocracy The common person has no say in how the country is run, which is okay if we have people in power that are acting in our best interests. But I don’t believe that is true anymore and many agree with me. To get yourself heard you need a couple of million pounds of lobbying money and some mates that went to Eton.

It is the biggest globalised industries that have the closest attention of our leaders and they have only their shareholders interests in mind. Maybe you subscribe to the “trickle down theory” but I don’t buy that either. Big industry may be the biggest profit makers but they certainly don’t pay their way in tax, once you can offshore your operations then you can pay a lower percent in taxes than someone on minimum wage. It may be legal but it doesn’t make it right.

This isn’t a question of party politics, Labour are just as guilty of pandering to big business as the Tories despite what they may have been saying to the contrary. What we need is a way to return the government that has OUR interests at heart and not one that hopes business will sort out our problems for us.

The Occupy movement is only in it’s infancy, but as they learn and improve they will only become more effective in promoting the message for change. Let’s make a system that works for the 99% and not for the 1%.

And a little extra reading:

My Advice to the Occupy Wall Street Protesters - Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone

The Demographics Of Occupy Wall Street - Fast Company for Gawker.com

Thirteen Observations made by Lemony Snicket while watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance for OccupyWriters

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