An occupier’s perspective: Letter to the Leveson Enquiry

 

We are starting a new section on the website which aims to give the varied and diverse voices of Occupy London an increased presence on the website. Below is the first submission from one of the occupiers – Steve Rushton – who has been involved since late October camping at OccupyLSX. 

Steve’s letter, which has been submitted to the Leveson Enquiry, focuses on press ethics and institutionalised bias. Submissions for module 2 are now open and module 3 will be opening shortly – see here.

As well as being involved with Occupy, Steve is currently writing a PhD criticising Neoliberalism from an indigenous perspective. From Southampton, Steve has also provided legal support to Dan Ashman as part of the OccupyLSX legal case – for which judgement will be delivered sometime after 11 January.

If other occupiers would like to submit a personal view for publication on the website, please email press@occupylsx.org.

Dear Lord Justice Leveson,

I would like to draw your attention to the press coverage of the occupy movement since the 15th October and especially during the recent eviction court case brought by the City of London. This specifically relates to module 1:  Points 1, 4, 7 & 10 in particular.

Having been an occupier since early November on the St.Paul’s site (OccupyLSX ), as well as commencing a PHD study in Global Politics, I can say with authority that the mainstream media have wilfully distorted the message promoted by occupy.

Examples include:

  • Stories wholly based on hearsay. E.g: London Evening Standard, front page report on intravenous drug use in the camp,
  • the notable lack of coverage of the issues raised at OccupyLSX such as social injustice, unsanctioned wars, unethical greed of elites, ecological destruction, genocide, inequitable neoliberal division of capital & resources and the current globalised system.

On Dec 19th, The City of London Corporation took OccupyLSX to the Royal Courts of Justice to obtain a ruling allowing them to evict the occupiers. The named occupier, Tammy Semede was represented by John Cooper QC.  Daniel Ashman and George Barda were litigants in person.

The City of London claimed that OccupyLSX’s tents block a public highway. Daniel Ashman, George Barda and John Cooper rejected the City’s claims on many legal points that relate to the rights to protest, Article 11 of the European Human Rights Act: Freedom of Assembly and Association. The defendents asserted the over exaggerations of the claimed “nuisances” and the proportional universal benefit of occupy as a communal space to exercise the lawful right to protest.

Beyond this, Daniel Ashman also raised a further legal argument: this concerned  “Lawful Necessity” and “Lawful excuse”, using the example set out by R v. Zelters et al. [1996] “The Ploughshares 4.”

Daniel Ashman presented the court with the case that occupy is a new type of political agency, unprecedented due to its global nature. The case was made that political protests of the past have frequently failed. Marches have been ignored, petitions have had no effect and the balance of convenience has prevailed through corporate lobbying and within the limitation of the electoral system. He asserted that the physical semi-permanent nature of the camp, which is what the City of London was challenging, was intrinsic to OccupyLSX and lawfully necessary and lawful excuse.

Within this case Daniel Ashman accused the City ofLondonand the Corporations that sponsor it of being complicit in genocide, amongst other destructive practices to both humans and the planet. This argument was set forward to justify OccupyLSX continuing at its present site to enable the dialogue that is on-going there to discuss an alternative future that is equitable, socially just and ecologically sustainable. There were bundles of submissions supporting these claims.

The judge’s decision can set a new legal precedent; however the press have chosen to ignore this turning point. Instead, outside the Royal Courts of Justice on the last day of the hearing a journalist from the Daily Mail asked Tammy Samede, the named defendant for the whole camp, to comment on a matter mentioned in the court room about when she reprimanded others for being rowdy and drinking too much on the camp. I asked the reporter – in light of all the serious issues that were being discussed in the courtroom, why he was asking that question. To paraphrase he said, “I work for this paper – it has this agenda – this is the story I have to write.”

His reply suggested to me, that he was passively complicit within the newspapers agenda and that whatever the actual events in the courtroom were, he felt that it was his duty to report about Occupy in a negative light.

This is an example of institutionalised bias.

The anti-fascist Italian political philosopher Antonio Gramsci asserted that elites in a society suppress a population and control them through engendering common sense, to behave with consent in the desired way. He suggests this is done though media, within education and through religious institutions.

The media and elites in Britain are interlinked,

  • Corporations last year sponsored the British Government £2 billion.
  • In Tony Blair’s first election in 1997, he thanked the Sun for its “magnificent support” stating that it “really did make the difference”.
  • 23 out of the 29 members of the new cabinets are millionaires

A further criticism of the press is that they over simplify and polarise thus distorting the message of occupy. This patronises the reader and promotes ignorance about the movement.

Two key examples of this are the media claiming that occupy “does not stand for anything” and that it is “anti-Capitalist.”

The reported line that occupy does not stand for anything was used frequently in the first few weeks of the protest.  It has resonated widely with members of the public. The press actively ignored the 5 initial statements issued by OccupyLSX that passed through the OccupyLSX consensual process. This is also shown by the solidarity we have shown with marches on a wide range of issues, all the discussions at GA’s, the comprehensive range of working groups and their foci and the two national conferences in London and Edinburgh. OccupyLSX initiated a dialogue with other Occupations in over 80 countries spanning over one thousand sites. In a press release OccupyLSX rejected the G20 for being “undemocratic, unjust and unsustainable”. There are also over 40 occupations in Britain.

If someone from the press genuinely did not grasp that occupy stands for something: maybe a job in the press is not for them. If a wide range of the press is presenting this message, it suggests a systematic or institutionalised problem.

The press has labeled occupy as “anti-capitalist.”. It may suit a small proportion of the protest; however, it does not represent Occupy comprehensively. Anti Capitalist sentiments is not reflected in any of the press release statements from the working groups or the GA discussions. An example of OccupyLSX’s position is on corporations, this shows that as a group we are not anti capitalism, instead anti injustice and against inequality. This is an excerpt from this statement:

‘Globally, corporations deprive the public purse of hundreds of billions of pounds each year, leaving insufficient funds to provide people with fair living standards. We must abolish tax havens and complex tax avoidance schemes, and ensure corporations pay tax that accurately reflects their real profits.

Corporate lobbying subverts our democracy. Last year corporations spent £2 billion influencing the British government. We believe exploitative corporate lobbying has no place in a democratic society. Legislation to ensure full and public transparency of all corporate lobbying activities must be put in place. This should be overseen by a credible and independent body, directly accountable to the people.

The existing system of corporate sanctions allows executives and board members to avoid individual responsibility for the consequences of their actions and inactions. Those directly involved in the decision-making process must be held personally liable for their role in the misdeeds of their corporations and duly charged for all criminal behaviour.’ Personally,I am anti-neoliberal, anti-corruption, anti-inequality and pro-ecological and not anti-capitalist.

The term “anti-capitalist” has negative connotations. These connotations have been engendered by the media and academia throughout the 20th Century affirming a myth that there are no alternatives to the current system, except communism which failed in practice. The press thus inadvertently suggesting that we as humans cannot improve on what has gone before. Therefore this unfounded label, ‘anti-capitalist’, has an amazing power to distort the meaning of occupy and discredit it to the public. By discrediting a communal critique of the protest it reinforces the system and acts to prolong the status quo in the interests of the elites.

A further example of sensationalist journalism about occupy concerns claims made by papers including the London Evening Standard that intravenous drug use was rife at Occupy LSX. This headlining front page article was based on the City of London giving the camp sharps bins. This headline on the front of the Evening Standard is based on unsubstantiated evidence; however, its negative impact on OccupyLSX to the general public is immeasurable.

Protests are a defining quality to free democracies. They are nothing without proper coverage. We propose that covering protests irresponsibly is an act of silencing the people and should not be allowed.

I hope the following letter is helpful with your inquiry. If you require further information I am more than to willing assist with any follow up inquiries you may have with this submission including opening all channels of communication with the occupiers themselves.

Best wishes

Steve Rushton

 

10 Responses to “An occupier’s perspective: Letter to the Leveson Enquiry”

  1. We should acknowledge that the Guardian and to some extent the Independent have had positive articles about Occupy.

     
  2. An informative read. More power to your elbow and please keep posting.

     
  3. Very heartening to read. Also, good to see the ‘man living without money’ gave a talk at Occupy recently. Actions speak louder than words. I will keep spreading the word of what you are doing. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

     
  4. “The term “anti-capitalist” has negative connotations.” so does every response I can come up with to that statement… but I’ll be nice as Steve is probably aware of the irony.

    Does terming Gramsci an “anti-fascist” have negative connotations ? or would describing him a leading marxist (which is a considerably more typical and perhaps a more accurate adjective) have more negative connotations ?

    some people actually are anti-capitalist & some are even left-wing – many of them have arguments that are not so easily disposed of as “not reflected”, “failed” or “negative”, and it is just the application of hegemony (which ironically is the theory which Gramsci is most famously associated) that would have us deny that.

     
  5. Just to say Occupy Lancaster was raided by 50 police tonight – see this story in the National Guardain. it was an unexpected and announced raid and we were not barricaded on but legally there. We had previously enjoyed good relations with the police. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jan/09/four-arrested-occupy-protest-lancaster

     
  6. Great to see these points about how the media ignored our landmark court case, and the fantastic testimony our side gave there. And what a great idea to make this case to the Leveson Enquiry! However, contrary to Steve’s later comments, there are actually many of us at Occupy who are “anti-capitalist”, not a few.

    Steve is spot on when he notes that this term has ?negative connotations . . . engendered by the media and academia throughout the 20th Century affirming a myth that there are no alternatives to the current system . . . thus . . . suggesting that we as humans cannot improve on what has gone before.? But that doesn’t mean we have to accept these hostile connotations.

    Capitalism is based on accumulation of wealth, which as time goes on has ended up in fewer and fewer hands, leaving the 99% with less to live on, and giving the 1% the power to destroy even the climate that supports life on earth. Many of us think capitalism?s relentless imperative to accumulate is deadly in itself. The 99% have to be able to do better than that! After all, all over the world it is the 99% who actually create all the wealth. So for many of us, anti-capitalism has everything to do with Occupy.

    Of course, many Occupiers also have another view, and instead want a better form of capitalism, or want to ?democratise capitalism?, as the big new banner says. It is the beauty of Occupy that reformers and anti-capitalists have found ways to get along together, as have others who normally wouldn?t even say hello to each other, like academics and rough sleepers. This is one crucial product of living together day after day in our great melting pot.

    It is absolutely vital to the nature and the strength of Occupy that we continue to reflect BOTH sides of this ?capitalism? debate — in our media statements, on our website, on our banners, etc. , rather than rejecting one side just because the media or academia have tried to give it a bad name! How different labels (like ?anti-capitalist?, or like “democratise”) are understood can change quite quickly, and we shouldn?t be afraid of being ?discredited? by them. Much more important is to celebrate the fact that Occupy represents a real diversity of viewpoints — amazingly, without the usual in-fighting and disrespect of others? perspectives. After all, we are all learning together.

    In the same way, it is crucial that the views of those who are determined to stay living at St Paul’s are given as much space on the website, in media comments, and in Occupied Times, as those who want to down-size. The testimony in court did much to highlight the reasons for this. If we were forced out we might still be able to do something of some value. But we would lose not only the place where the public knows we are making our most effective, challenging stand against corporate power, not only our presence at the door of the church, which has done so much to realign that influential part of he establishment, not only the moral force of our determination to hold out against the odds, but also the place where we are all together, where we are slowly building a community and a powerful voice out of the most disparate, unlikely combinations of backgrounds and viewspoints –proving that the 99% can really come together after all.

    Ruth

     
  7. Agreed, there are people in the movement on both sides of the fence re: Anti Capitalist. By tarring everyone at occupy with the same anti-capitalist brush however, the press segregates a vast swathe of the public who are exceptionally comfortable with capitalism as they do not see that it is, and for the last 30 has been corrupt.
    It is a radical statement, which of course is no bad thing to those of us who have already asked the question and are trying to find an answer. We need to take a softly softly approach to outreach. By declaring that the whole movement is anti-capitalist poses the ultimate question, “What is the alternative?”. We do not collectively have an answer to that question yet we are still working and learning on the job. It is also important that the people who do not take this viewpoint are represented in the media. So lets concentrate on educating the public rather than turning their world upside down and providing answers later.

     
  8. To pick up on Ruth’s initial point here’ some more stuff about the court case that the media ignored…

    Daniel Ashman’s Closing statement: in City of London’s attempt to evict Occupy LSX, judgement due 11th January

    “The claimant has sought legal action from the outset; at first they joined the cathedral in that action. Then after that they have sort and collected many reports. At this point would like to quote the judge. “It’s accurate as far as it goes but it does not tell the story.’ Although I recognise that I am taking his meaning out of context. It resonated so much I felt compelled to write it down. ’It’s accurate as far as it goes but it does not tell the story’

    What I hope I have done is added to this story. What is taking place now through a network of institutions culminates in genocide. The legal system definition of genocide is: “The deliberate and systematic destruction in any part of any ethnic, racial, religious or national group”

    I believe that institutions in the proximity of the occupation, namely near the London Stock exchange and London’s Central Business District, have continued with the theft of land, theft of resources and murder. The means that are used are multifaceted and with respect I would like to bring to your honour’s and the court’s attention:

    DISTRICT JUDGE@ MILDENHALL MAGISTRATES: REGINAV ANULLA ZELTERS + OTHERS
    THE PLOUGHSHARES 4: HAWK FIGHTER LIVERPOOL: CROWN: 30th JULY 1996
    SECTION 3: CRIMINAL LAW@ LAWFUL NECESSITY: LAWFUL CAUSE

    1996 Liverpool jury acquitted four women caused £1.5 million damage to Hawk Fighter Jets at a British Aerospace factory

    1999 3 women cleared of causing £80,000 damage to Trident nuclear submarines computer equipment

    2000 Five Greenpeace volunteers not guilty of criminal damage after occupying an incinerator

    2000 Norwich jury found Greenpeace Lord Melchett and 27 activists not guilty of criminal damage to field of GM crops

    2008 Kingsnorth Trial, coal protesters cleared of criminal damage to Chimney.

    I do believe like many others who stay in the tents that other avenues for recourse reparation, reconciliation and remedy, have been exhausted:
    1. reporting of crimes ignored
    2. protest not effective
    3. petitions not listened to
    4. lobbying not effective
    5. elections not effective
    6. private prosecutions ruled out by courts without justification
    7. crimes not prosecuted
    i. banking
    ii. family law
    iii. war and others

    It is now five in the morning, I have not slept and I will shortly be leaving for Leicester. We have been searching for a number of court cases that have rulings of “lawful excuse.”

    I would like to bring to the attention to the court once more to
    REGINAV ANULLA ZELTER + OTHERS: LIVERPOOL CROWN COURT: THE PLOUGH SHARER 4: 30th July 1996

    Perhaps by the time you get this we will have produced a written copy of the submission. It is worth noting after a three hour search we could not locate the transcript, only newspaper reports.

    The actual measurement outside the Tea cafe when the width is reduced by the obstruction of tables and chairs is 3.8 metres. It seems strange to me that considering all the reports and documents the corporations have instructed Andrew Colvin to gather, that they have not taken accurate measurements for the true free foot-fall areas within business hours. This is quite a critical omission; I cannot dwell too much on words as I have to leave in 15 minutes.

    Mr Wilkinson has admitted that people can access the Cathedral. Mr Cotton said “There was no pressing need to reopen the garden.” The City of London Police Representative described his force as one of the best in England, and I wish to compliment the police officers for their handling of some very sensitive issues and their cooperation with the occupy tranquillity team.

    I wish the court to know that the team that has freely assembled and wished to contribute to my defence have done it from the camp: in the tents.

    I give permission to Luke Wilkins and Steven Rushton to add what they feel is pertinent to our search for justice.

    My untrained, voluntary legal assistant Steve Rushton is from Southampton, next year he will be writing a postgraduate study to critique Neo-liberalism from an Indigenous perspective. Currently he works in a school as a learning mentor. From his perspective he would like to add:

    “Your honour, thank you for your patience, flexibility and accommodation
    Without the tents, I would not be able to be part of this movement in weekends and using holidays. Occupy is an opportunity to discuss the many critical problems facing the world, including:
    -the annihilation of indigenous peoples
    -the destruction of the commons and the global environments
    -the injustices of the world, such as war and slavery
    -the severe inequalities of the Neo-liberal world

    Occupy and the tents allow me to join a global inclusive dialogue to engender a just, universally sustainable and equitable coherent alternative to the current system. I would question the motives and loyalties of anyone who wanted to stop this dialogue. Your honour with respect I ask, please do not end this: the most important possible human conversation.”

     
  9. why don’t you remind the press about what they say about their counterparts in Syria? After all, the UK press are behaving like the “oppressors'” cohorts who falsify real news. I presume you have daily youTube updates to show the real you?

     

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