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Occupy Bath and the Re-Imagining of Democracy in Parliament Square



Crossposted from StandingStone’s Blog.
Occupy Bath and the Re-Imagining of Democracy in Parliament Square

Just over three weeks ago, several Bath Occupiers headed over to London with the TUC wagon to be a part of something pretty massive. Not only was there to be an 80,000-strong march on Hyde Park to add ourselves to, but, perhaps more current to our sentiments, the day marked an energetic beginning to a 9-day occupation of Parliament Square.

Local activist and one-time resident of Occupy Bath in Queen Square, Simon Jilley, reports on Occupy Democracy and the continuing efforts of Bath activists to create a better world for all…

Just over three weeks ago, several Bath Occupiers headed over to London with the TUC wagon to be a part of something pretty massive. Not only was there to be an 80,000-strong march on Hyde Park to add ourselves to, but, perhaps more current to our sentiments, the day marked an energetic beginning to a 9-day occupation of Parliament Square.

As Alex and myself arrived at Parliament Square, having taken a planned detour whilst en-route to the march, we were greeted by vivacious greetings from the Big Ben-side of the Square, as our drumming was warmly welcomed over to a small group of pavement-occupiers. Strategically, we worked our way around the square before joining the group, as to suss out the situation police/security-wise. In the 1-minute journey across the square towards the demonstrators, we met a kindly warden who advised that we were not allowed to drum on that particular 30-metre path that crossed the square; then we met a couple of Met’s finest profilers, who asked us all about ourselves and our drums and what we were doing, yadayada. To add to tensions, two GBC Legal Observers rushed over to us as the Met were trying to spark conversation, apparently assuming that our arrests were imminent.

We got to our group, about 30-or-so there, and brought the drumming vibrantly to the surface. We drummed, shouted ‘FREEDOM!’, sang our ‘freedom song’, and chanted some more about freedom. Within a few minutes some Westminster Council fellows came on over, seemingly claiming [but we couldn’t hear for sure…everyone started shouting and chanting and singing and we drummed when they came over] that we couldn’t play there despite having been specifically told by our profiling coppers a few minutes previous that we could. So, we kept our tune, as it was raising spirits, and people were really encouraging us. We continued playing for quite a while, till another friend came along, and played some more before Alex was given direction to do the speech from The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin).

Greed has poisoned men’s souls…more than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness…the hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people…you are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!

Soon we had rounded up a few people for the rally, and promised others that we would return with a huge crowd more. I didn’t quite expect that we could do that – but the intentions were out there, and there were thousands on the march, so why not?

The march was very regimented, with lovely neatly formed groups from particular unions and groups that we rounded past with our drums and chants for freedom. The black block darted off, over the railings, shortly followed by the 20 cops that had been following them probably for the whole march.

We got to Hyde Park, where a Green Party spokesman from Taunton was slamming the talk about how ‘THIS IS GOING TO BE A FIVE PARTY ELECTION!!!’. The whole situation, combined with my lack of sleep, reminded me of Alex Jones’ appearance on Waking Life. But, it precipitated what was then to come for the Green Party – an absolute onslaught on the media for failing to represent the party at an acceptable level. Hash-tagged as #invitetheGreens, the campaign has pushed the party into a bit of a publicity limelight over the past fortnight.

A Hare Krishna stall was there, serving up the same kind of irresistible nourishment that they continuously provided throughout the 2011 Occupy St Paul’s, and at plenty of other demos, completely for free. It felt like I was on another march that had climaxed in the middle of nowhere, and I was starting to get anxious to move on back to Parliament Square. The idea of a rally, anyway, has never appealed to me in the slightest – let alone a rally, as was apparent in this instance, that didn’t seem to even physically exist (I saw no stage, nor knew of there being any main gathering place anywhere in Hyde Park..). We’d all finished our prasadam curry, and my two friends were stretched out on the grass, seemingly getting ready for a siesta. The samba band, who had been playing about 50 metres away from us, had stopped playing, and all was becoming quiet.

I noticed that one of these two towers, which we’d marched near for some of the march, read ‘democracy’. I was jubilant as I read the other: ‘OCCUPY’. They had each been carried upright by a few people, but now were being brought to a horizontal, like as if a movement was being planned. Five or six people took each tower, red and black flags started waving, and the samba band were about to start up again.

I rushed my friends to get themselves ready to go – we had another march to get on! As Occupy Democracy, Reclaim The Power, the Black Block, and plenty of non-affiliateds gathered and started moving on out of Hyde Park, a police van rushed to a stop and a squad of maybe ten cops shyly marched alongside the group. Their presence was weak, and largely ignored.

We joined as the march was working its way out of Hyde Park, and reclaiming the streets towards Parliament Square. ‘Whose streets? OUR STREETS!’ roared our crowd, the samba gave the pulse, myself and Alex drummed too, and we gave our lungs to ‘FREEDOM!’, too. I met a few activists I hadn’t seen in quite a long while, which was fantastic. The camaraderie was really really strong. We are united, together in whatever happens. I suspected that we may miss our bus home through this – but it didn’t matter. This was something more important than a safe trip home.

A police line were waiting for us at the end of one road, about halfway to Parliament Square, lined up. They were hardly formidable-looking, lacking the riot shields and batons that I came to expect through my time last year at Balcombe. There was a park on our left, so we all hopped the railings and walked through the park, leaving the cops a little embarrassed by their stunt.

We got back onto the road, causing very little road disruption and even being supported by a few motorists along the way. As we approached Parliament Square, I was feeling very excited at what was soon to follow. The hundred-or-so of us in our march were to return to Parliament Square as a huge wave of energy, taking the Square from the oppressive forces that dictate this ‘democracy’. A slim line of police stood between us and the Square. We weaved around them, and marched straight into the centre of the square. I remembered finishing a Stop The War march in 2007 in this square, as a samba band kept rhythms going and police started surrounding the square. This was a similar scene – but there were plenty more of us than them, and we were committed to doing something incredible. We weren’t going to be moved.

So as myself and my two friends ducked out of the square some minutes later, as we had a coach back to Bath to catch as well as thirty-or-so comrades on the coach to elate to, we left realising that this is the start of something beautiful, again. What began as a mere idea, conjured by a collective of ‘subvertivists’ under the ‘Adbusters’ motif, became an assembly of whoever and whatever, all across the world. Reclaim The Square became a common reality. What is strange for me, though, is that since early 2012, when the last of the camps were decamping and people getting burnt out, there has been little motion towards taking this much, much further.

Now we are over two weeks since that initial action, and just over a week since Occupy Democracy ended the 24/7 occupation of Parliament Square. Russell Brand brought the occupiers pizza, but occupiers were warned that, should they fall asleep on the pizza boxes, they would be prosecuted under the 2011 Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill for using ‘sleeping equipment’ in Parliament Square. Tents and structures are banned in Parliament Square, to which police also claimed that umbrellas were banned as a form of ‘structure’. Tarpaulins were banned, leading to two ‘Battles of the Tarpaulin’ between the occupiers and the police. The police kicked the occupiers out of the central square after the second Battle of the Tarpaulin, creating a #TarpaulinRevolution on the periphery of the 2-metre police fence guarded by police dogs. Banners and posters were banned from Parliament Square, in one of the most obscure depictions of policing in a ‘democratic nation’ that can possibly be imagined. People were arrested for giving food and drink to activists, and the Police even arrested the deputy chair of the London Assembly’s Police & Crime Committee, Jenny Jones, in one particularly embarrassing episode for the London Met/the government. The Occupiers persisted through wind and rain, through police brutality, and through a media blackout for the first few days. And what has come of this?

A Return to Parliament Square is planned for 6pm on Friday 21st November. The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts are calling to ‘Build A Movement Not Just A Demo’, urging students to Occupy their campuses, organise walkouts during classes, and ‘resist’. Focus E15 Mothers, on 29th October, occupied the East Thames Housing Association Headquarters, turning the entrance to the offices into a creche for the day. The Adbusters collective called us all to greatly unify ourselves, that the right time for revolution will be the right time for revolution (‘our battle tactic will become one of subtlety and subversion, hover and sting, actively waiting for our revolutionary moment to come’).

The Occupation of Parliament Square made the TUC rally mean something to me. I am often one for quite controversial statements, and will not hold back again this time. ‘Britain Needs A Pay Rise’ is a shallow and fairly arrogant idea. What will a pay rise do, when we are living in a society of broken communities? In my experience, money does not save any troubles around us, but often leads to increased isolationism and paranoia. In this time of austerity, we need to look beyond the financial ripping-off that we are experiencing.

We are living in a society that claims to be democratic, and where we are fooled into thinking that we can actively change anything that is happening by voting for another party, or by going on a march. I felt unwelcome at the ‘Britain Needs A Payrise’ demo, and I know a fair few other Occupiers refused to join the march because of a complete disconnection with the focal point of the march. It was a big, digitally-printed, banner-waving, boxed-in march for the middle-class/Unionised working class to feel like as if they were actively doing something about austerity. The feeling on the coach to and from Bath reflected this. People spoke of this year’s march in relation to last year’s march, like as if the march is a yearly commodity, that it’s just a day out strolling with thousands of other people through the city and occasionally, should the occasion arise, shouting a pre-printed slogan. There was a general feeling of a reluctance to actually do anything. The Occupy Democracy and Reclaim The Power activists emblazoned the march with a meaningful purpose. Through the march, we gathered energy and pace to march powerfully on Parliament Square, and kick-start Occupy Democracy. It is in rooting myself with collectives that actually are as direct as RtP and Occupy, as well as the countless grassroots activists that are occupying, resisting, and risking arrest and personal livelihoods through standing up for what they believe in, that I continue to believe and feel that change is happening, and that the world around me is gradually becoming liberated. For now, just as much as any other time, a question resounds in my mind: if not now, when?



About Obi_Live

Occupier at OccupyLSX Camp. Then an Occupy Nomad. The revolution will be Livestreamed.

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