Occupy this space

The protesters in Central London are causing some interesting ripples in our community, and providing some uncomfortable questions to be asked. What’s partly interesting is that the Occupy London Stock Exchange (OLSE) group are not the ones asking these questions.

I say partly interesting because my problem with this newest anti-capitalist outcry is that it’s not clear what they are asking, or even that they’re asking for anything at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not defending the stock exchange, banks, bankers, bonuses or the capitalist system. Not only am I not defending these emblems of avarice and inequality, I have (and continue to) been involved in various groups and demonstrations that oppose them. I support activism and making your voice heard (there’s plenty to say about that another time). In the past, I’ve helped NHS campaigners like the NHS Support Federation oppose privatisation and the re-introduction of postcode-lottery health care, I’ve voiced dissent over the invasion of Iraq (and was counted amongst the hundreds of thousands who participated in the largest march in UK history in London in 2003). I’ve supported action groups against the UK’s annual arms fair and have helped in community and social centres around London.

I’m also not writing this to defend the interests of St. Paul’s Cathedral. I don’t appreciate dogmatic religious habits and archaic ceremonies and even if I did, Christianity would not be my first port of call. The claims regarding the danger on health and safety grounds smelt fishy from the start, and the stench is causing a backlash no-one had anticipated.

The point is that all of those campaigns I mention, those voices of dissent against injustice and inequality, have a point. What are OLSE protesting about? What are they camping for? Uhm, well… you see…

…Maybe it doesn’t matter? Maybe their presence is itself sufficient: a reason in itself. I don’t know. I appreciate the need to make one’s voice heard, the need to feel part of something that is placing a tent peg in the grass and declaring ‘stop, no further’. I really do. But what’s the point of having a banner that reads ‘another world is possible’ and yet appear to offer no alternatives when the opportunities present themselves, as they have done numerous times over these recent weeks? Perhaps alternatives have been voiced, and I missed them. Perhaps the press has chosen to portray the campers as not just without a single voice, but without any voice at all, perhaps.

So does this mean I wish a plague on all their groundsheets? Would I prefer them gone? Not a chance. Their presence maintains the momentum, keeps us aware of dramatic protests in Spain, Chile and elsewhere. It keeps us talking. If OLSE don’t have a solution, why don’t we offer one instead of just criticising them? Why don’t I, instead of writing this? Why don’t you, instead of reading this?

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