26.09.12 General Assembly Friern Barnet Library
Event: People’s Assembly
Location: Friern Barnet Library
Mark: Thanks for coming. First GA for a few weeks. Let’s go around and introduce ourselves. Hi I’m Mark!
Helen: I’m doing some research for my dissertation.
Vica: Also involved in Occupy since October.
John: I’m the minute taker.
Daniel: I’m here, but have also been to several places.
Diane: Live locally.
Obi: Hello! Livestream.
Noreen: I do the library.
Donny: I’m an activist and international man of mystery.
Jorick: I love cats.
Graham: I just moved to London and thought I’d come along and get invovled.
Stephan: Library squats, have been activist.
Sandy: I’m local.
Mel: I’ve been involved in Occupy since the start. Also brought some home made treats.
Saskia: I’ve been involved since the start. Great to see lots of lovely new people.
Mark: Diane has been visiting the library everyday. Please could you say some more about your involvement. As journalist and somebody who wrote an article about us.
Diane: Seem to following Pheonix’s career quite closely. First hting I’ve seen Occupy do that revives a local service, that local people want and that has been closed down by the council. Each time I visit there are more books. Great that there’s lots of support from the community.
Mark: Anybody freaked out by hand signals? [laughter]
So I prepared a little discussion about this project. Before I could invite anybody to speak about this project.
Mel: Would be good to do an intro first, then have a discussion?
Donny: Was opened as a library about 80 years ago, Carnegie, was a beloved library. It was shut down in April. Was long hard campaign to keep it open, but it was closed anyway. Skip forward a few months, a group of squatters came in and realised there was a lot of political potential and that’s when the squatters got Occupy involved.
Daniel: Just saw footage of when it was close. The locals were really trying to keep it open. They has a sit in. They wouldn’t let anybody in, there wasn’t a toilet, so they eventually after they had to leave. They were getting tired and didn’t know how to continue. So we ignited the whole thing again.
Mark: Absolutely right talking about public support. We almost have too many books! Leaton Marsh group dropped off nearly 1000 books. Locals have been having meetings with council here, engaging in a more horizontal way. Suggestion to have meetings like this instead of all the expensive surveys. All attending agreed. Previously meetings were very frustrating, but now the council people were more engaged. A school class came and were talking about the Occupy movement. We gave them stickers and the teacher told the kids not to stick them up at school. Then she came back in the afternoon with another class.
Stephan: It is a welcoming space and people have felt able to come here. Fantastic to outreach to activists. Gives activists a human face.
Noreen: People have missed the library, and have been coming in offering their services. People are really interested to contribute, organising events, people have missed that. Nearly every night of the week.
Mel: I was talking last Saturday about the Community Bill of Rights and local democracy. I was really impressed by the involvement. There was a general meeting afterwards. Great to see all different ages, children and older people. You can see this place is a really important community centre.
Saskia: I was here for an event. How long do we have here? What’s the authority’s agenda?
Stephan: Court date was adjourned. Next appearance on 8th and 9th. Continuous negotiations with council. … There have been mothers coming in with children. They like the non-traditional nature of library, the kids enjoy running around.
Mark: One girl said she doesn’t like going to other libraries because they can use electronic devices. She likes to work with headphones on.
Obi: There was another place that was closed down last year. They opened it up again but it wasn’t a public library anymore.
Mark: One of dynamics with council officers is a bit antagonistic, but all council officers are in library department because they are interested in libraries. Unless there is anything else to bring up….
Sandeed: I like the fact that the library is here, that the community is engaging with the library, and that it connects with broader political issues.
Mark: Most local people aren’t in favour of volunteer based welfare state. This is leading nicely into the discussion I planned.
[Diane and Miya leaves]
Mark: Where the discussion was leading was, what is the relation between the community and the cuts, what is Occupy’s relation to the cuts?
Donny: We’ve been lucky because we’ve had some trained librarians. But I don’t feel anybody is suggesting we can take the full scale running of the welfare state. So we need to use projects like this to reverse the cuts. Using it as a platform for those who use services like this to create resistance that goes beyond the Occupy circle and show how we can be a practical service, helping them to organise. With sharing skills, you can do it for yourself. Hope there will be more projects like this, that show people that they can do it. I think we can create huge groundswell through projects like this and reverser the cuts.
[local arrives with daughter]
Local: We used to come here all the time. There’s nice videos and things. I agree with keeping the library alive. What upsets me is Golder Green, Jonathon Ross willing to support the library there. But North Finchley is going to Arts Depot. There are lots of disabled people round here, single parents. I’ve been here 13 years. Have been relying on the computers here to help us. So what’s going to happen?
Mark: We have a court case in two week.
Local: They’re going to shut it down.
Mark: What we’re discussing is how to do that. Let me tell you about the discussion. Groups of five. First part of discussion: what is different about this project, what potentials it points to, and anything that comes out of that discussion. Are people clear?
Local: Yeah but at the end of the what’s going to come out of this? Everything is out of control at the moment, what are we going to do, so that’s what I would like to ask you.
Saskia: I’m empathising, it’s a difficult question, what to do when everything is being taken away. We can only do what we can do, we need to look to each other to stay strong in difficult times.
Local: Well go for it then!
Mark: Okay let’s split into groups.
[breaks into groups]
Noreen (group 1): One thing we talked about was documenting what happened here, with the community and with the authorities. Things like this board here [point to board] with event and rota, constantly bein rewritten. Recording that sort of stuff, things people want the library to do for them. Also said it’s an outreach opportunity, emblematic of what we are about. Also greater understanding of what Occupy is about. A voice for people in the community. Encourages local activists, like in Leaton Marsh, people feel much more enabled… entitled to protest. There’s so much coming in the opposite direction, “just go home”, helps people to know it’s a good thing to do.
Vica (group 1): Important to document so, as John said, that it can replicated.
Norren (group 1): If there are lots of these events around London, then they will have to look again at the budgets.
Mark: Any other group? No need to repeat points that others have made…
Donny (group 2): Practical suggestions, wanted more sites like this. There are several thousand empty buildings that can be used for things like this. Need a public campaign, support for that could fostered. Encourage people to believe this is possible. Should focus on positivity, for public services, in favour of preservation. More places, more projects, greater access to information. Long term to stop the cuts, we want an engaged compassionate society.
Steve (group 2): Might be strategy that encourages people to support us.
Stephan (group 3): We started talking about society. Distinction between “Big Society” and what we are doing is where the power lies. Not just people providing services under governments benevolent gaze, we are those ones in control of the process. Discussed how Occupy has evolved. Can attract people who didn’t go down to the camps. Thinking about ideas for the future, community taking charge of process, community meetings where open free and frank discussion is possible. Nobody in government really cares about how people in the community feel. It would be a positive thing for Occupy and community supporters to hold a weekend day out in the park and bring the communal discussion into the wider community.
Saskia (group 3): Just wanted to say it was really nice to hear from Graham via the website. What about next weekend having a massive teachout? It would get good press coverage, and be inspiring. People feel safe in the library. They value it as a community asset. Occupy is ordinary people just like them. It’s not scary. Together we can change things. My hobby horse is having meetings like this. Why don’t we have two or three times when we have a general assembly near speakers corner. If people don’t want to have that conversation we could just go to the pub.
Mark: Would it be good to write this up, or would the minutes be enough.
Kris: Bullet points would be good. All the groups said it would be good to replicate this.
Mark: Key elements, bullet points, would be good.
[suggestion to use white board, discussion moves away from writing key elements, Mark and Donny agree to write them up later]
Noreen: Also good think about the traps, problems that might arise.
Steve: Good to not to worry about our mistakes, that’s how we learn.
Mark: Rosa Luxembourg said the same thing.
Saskia: This is not “let’s run a library” this is an example of resistance. We’re demonstrating we can work together.
Mark: So is it matter of making that message clear.
Noreen: We need to work out a way of distancing ourselves from the Big Society. This not a voluntary library. One trap would be providing a voluntary service.
Donny: The concept of Big Society is not radical, it’s not adversarial. There’s nothing edgy about it, so we’re always going to be a bit divergent from that. The important thing is to make sure we’re using these places as campaign platforms. That doesn’t mean we can’t run these libraries, it’s our bridge to the communities.
Obi: Some were disagreeing with what we are doing. Might become privatised, council will make you fail and then they will sell it.
Stephan: Council have alluded to plan to take out loan to pay for library, another layer of interest for the banks.
Steve: We could introduce the phrase the New Society. It would infiltrate people’s conscious.
Jorick: I don’t know what the New Society is.
Daniel: If we accept voluntary basis, then parliament could be voluntary.
Mark: Okay we’ve been going for nearly two hours. Want to wrap up? [yes] Any shoutouts?
Vica: Planning meeting 3pm Lincoln Fields for Global Noise events. It’s a global protest, we’re organising what to do in London.
Kris: There’s an open day 3pm tomorrow at the Holborn squat (203 High Holborn).
Obi: There’s a demo at Battersea Park, they are closing, used to charge £2.50 to use playground but that didn’t work. So now they are destroying the playground. Local people aren’t very happy. They wanted Occupy to help but I said we tend to avoid schools and playgrounds.
Vica: Please talk to me about Social Forum. Week of 5th November, Indignados want a week of skill sharing in Madrid. We were thinking about all trying to hitch hike down there.
Mark: Any more?
Steve: What’s happening tomorrow at 2pm at Elephant and Castle?
Saskia: Meet Elephant and Castle. It’s a social.
Marl: Is that the end of the meeting?
[music plays, Mark throws a chair]