May '12

Occupy!

Occupy!
That is the rallying cry.
Occupy the Cities;
Occupy the Parks.
Occupy the Cathedrals;
Occupy the World!
Come one, come all;
Come support the Cause!

But what, exactly, is the Cause?
In the fifties as they rocked to Elvis, the youth of the world started the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament; and
In the sixties, their festivals sang for Peace and Love.
In the seventies, the punks screamed for Anarchy; and
In the eighties, Live Aid persuaded us to feed the World.
In the nineties, they protested against Globalisation; and
At the beginning of the new Millenium, Live Earth called on everybody to save the World.
Now, they want us to Occupy it - but why?

Inspired by the Arab Spring and following on from continued violent protests in Greece and the summer riots and looting that caught fire across the UK, it did seem as if there was a coming together of the indignant majority and the start of the Occupy movement rode a groundswell of public opinion generally fed-up with the way their countries were being run and decisions being taken, supposedly, in their name.

As the movement gained momentum, it began to grow from its origins in New York with camps springing up across America and the globe in areas as diverse as Armenia, Australia and Hong Kong (now part of China, of course) to Israel, South Africa and South Korea. Unlike many protests, this movement somehow did not just attract a militant few but, rather, it did strike a chord with those feeling there was something inequitable and wrong with the way their political systems were being operated, so attracting an interest and a feeling of affiliation from a diverse range of people.

But whereas the demonstrations of the Middle East had a clarion call to demand democracy and an end to oppression, people soon began to question what was the purpose of the Occupy movement? What were its demands? What should it stand for?

Initial principles given were that this was a protest against corporate influence on democracy; it was a protest to address a growing disparity of wealth; and a protest against the absence of legal repercussions behind the recent financial crisis.

And as the movement began to find a voice, their slogan became, ‘We are the 99%!’ – seemingly, a wonderfully inclusive moto of representation for the overwhelming majority of all the people. However, soon it became apparent that this slogan and its percentage ratio were, supposedly, determined by financial standing and not by reference to an overwhelming majority of all who are equal, with an equal right to vote – so, for example, an out of work extreme right wing member of a Nationalist Party was included but not a wealthy socialist philanthropist sympathizing supporter.

However, some of their supposed flock, included within the so-called financial 99% classification, did not want this representation and did not even agree with the protests in the first place - take the taxi drivers who would say of the disruption caused by the camps, ‘Stupid idiots, causing a right nuisance, shouldn’t be allowed!’

Soon, some of the more vociferous of the protesters began to call for a redistribution of wealth along extreme lines of socialism from rich to poor - Suddenly, the protest began to appear as a more extreme version of the original, a Marxist call for the workers to unite and rise up. The feel of the slogan seemed to alienate some of those who had felt some attraction to the initial cause, owners of small businesses, salesmen (of which, according to legend, the US is made), doctors, lawyers and even bankers who felt some level of dissatisfaction with the decisions of their political masters. Even high profile supporters from the entertainment industry such as the movie-maker, Michael Moore, were, presumably, now technically excluded. Had some supporters now become the enemy? How would those who had felt some affinity to the original protest now express their dissatisfaction?

Indeed, how many even of this financial 99% class would now vote for the proposed socialist redistribution of wealth policies? Would the taxi drivers or the small business owners or even their workers in the private sector? The first high profile test of the mood occurred in the recent first rounds of the French Presidential election when, perhaps surprisingly, one in five of the voters elected to support the extreme right wing candidate of Marine Le Pen, a proponent of an ideology the complete antithesis of the Marxist. And this trend was soon followed in the Greek parliamentary elections by the worringly high level of support for the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party and the disturbing sight of Nazi salutes. Protest votes, perhaps, but not exactly a protest in endorsement of the socialist candidates that the Occupiers 99% slogan would suggest.

So, what does this mean? Is it that the initial mood of sympathetic support among the general public for the Occupy protest cannot have been on wholly financial grounds – and so, why did the Occupy protest appear to strike such a universal chord? Why was there such widespread disillusionment?

Set against the background of a new era of austerity to pay for the financial mistakes of the past, there had already been much unrest in many countries of Western Europe at many of the measures being introduced, for example, like the increases in retirement age and cuts to state pensions, the most prevalent protests being seen in Greece but occurring also in France and Spain.

There has been worldwide dismay at the alarming levels of sovereign debt within the Eurozone and at how the political masters could have allowed such a situation to arise, together with frustration at the apparent inability to deal with it.
Humiliation soon arrived as elected leaders, including Berlusconi of Italy, were replaced by technocrats.

There was a general feeling of politicians taking decisions in their own self-interest as opposed to the greater-good of the people. In the UK, there had been scandal over the amounts politicians were taking in expenses for items seemingly unrelated to their duties, including duck-houses for the ponds in their gardens leading to criminal convictions for some; and in Italy, Berlusconi’s bunga-bunga parties seemed one embarrassment too far.

The growing phone-hacking affair for News International (looking increasingly like a transatlantic affair) seems to be unveiling corruption and collusion between journalists and the police force on a wide scale as well as an alarming closeness with politicians and leaders past and present – the former labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, being revealed as the godfather to Rupert Murdoch’s child and the current conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, attending cosy weekends riding horses with the ex News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks!

The spectre of the influence of big business appears to grow in political decisions from corporate takeovers, property planning, going to war and (lack of) action on global warming. Presidential candidates for the US race in 2012 have already raised in the region of $330million – what do the big donors expect in return?

Continued attacks on civil liberties appeared to grow and create an environment of restricted freedom – Why? For the safety of the majority; or the interests of business; or of the politicians championing the changes?

The darkness of unemployment continues to grow in many developed countries, now at almost twenty-five percent in Spain; and over half amongst their young.

And the frustration and anger the people feel on witnessing these things at a time of austerity when they are being asked to pay for the mistakes of the few, leads to a general feeling of disenfranchisement across all classes.

Perhaps it is some, all or more of these things that brought so many different people from different backgrounds and with different views to the same point at the same time? So is their dissatisfaction really about something more than money; are the bankers just easy targets? Just as with the Arab Spring, is the coming together in fact, really a complaint about the ruling elite - a frustration with out-of-touch leaders and how their countries are managed?

So, what can be done about this feeling of disenfranchisement? Does the way our politicians are chosen have to change; how do we find good, honest people? Does the Occupy movement still have a role to play in this? And has the original mood, the real purity of the global Occupy protests been lost by the search for a specific meaning, for specific demands?

For sure, protests can be used to call for fairer tax laws; for cheaper train travel; for better pensions; or for increased access to higher education. However, just as two million people in Tahrir Square, or all of those who fought in the sands of Libya, are not each of the same political views and will not all vote in the same way, perhaps this experience shows us that a movement, a protest, or a revolution is just but one part of democracy – freedom of expression. Indeed, those crowds congregated together in the Middle East would have included many with different views, some on the left, some on the right, some moderate and some extreme and, if their calling had been split along such lines, then the weight of their beast, the strength and success of their protest would also have fractured and died.

Only once the revolution has been won, it seems, should the arguments start over the specifics of policies and what is the best replacement - the protest itself is all the stronger when it is still pure and all-inclusive, capturing a mood, capturing a feeling. Revolution, it would seem, is fine until we have to agree or vote on it!

 

The views expressed herein are entirely the author’s opinion and should not be treated as fact.

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