“This is not the beginning of the end but only the end of the beginning” these were the words tweeted out from St. Pauls’ occupation as it was finally being evicted in the middle of the night of the 28 February.
The School of Ideas at the former Moorfields School, near Old Street was also evicted that night without any legal order and in the morning a plan for demolition was brought forward and the school was in rubble.
However, the Finsbury Square Occupation is going strong and this evening at 7 pm “occupiers” gathered again for the usual General Assembly on the steps of St. Paul’s. There is no doubt in the minds of everyone involved with Occupy that this movement will continue and grow.
After holding out for four and a half months since its start on October 15 this occupation has achieved a lot and at moments like this it is good to reflect on those successes, as well as on the new objectives and strategies to achieve them.
Regardless of the continuous repetition that the movement has no message, the common statement was adopted by approx. 5000 people in the first two days of the occupation and set forth very clearly the disagreement with the current economic and political system that led to the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression; a system that was run for the benefit of the 1% and paid for by the 99%. And this was done through a brilliant example of participatory democracy, through debate, representation and consultation with everyone present and involved. In the months to come this process would be criticized for being slow and ineffective but the movement and its people remained firmly committed to following through with this as the way to ensure that all views are taken into account, that the majority is in agreement and that no one is seriously blocking a motion.
Over the following months, some of the achievements of this movement can be summarized as follows: it expressed its clear and determined disagreement with the cuts to public services; it spread the message that there are alternatives to these cuts; it raised issues of tax evasion and tax avoidance; executive pay; banking reform and regulation; established connections with over 150 occupations globally; established an open Tent City University giving both a platform for new ideas to be discussed, as well as a space where people could receive free education; started publishing the London Occupy Times, reaching a broader audience; drew attention to the lack of transparency of the Corporation of London as a private institution governing public areas; created a peaceful space where alternatives were debated, concerts held and diversity celebrated; it remained faithful to its message of peaceful protest and resistance, and engaged in dialogue and civility until the bailiffs and police moved in last night.
The main criticism has been that although it has pointed to the problems, Occupy has not come up with specific alternatives. It is however not for a movement like Occupy to deliver strategies, reform agendas and political compromises. What it has done is opened up the space for thinking and discussing various ways of going about change and the kind of society we want to live in. Although it may seem idealistic and utopian, this process of imagining alternatives and developing the new narrative of resistance is key in forming a successful movement.
For those who believe social and environmental justice to be the defining challenges of our time this movement has become a symbol of hope. And now come the next stage where this symbol needs to become a reality. For this to happen it now needs to grow its organisational structure and build strong local support by engaging with schools, community groups, local businesses, unions, students. It needs to keep coming up with creative ways of resistance and engage with the political system, without necessarily becoming institutionalised and drawn into a political process which it sees as dysfunctional. Learning from other occupations and their experience and building on its barely five month existence there is a lot that this movement has to offer. As spring comes the thirst for new ideas wakes up and as the cuts start to cut deeper this will present an opportunity for Occupy to spread from the steps of St. Paul’s and into the minds and hearts of people.