#OccupyDemocracy in Parliament Square: Hands Off Our Tarpaulin!
By Tom Fielder
At eighteen minutes past six on Sunday evening, as soon as the Sun had set, police closed in to break up a group of peaceful protesters sitting together in solidarity on the lawns of Parliament Square. Beneath the helpless gaze of Nelson Mandela, one protester after another was manhandled and forcibly dragged from the neck by encircling gangs of policemen – not because their protest was deemed illegal, but because the tarpaulin they were sitting on is classified as “sleeping equipment” by the Met, and is consequently, since the 2011 Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, banned from the gardens of Parliament Square.
The protest in question had been organised under the banner of “Occupy”, a slogan most recently celebrated in the context of pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. Britain’s#OccupyDemocracy campaigners are demanding reforms to our democratic process “so that it serves the public interest, rather than the interests of corporations, banks and a tiny wealthy elite.”
“We know that democracy is not just about having a vote every four, now five years” say the group, who are now four days into a proposed ten day occupation of Parliament Square Gardens, “It is about having the power to make your voice heard.”
In the UK today, record numbers of people are homeless, record numbers rely on food banks to feed their families, and record numbers face fuel poverty as energy prices rise eight times faster than wages. At the same time, inequality is back on the rise, making us one of the most unequal countries in the developed world… Nobody voted to be made homeless, hungry or unemployed. It is clear whose voices are being heard. We need to start a movement for real democracy… We need to give ourselves the tools to hold our politicians to account, and to end the corporate lobbying power that drowns our voices out.
Having already been supported with talks and workshops delivered by, among others, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and Labour MP John McDonnell, speakers on Sunday afternoon included Ann Pettifor (New Economics Foundation) and John Christensen (Tax Justice Network). While the former emphasised the importance of understanding financial markets — and especially of the dangers of deflation in a world enmeshed with debt — the latter exposed the injustices of corporate tax evasion and “competitive” taxation rates.
The #OccupyDemocracy campaigners, are, in other words, not a bunch of disengaged criminals. Described by Russell Brand as “like radicalised ninja turtles“, they consist of men and women from a variety of social and ethnic backgrounds, all intent on building a bigger democracy, a better democracy, a real democracy that speaks for the 99%… even if that means being pulled apart by policemen with no better laws to enforce, being forced to sit and stand and sleep in shifts on the muddy lawns of our renowned democracy.
Parliament Square was created as a place to hold protest and democratic assemblies. This is where women gathered in the early years of the twentieth century in order to (often violently) demand their right to vote. Today by contrast, in the early years of the twenty-first century, campaigners are peacefully demanding that they be allowed the right to sit on tarpaulin; that their basic dignity be recognised as peaceful protesters concerned with the direction of Britain’s democratic tradition.
Please, if you have any sympathy for these campaigners — even just their right to sit on tarpaulin — then come on down to Parliament Square, if only to toot your horn. The full schedule of speakers and workshops over the coming week can be found here.
The reaction of the Police and the State to the #OccupyDemocracy protest is in complete juxtaposition to David Cameron’s recent comments regarding the Occupy Central pro-democracy demonstrations in [H]ong Kong, when he said that “rights and freedoms, including those of person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, and, indeed, of strike … These are important freedoms … which, most of all, we should stand up for.”
Follow Tom Fielder on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mindbollocks