An Occupier’s Perspective: Interview with George Barda, litigant-in-person
Q&A with George Barda from this week’s issue of The Occupied Times. If any other occupiers would like to submit comment, do contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Occupied Times: What was the legal substance of the case?
George: The legal position I advanced was that the alleged harms accompanying the presence of the camp were negligible compared with the actual and potential benefits. Three brilliant witnesses showed that Occupy has benefited society by bringing focus to issues such as inequality and tax havens. We argued that there was a “pressing social need” for OccupyLSX to continue and that our continued presence was “in the interests of democratic society”.
OT: How does the case relate to recent attempts to curb the right to protest, for example the ban on protests around the Houses of Parliament?
G: We need to be vigilant and challenge further curbs on the right to protest. The authorities are focussing on the manner and location of protests – the City of London Corporation said they had no problem with protest, only with tents and bedding. Similarly, people can protest our brutal military activities, just not publicly in Parliament Square. This trend aims to redirect dissent to where it doesn’t inconvenience the powerful and upset the status quo. I imagine we will see this dynamic clearly evident later in the year, around the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee.
OT: Does the verdict set a precedent for dealing with similar forms of protest?
G: With the passage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill 2010-11, we’ve already seen the government seek to empower itself against the encamped form of protest. We’ve just got to roll with whatever the authorities throw at the movement; we’ll use adversity to grow stronger and inspire more people to get involved.
OT: What does the verdict mean for the St. Paul’s camp? Does the verdict have any implications for other Occupy camps, such as the camp in Finsbury Square?
G: It’s likely that this case will be cited as precedent… but there may be different legislation for parks as opposed to highways. It seems Islington council has been keen to support the democratic right to protest, so fingers crossed that Finsbury Square will remain.
OT: What are the implications for the verdict on Occupy London, looking forwards?
G: We’ll take the lessons learned from the occupation at St Paul’s and come back bigger and better. As Noam Chomsky suggested, the enforced move away from a high profile camp could be the opportunity to focus our efforts on outreach and engaging more of the 99%. More camps may also spring up and we’ll use them to continue learning, improving and mobilising.
OT: Has Occupy London agreed to a concerted response to the verdict? If so, what will this be?
G: Our response is and always will be a work in progress. It’s likely that a diversity of tactics will be employed over the coming days and weeks. Some people are determined to resist eviction, others feel that a pre-emptive switch to a new plan would put the 1% on the back foot. My personal preference is for hundreds of us to peacefully resist with just the weight of our bodies. Our reasonableness has been our greatest asset and I’d like to see us maintain this. One thing has very clear consensus: this movement will continue!
OT: What is the future for Occupy protests?
G: Politicians of all major parties are now talking about inequality, financial sector regulation and executive pay. We still have enormous work to do if we are to turn this rhetoric into political and social realities. Getting out into communities and organising meetings that give people an experience of real democracy will be crucial. Getting people to believe in our goals is easy; now we need to encourage them to dare to imagine that we can achieve them.
Occupy is an idea whose time has come. We cannot repair the economy without engaging with wider questions about social justice and the limitations of our natural resources.
Public services have only recently and partially recovered from the Thatcherite assault of the ‘eighties… we need to save them now. A stitch in time saves nine, as my granny used to say!
OT: How have you found the experience personally?
G: The opportunity to engage with so much interest, determination, goodwill and inspiration has been humbling.
The court case was important because it gave us a precious opportunity to register and record the political substance of the movement, which is largely ignored by the mainstream media.
I feel blessed to have been able to understand via this movement, my academic studies and my life experience that most of the world’s problems are not rocket-science to solve… we just have to build a compassionate and committed movement of the people to take back democracy.
George Barda @ OccupyLSX – Occupy Compassion, Courage & Possibility 15/10/11