Sunday, 16 October 2011

Occupying London

So, I've spent the majority of the last two days down at the Occupy encampment outside St Pauls. I've been curious as to how the movement would translate over here and I'm glad I managed to get there.

Overall it was an extremely positive experience, the people there have a proactive attitude and theres none of the anger amongst protesters which you might expect. You get the sense that most people there genuinely want to make the world a somewhat better place.

As with the OWS movement there is no clearly defined objective, nor are the people universally of one political persuasion or type. Its honestly been a while where I've gone to a protest and felt like if I told people I was a Conservative I wouldnt be insulted or jeered at. Its a nice change, since I've had some pretty unpleasant things said to me.

Many of the tools from New York have been adapted and when I went down on the second day there was real evidence of infrastructure emerging. A food area, recycling, a wifi zone and a first aid tent were all in evidence and staffed by volunteers. The food and wifi areas were both consistently busy, both with people buying, but also with people bringing along donations. I'm seriously considering taking along an old laptop as soon as I've had a chance to format it.

The only downside was the inevitable heavy handed approach by the Metropolitan Police. Its sad because I'm a big supporter of the police, but watching them yesterday relentlessly try and provoke a peaceful crowd into an angry confrontation was deeply disappointing. Repeated claims that they didnt kettle protesters are a flat out lie.

However, the protesters were well prepared and made sure that they dealt with police pressure without confrontation. I saw a couple of people "disarm" one protester who got angry, putting their arms around him and leading him away from the police lines to make sure he didn't give officers an excuse. I did see one arrest, I've got no idea whether it was deserved or not. It was very unpleasant to watch, I'll say that much.

On the second day the picnic atmosphere had continued. Apparently St Pauls have given the protest their blessing (no pun intended) and as such they'll be able to stay more easily on the site. I hope they do. I'm going to try and get back during the week to see further whats going on.

The London protesters have taken the best of whats worked in the US, speed and flexibility of response, avoiding confrontation, including infrastructure to support the protest in the longer term, and implemented it here. Whether or not that is enough to build a lasting and growing protest in the heart of London remains to be seen.

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