Sunday, 11 December 2011

Occupy Bath - The End of the Beginning

Yesterday Occupy Bath left Queen Square. I was the last to leave (closely behind everyone else), one of the first to arrive on site, and have been involved all of the way through. I've divided this blog entry into 3 sections to cover everything we've done and plan to do.

Occupy Bath sign on the railings on Queen Square

1. The Final 3 Weeks

After the success of the first three weeks, which saw us hold debates, talks, musical performances, attend the National Occupy Conference and lay red and white poppy wreaths at the war memorial on Remembrance Day, we decided to continue the camp until at least November 30th, when the union march was planned for Bath. Despite bad weather and cold night temperatures, we perservered. It wasn't always easy, but our principles of direct democracy and our passion for the Occupy Movement overcame hard times. At night, many people out on the town would visit the camp. There was always at least one person on security watch, and often the people up all night would spend it round the camp fire talking to people who had dropped by for a chat or to find out more. One camp member set up a daily Tai Chi workshop, which was often popular. We held a third events day the weekend before the march. Talks included "How the recession started", "Freeman on the land" and a general debate on the Occupy Movement. Also, in these final few weeks, an idea surfaced and gained momentum as it was discussed over and over again in our daily General Assemblies. Soon we were convinced that it might work, and sent out a press release telling people that we had a big announcement to make at 4.30pm, following the union march (more on this below).

Support for the union march at Occupy Bath

We heavily publicised our support for the strike, with a large sign on the kitchen tent exterior, articles in the local newspaper and by contacting local unions. One of the local unions was kind enough to offer us a 5 minute speaking slot at the march. We chose our speakers well - one was a former teacher, and the other a student. Our student was the only student to speak at the march, despite the presence of a large number of students, and was well-received by them. At 1.25pm they gave their speech. In just 5 minutes, our speakers managed to get across the message that we support them, a short summary of the Occupy Movement and a summary of the "big announcement". The speakers were well-received by the audience of approximately 1500 strikers, and Occupiers distributed flyers about the "big announcement" in the crowd. The march ended about 3pm, and between then and 4pm hundreds visited the camp to find out more and show their support. Some even stuck their placards in the ground outside the info tent. At 4pm it started to rain, and by the time of the "big announcement", only about 30 members of the public remained - but by then half of the city knew. The Bath People's Assembly had been founded. Following the announcement, the local pirate-folk band Calico Jack played an hour long set for us in front of the info tent, with much dancing.

Calico Jack playing at Occupy Bath

We found it easy to get our stories into the local paper. We sent them press releases and letters every week, and every week nearly everything we sent got printed. We were the talk of the town, and a big event for Bath. They printed our statement on the Bath People's Assembly, reports of our events and letters from tent-dwellers. We even sent them our own photos, which they printed.

Towards the end of the camp, we decided that we would have to move the camp around to avoid impacting on the grass too much. The new camp was set up on the opposite side of Queen Square and we put pallets down in the kitchen and info tent to preserve the grass as best as we could.

The camp on the final morning of Occupy Bath

Bath Chronicle Articles:
Joining the union march:

Article prior to the first Bath People's Assembly:

Bath People's Assembly and moving the camp:

I'm not an anarchist...:

Occupy Bath believe passionately in democracy:

2. Bath People's Assembly

The idea for the Bath People's Assembly was initially brought up in an early General Assembly, and continued to be brought up again and again, with slight modifications, however it was during the coach journey to the National Occupy Conference that the idea really began to take shape. Over the conference weekend, we discussed it with other Occupy camps and they were generally supportive of the idea. Other Occupations were trying out their own projects, and now that we were all in the same room talking to each other, ideas began to flow. Communications between camps were discussed, and ideas were shared via our communication channels. When we returned from the conference we put our fully-formed vision for the People's Assembly to the rest of the camp. Further modifications were made (notably the change from "People's Council" to "People's Assembly") and there was also a feeling that we should set something more long-term up to continue the work we had begun at Queen Square.

So what is the Bath People's Assembly? The statement of intent is as follows:

"The People's Assembly is an independent
democratic non-affiliated body for discussion,
debate and the formulation of ideas and proposals
on local, national and global issues and policies

Its purpose is to give all people of Bath a stronger
democratic voice. It invites people of all ages,
genders, abilities, races, and religions to come and
work together to put democracy into action"

Essentially, it's a forum for people of all backgrounds to get together and talk about the issues that concern them. It is not Conservative or Labour, or left or right-wing - it is for everyone. Sometimes it really helps to hear what someone with an opposing view has to say, in an environment where they are given the opportunity to have their voice heard. From this, decisions on actions such as lobbying the council or taking action ourselves can be made, where everyone is happy with it.

The first meeting of the Bath People's Assembly took place on 2nd December 2011. It was attended by around 50 people, with only a small minority of people from Occupy Bath. We spent the first few minutes explaining what it was about and introduced people to the hand signals used in Occupy GA's throughout the world. We then handed the assembly to the people of Bath and opened the floor for discussion. There was a long, silent pause. Then, someone raised their hand and brought up an issue. This is turn led to responses, and before long we had a big debate about housing in Bath. Our first working group was formed to look at this issue in more detail. Other working groups formed that night include taxation, legal issues, international relations and an admin group. A date for the next meeting was set as 15th December. Everyone applauded at the end and the Occupy Bathers looked around at each other in amazement. Since then, several other occupations have been in contact, and are looking to start up People's Assemblies in their own cities and towns.

A website and facebook page have been set up for the People's Assembly:


3. Ending the Occupation, and Looking to the Future

It wasn't the cold. The fire was always warm and we had lots of blankets and hot water bottles and a kettle permanantly on the boil. Occupy Bath had become too much about keeping the camp going, and not enough about trying to change the world. We were all still friends by the end of it, and wanted to move forward and achieve something. The People's Assembly was a success. My opinion, that I stated many times over the 6 weeks, was that we should camp "until we come up with something better", and many felt that we had come up with something with the potential to bring about more change than the camp itself. The visual presence of the camp, and the round-the-clock space for debate was important, and had achieved much, but now we were starting to be taken seriously by people who hadn't been to the camp too. The decision was made late on Thursday night, and we put out a press release.

Taking down the camp took a good 8 hours and many hands. Occupy Bristol turned up with a van and we donated a large number of items to them. Someone also did runs to Bristol and other places with things from the camp, and others came and took their belongings home. Afterwards we all met up in the pub, and remembered the good times.

Packing up the camp
Occupy Bath will live on. Another occupation at a later date has not been ruled out, and the door is always open to anyone who didn't camp at Queen Square to set up a tent somewhere in Bath. With the strong possibility of the collapse of the Euro in the coming weeks, and the possibility of David Cameron's gamble on our position within the EU having serious repercussions for the British economy, if things get worse I can see that happening. It is also possible that even our critics may reconsider their position, once it hits them. Without a doubt, we can put our hands up and say that these are the things we have been discussing over the last 6 weeks, and we have been promoting alternatives. It's now up to the public to decide if they want to accept the situation or do something about it. The Bath People's Assembly provides a suitable place to continue these discussions and hopefully reach a wider audience. The forecast for the future may be bleak, but we have provided optimism, discussed solutions and provided true democracy in Bath. None of this, not one second of it, was a waste of our time, and we will continue to work together.

There will be a ceremony next Saturday in which we will re-seed any bare patches in the grass.

Guardian article:

Bath Chronicle article:

Standing Stone's Blog will continue to support and chronicle the Occupy Movement and the Bath People's Assembly 

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