Occupy roundtable

Since Occupy Wall Street was established in September, the Occupy movement has spread to over 2500 communities across the globe, including the Occupy London Stock Exchange camp. With the movement now facing a clampdown, five supporters discuss the origins and significance of the protests, their demands and potential ways forward.



Tim Gee, author of Counter Power. Making Change Happen


I see the current Occupy movement as the coming together of three different strands of resistance. First is the long-standing anti-corporate movement which has manifested itself variously as Reclaim the Streets, the so-called ‘anti-globalization movement’ and the Climate Camp. Second is the new youth and student movement which occupied Conservative HQ and university lecture theatres last year in protest at tuition fee rises. Then in early 2011 both received a massive burst of inspiration from the events of the Arab Spring. Fundamental to all three strands is the identification of inequalities of power and the use of grassroots Counterpower to challenge the interests of the ruling elite.


The movement hasn't got an economic blueprint and in my view nor should it. As a movement I see our role as being to defend and extend the few uncommodified parts of the economy that remain and to promote alternatives to capitalism. There are many such alternatives but we’d debate forever if we had to decide on one before taking to the streets. The best way could be found with a more democratic society. And to bring about that society the 99% need to remove the power of the super-rich. This is a point which I think unites occupations across the world. When people ask what the Occupy movement's alternative is, it is not just rhetoric to say that the answer is democracy.



Milan Rai, co-editor, Peace News, author of Chomsky’s Politics


The global Occupy movement, growing out of the mass Spanish occupations and the Arab Spring, is a historic opportunity.


Occupy in many countries is in a virtuous circle of mobilisation: infusing new energy into labour movements, neighbourhood associations and protest groups; and being supported and strengthened by them. Like Climate Camp, Occupy is a lens focusing society’s attention on pressing problems, while also creating an environment of learning, an inspiring new-world-in-miniature, and a base for protest.


Climate Camp was never able to break out of its protest orientation, partly because its decision-making process, while consensus-oriented, was centralised (no organic federation of regional or local camps was ever created) and somewhat exclusive. The core of Occupy is the “general assembly”, an open political space in the tradition of the World Social Forum. One way forward is for Occupy LSX to follow the Spanish path of spreading the “general assembly” model into neighbourhoods as the basis for community organising. Occupy may also be capable of providing practical inspiration for direct democracy and militancy among rank-and-file trade unionists in the struggles ahead. Occupy may be able to form a genuine federation of groups in the UK, and perhaps even internationally. Occupy camps may be able to provide a bridge between protest/activism on the one hand, and community and workplace organising on the other. These would be historic achievements.



Jenny Jones, Green Party candidate for Mayor of London


Anyone that was surprised by the emergence of a global protest movement that targets big business and the financial sector had clearly underestimated the nefariousness of modern City practices, the resultant increase in social inequality and the strength of feeling that these changes have inspired. Nevertheless, crucial aspects of the Occupists’ campaign are both astonishing and unprecedented: its tactics are very much of our time, providing both a sense of engagement with issues in

London and as part of a fraternal movement across the globe.


Those of us frustrated by the failure of more than a decade of protests over tuition fees can only marvel at how quickly the protestors’ demands have entered mainstream public debate and generated the kind of column inches normally reserved exclusively for protests that become violent. Nor are their demands vague, as has been suggested: the breadth of the target of their anger is not the result of fuzzy ideals or inarticulate contentions, but of the massive and increasing scale of inequity perpetrated by the City itself. The emergence of specific criticisms of the City of London Corporation was nevertheless a welcome development, and it is this area that the London Green Party has focused its efforts to assist. For me, the occupation has already won a massive victory by shifting public debate towards reform of the city and increasing general awareness of the outright corruption of the current financial system, and there’s no reason to believe that its achievements will end there. Having visited to show my support, I now look forward to my overnight stay next week.



Paul Street, American journalist and historian, author of The Empire's New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power


I’m not sure where the US movement is headed but if it collapsed tomorrow it would already have performed the great service of focusing popular anger on the right enemy: the unelected dictatorship of money and specifically the top 1 percent that collapsed the economy and owns more than a third of the nation’s wealth, a larger share of its elected officials, and more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.


Overdue policy demands include a tax on financial transactions, progressive income and wealth taxes, re-legalization of union organizing, the removal of private money from public elections, media reform, nationalization of leading financial institutions, and vast green public jobs programmes.


The movement needs to avoid campsite fetishism and process fetishism. It must deepen outreach to non-occupiers who can’t live in or regularly visit occupation sites but who are among the many millions of Americans who support its goals. It really must adjust its often time-consuming consensus decision making process, which gives too much power to small minorities to block initiatives. 


Occupiers need to uncover and confront the class power structures in their own local communities and develop tactics matching the distinctive ways in which the money dictatorship rules their locales. They must resist the Democratic Party’s efforts to capture the movement’s structures and to channel the nation’s newly activated mass populist sentiment at the wealthy few into partisan anger at the Republicans.



Len McCluskey, General Secretary, Unite


This is unlike any time I have come across before. Anger is rising at increasing unfairness in the economy and society more generally and yet there is a total cluelessness from our political classes about what must be done to correct the crippling dysfunction of our economy.


Signs declaring `we are the 99%' can be seen springing up in town squares up and down our country now. Suddenly, much of mainstream Britain and many places around the globe are united by a burning and growing sense of injustice.


No-one who is vulnerable or needy seems exempt from the attacks by this government – be they the disabled, the unemployed, mothers or children. They are being robbed of support and resources while a banking cabal and the over-paid chief executives gorge on the excesses of capitalism.


Unite has continually called for an economic Plan B. As with our sister unions across the Atlantic, we know that to achieve this we need creative alliances strong and deep enough that they can shake the elite who, irrespective of the chaos they are presiding over from the banks to the Eurozone, are still not ready to admit we need different answers to the question of how we create a society fair and fit for all.


I've had the privilege of speaking at the LSX daily assembly; it was inspiring. From Edinburgh to St Paul's a sea of protest is forming, dedicated to change and determined to tell our failing, undemocratic elite that their time is up.


The Occupy movement, with its antecedents in the Chartists of the 19th century, through the Suffragette movement and onto the student protests of the 1960s, has come about because a tipping point has been reached.


Working people have never got anywhere without protest, so, yes, it is time we found our voice once more.



*Ian Sinclair is a freelance writer based in London, UK. ian_js@homail.com and http://twitter.com/#!/IanJSinclair

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