Saturday, 31 March 2012

Occupy Bath - Move Your Money Street Theatre


That's right - Occupy Bath is still alive and well, and had a lot of fun today with some street theatre in Bath City Centre.

Three money bags danced around outside the "Big 5" high street banks and also in our spiritual home of Queen Square. We all took turns wearing the bags (which were see-through) and danced around to a selction of folk, indie and rock music, handing out flyers on the Move Your Money campaign and the B&NES Council Move Your Money petition. We generated a lot of interest and were only told to move on once, by Lloyds. We made sure that the bank staff had flyers about our campaign before moving onto Santander, just a few shops up. RBS had closed by the time we got there, so we had plenty of time to dance around outside there and spoke to a lot of members of the public.

A video camera was present throughout the day - the video is here: http://standingstonesblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/occupy-bath-move-your-money-street.html


We certainly attracted a lot of attention and hopefully made people think about who they bank with. The "big 5" - RBS (which owns Nat West), Lloyds, HSBC, Barclays and Santander speculate on food prices, avoid tax through tax havens, invest in oil, nuclear and other polluting industries (including tar sands extraction in Canada and Madagascar which has destroyed rare habitats and poisoned drinking water), pay themselves huge bonuses for failure, and of course some - in particular RBS - were a key player in causing the credit crunch. The alternatives? Local Credit Unions and ethical banks and building societies, such as the Co-operative, Triodos and Nationwide. More info on the Move Your Money campaign is here: http://www.moveyourmoney.org.uk/


You can sign the petition to get B&NES Council to Move Their (Our!!!) Money from Nat West to an ethical bank here: http://democracy.bathnes.gov.uk/mgEPetitionDisplay.aspx?id=5

Occupy Bath will next be appearing at the Visions for Change event on 28th April at the Friends' Meeting House, York Street, organised by the Bath People's Assembly. More info on the events tab here: http://www.bathpeoplesassembly.org/

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Occupy Bath - Forthcoming Action

That's right - back in December when we packed up our lovely little camp in Queen Square, we said, and I quote, "This is only the beginning." Always true to our word, we have a few things lined up.

This Saturday we will be bringing some light-hearted costumed street theatre outside the non-ethical banks in Bath - we're talking about the ones that messed up our economy and are involved in the arms trade and fossil fuels. The full press release is below:

"As grass re-grows on Queen Square, Bath, left immaculate when the Occupy Bath encampment voluntarily vacated on December 10th, the movement is springing back into public view in central Bath.

On Saturday 31st March, at noon, veterans of Occupy Bath will begin a bank-crawl, visiting the pavements outside Bath’s Big Banks with street theatre urging customers and passers-by to “Move Your Money!”


Living money bags will bounce to jolly money music while Occupy Veterans distribute fliers with a serious message. These remind readers that the financial crisis since 2008 is the result of out-of-control banking, and that three years later, practically nothing has been done to change the system.


Lin Patterson said, “These banks speculate on food prices, avoid tax through tax havens, invest in arms, oil, nuclear and polluting industries while paying themselves absurd bonuses. Yet we are not helpless--we can vote with our feet and move to real alternatives now, such as the Bristol Credit Union which covers Bath and offers a current account, savings and loans, among others like the Cooperative Bank or Bath Building Society. Today is about taking the first step in exploring how you can move your money. See the ‘Move Your Money’ website for starters. ”


The Occupy Bath Veterans also support the B&NES Council - Move Your Money Petition , an e-Petition which anyone who lives, works or studies in the area can sign on the B&NES website, calling for the council to move its money from NatWest, which is owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, to a more ethical bank, better representing the needs of the public, as other councils have done.


The Street Theatre begins in front of NatWest Bank on High Street at noon, before moving on to other Milsom Street banks."


But that's not all. Since we packed up camp, various Bath Occupiers have been very busy. Back in January we had a reunion in Queen Square, covered here. Occupiers have also been partaking in organised debates and talks on the Occupy Movement, and one of us recently attended the Occupy South West conference in Newton Abbott last weekend - see here for the statement on this conference. Many of us have continued attending the Bath People's Assembly meetings (which since its inception has been open to all people of Bath to discuss the matters they want to, and is not specifically for Occupiers and Occupy supporters) and Occupy Bath has endorsed the petition calling for the council to move their money from Nat West to an ethical bank like the Co-op or Triodos


Occupy Bath have confirmed that they will join the growing number of forward thinking organisations and campaigns at the Visions for Change event in Bath on Saturday 28th April, organised by the Bath People's Assembly. More on this in a future post, and more details can be found on the events tab on the Bath People's Assembly website.


Standing Stone has also written an article on the Occupy Movement for the U-Know Section of the website of the forward-thinking musician, antiquarian and author Julian Cope - read it here:


Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Rise of Alternative Media

"They’re occupying Wall Street, I’m occupying this taxi. And I will come here every day 'til things change” – Mark McGowan (The Artist Taxi Driver), 25.9.11

Sign at Occupy Bristol
It was the second weekend of Occupy Bristol. The camp was now fully operational, with a kitchen, a fire (in a metal wheelbarrow), sofas, chairs, notice boards, a tipi, an information tent, a first aid tent and signs everywhere “Listen to us or we’ll Occupy the Olympics!”, “People before profit!” and “Earth belongs to us, not corporations!” The buzz round the camp was incredible – it felt like we had already changed the world. I volunteered in the kitchen that evening and along with a few others made a vegetarian curry for over 50 people using only a small torch and a couple of camping stoves (and nearly burnt down the kitchen tent in the process…). While waiting for the rice to boil, I was asked to help set up a screen, tied between two trees – tonight was video night. Someone turned up with a laptop and a projector and as we were serving out dinner they got it going with a variety of informative Youtube clips, interspersed with the occasional music video (anyone who didn’t know “I’m on a boat” by The Lonely Island certainly did after that night). Just as I was passing round the last few plates, it came on.

Setting up the video screen at Occupy Bristol
A video of a 40-something man with shades in a car talking about how messed up this country is, followed by a tirade of anger and swearing directed at the government. It got everyone’s attention and there were applauds by the end of it. Several more of his videos were played that night, and each time people watched and listened. It was entertaining, and the anger expressed was both justified and resonated with the feelings of many there. I asked someone later who he was, and they replied "The Artist Taxi Driver. He does loads of videos." Since then I’ve become a regular follower of his videos – sometimes sombre, lamenting all the shit in the world, sometimes funny and sometimes loud, angry and shouty - but always relevant. It was at this moment I realised more needed to be done in telling the story from the point of view of an Occupier, and a week later Standing Stone's Blog was born. There were already other blogs out there, including the "official" Occupy LSX and Occupy Bristol blogs, as well as pieces on It's Not a Zero Sum Game and A Way to Home, but much more needed to be said and experiences needed to be recorded.

Due to a campaign calling for him to run for Prime Minister, The Artist Taxi Driver released this following right on manifesto video:
This Artist Taxi Driver is just one example of current independent alternative media. There's a number of blogs and alternative news sites that I follow, and I speak to a lot of people in real life involved in various campaigns who I consider to be "in the know" on certain subjects. The internet is a revolutionary tool for spreading news. Indymedia is a favourite site, where campaigners are free to tell their side of the story without the spin put on it by the mainstream press (for instance, see how the headline of this letter to the Bath Chronicle was corrupted from the letter in order to give a negative view of anarchists). The blogger Marcus Moore wrote a series of blogs entitled Occupying the Mind, which were full of insights and explored the possibilities of the movement - food for thought for all those involved. For years I've been following Julian Cope's monthly Address Drudion blog, and more recently Dorian Cope's radical history blog On This Deity, not just because I'm fan of the music, but because they both give insightful and refreshingly honest opinions and reports on current and historical events, often from personal  experience of having been involved in various protests such as the G20 and Newbury Bypass. Other favourites include Contemporary Anarchist, which writes a lot about the problem of the fascist English Defence League (EDL), Bristling Badger, which reports on activism and environmentalism, and Anonops Communications, which reports on Anonymous, as well as The Shittro, written by another Bristol/Bath occupier (who will be reporting on the upcoming Occupy South-West conference in Newton Abbott next weekend). These are just a few of my favourites, but out there is a whole world of first-hand accounts and alternative perspectives on the world that are well-worth the effort in seeking out.

In the last six months we've seen media blackouts, distortions of the truth and complete misrepresentation regarding Occupy and other protest movements, and often it's only through alternative media channels such as blogs, vlogs, alternative websites, word of mouth and social media that the real stories are being published. It's not a new problem either. Back in December, the BBC reported that the council would be sending in teams to clean the Georgian square - it is likely that they were deliberately trying to paint us in a bad light, as they have done with the Occupy Movement since it started. Through writing our own version of the story and engaging with other independent news sources, we were able to get across the message that we had cleaned it ourselves. This morning I woke up to a tweet about armed police with machine guns being present at a peaceful Save Our NHS demonstration yesterday. I checked all of the mainstream news sites and found no reference to the demo or the guns. Shortly afterwards, The Artist Taxi driver released a video talking about just this:
I don't ever rely on just one source for my news, so I did a bit more digging and found a blog post containing the chronology of yesterday's events and photographs of the police here, and promptly spread this around the internet. If the press aren't going to report on the news, or if they do they are going to misrepresent and twist words, we've got to do it ourselves.

The popularity of the video camera, and the availability of digital video cameras and mobile phone cameras has enabled normal people to film events as they unfold. The real brutality of the police and security in protests throughout the years has been caught on camera, not least the arrests and violence in Zuccotti Park (Occupy Wall Street) yesterday. Within minutes these can be on the internet showing people at home and on their laptops and mobile phones what's happening on the front line.


If you're involved in anything at all, get the news out there. Setting up a blog, Youtube account or a website is easy these days and there's tools available to help you. Spread the news of what's really going on far and wide, and speak to people in real life too. Produce books, pamphlets, newsletters and get the word out. We need to counteract the claims of the mainstream news sources with corporate interests and political ties, and people like the Murdochs at the helm, and speak to each other about what's going on. A new people-based media is rising, and they're afraid, which is why moves to censor the internet such as ACTA, SOPA and PIPA are threatening our freedom to do so, and why we must fight them. 



Saturday, 17 March 2012

Occupy Bath - Links, News and Resources

Here are all the links I know of relating to Occupy Bath - it's incredible how much has been written about our small camp! Hopefully this will be of general interest to those at Occupy Bath and the rest of the Occupy Movement, and also to researchers and those who want to find out more about us.

I'll update this as more comes to light and as Occupy Bath progresses (it's not over yet, keep an eye on our Facebook page for more news, coming shortly). When I get chance, I'll scan in a few other bits and pieces. If there's anything missing, leave a comment below or e-mail standingstonesblog@hotmail.co.uk.

Note: Last updated 26/4/12

General
Petition
News Articles

Bath Chronicle (News)
Bath Chronicle (Letters)
Bath Impact
BBC
Breeze (Bath)
Guardian
Indymedia (Bristol)
Indymedia (UK)
Milk
Morning Star

Now Bath
Western Daily Press
Blogs etc.


Bath Lib Dems
Head Heritage/U-Know
Hynd's Blog
Move Your Money UK


Nicole A Murray
Occupy Bath
Occupy Bath Queens Square Web Blog
Occupy South West
Open University/Open Learn
Quakernomics
Standing Stone's Blog
Stories from Bath
The Shittro
Ursula writes
Videos

Occupy Bath

NEW Move Your Money Bath
Paul Skinner's Videos

 
Occupy Bath #1 (Interview, 1/11/11): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TQOHsfXQoQ


 
Occupy Bath #2 (Interview, 3/11/11): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-1wVmyBTi4


 


   
Occupy Bath #4 (Music Day, 13/11/11): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0GILyWI4b8&feature=related


  
Occupy Bath #5 (Public Debate, 19/11/11): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2YdE3ewhYA&feature=related


Occupy Bath #6 (Packing up camp, 10/12/11): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8es7tbKpMs&feature=related

Other Videos

Anonymous and Occupy Bath 'invade' Bath Xmas Lights (note that no-one from the camp was involved in this): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fl-iEFmxj0
 

Photography

Kilgore661 Gigapan (27/11/11): http://128.2.220.74/gigapans/93733
Kilgore661 Gigapan II (28/11/11): http://geolocator.gigapan.org/gigapans/93755

Taff's Photos: http://taffthephoto.co.uk/gallery_465342.html

Occupy Wall Street - 6 Month Anniversary

Today is the 6 month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, and the moment that the movement with roots in similar protests in Spain and Egypt that went on to become the biggest international protest movement in history, was born. 6 months ago the encampment in Zuccotti Park was set up, inspiring thousands of similar camps and demonstrations across the globe calling for financial equality, people (and planet) before profits and an end to the practices of banks, governments and corporations that have led to the current global economic crisis.

Due to this one event, an international dialogue was started on the global economy and already it has impacted on local and national policies within the US and abroad.

As well as being a suitable time to reflect on the past and the achievements and impact of the Occupy Movement, it is also time to look to the future. The global economic crisis is still going on, leading to austerity measures affecting jobs and public services. Corporations are still influencing government policies worldwide. There's much more work to be done.

Occupy Wall Street will be holding a rally in Zuccotti Park today to celebrate the anniversary. Bringing these people back together again may inspire many to take further action. Action on 1st May this year is already being widely discussed, with a General Strike in solidarity with struggles already underway to defend the rights of workers, immigrants, and other communities who are resisting oppression planned. A former employee of Goldman Sachs, a large investment bank on Wall Street has recently left the firm and criticised its' practices in the press, stating “I can honestly say that the environment [at Goldman Sachs] now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it." Occupy Wall Street are now attempting to get him on board.

Since the eviction in November, Occupy Wall Street has not gone away. There have been numerous marches, a re-taking of Zuccotti Park on New Year's Eve and the movement has been working with local communities and actively trying save jobs and homes, as well as working with other organisations and campaigns. The momentum surrounding OWS is on the rise, and a return to the streets could prove to be another peak for the movement.

After 6 months of thousands of people discussing the issues, learning and looking at potential solutions and ways forward, it is possible that we could soon be witnessing a more informed and focussed Occupy Movement in the near future. In the meantime, respect to OWS, and thanks for everything.

More news on Occupy Bath activity coming later in the month. We've been busy.

Previous post on Occupy Wall Street: The Occupy Movement - Occupy Wall Street


Further Reading

6 Ways to Get Ready for the May 1st GENERAL STRIKE (Occupy Wall Street): http://occupywallst.org/article/6-ways-to-get-ready-may-1st-general-strike/

Occupy Wall Street protests are ramping up again for spring (Nola): http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2012/03/occupy_wall_street_protests_ar.html

Occupy in America: looking back on six months of protest (Guardian): http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-news-blog/2012/mar/16/occupy-america-looking-back

Occupy Wall Street revisited (LFPress): http://www.lfpress.com/comment/columnists/lorrie_goldstein/2012/03/16/19513191.html

Denouncing duo? Occupy Wall Street seeking ex-Goldman director for Manhattan march: http://www.investmentnews.com/article/20120316/FREE/120319920

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Occupy the UK. That's at Least What The Shittro Thinks (Guest Blog)


This a guest blog from a fellow Occupier who I've known since Day 1 of Occupy Bristol, and at 18 years of age he has a better grasp of politics and protest movements than many people twice his age. His weekly newspaper "The Shittro" can be found at http://theshittro.blogspot.com/, blending relevant politics with profanity and humour. More righteous ranting from Standing Stone coming later in the month.

EDIT: Standing Stone's Blog has returned the favour by writing a piece for The Shittro: "By the people, for the people - An Introduction to People's Assemblies" http://theshittro.blogspot.com/2012/03/shittro-v6-is-here.html

Hello there, and welcome to The Shittro. The newspaper of an 18 year old Occupier who makes it his job once a week to construct a word document containing news which is always well researched and opinionated. I have decided to come out as The Shittro and explain why I think Occupying the UK is the way forward.

Every day we hear the news of cuts, privatisation, reform, war and injustice. Who is doing anything about it? No-one is. Only the Occupy movement has drawn up the resistance to so many different things under one banner. We have brought things such as tax evasion, illegal wars, inequality in society and slave labour together so we can fight a battle in which we are slowly winning. I say that because people are starting to wake up to the injustice. I've been awake to what's been happening for a while. I started in Occupy Bristol on 15th October 2011 on a bright Saturday at College Green (when it was still green). We sat there until January protesting against the corporate greed and corruption while informing people of what the reality of the world was. We met some very nice people but then we found out that not everyone agreed with our aims and decided to personally attack or harm us in some way which is fine, I mean, people can attack the people in the camp but they can't get us to go away.

The reason I occupied was because I felt it was my civic duty to do so. David Cameron talks of his ideas of Big Society, the community running things. That's essentially what we did, we ran our own community (with a little help from the public!). The fact that we were able to keep what could be described as an anarchist society running for 3 months is amazing. Nothing like that had ever been tried in Bristol before so it was great to see it work. We worked under a system of direct democracy in which everyone had a vote on issues brought before a General Assembly in which the whole camp were able to take part in. The voting was consensus decision making which had again never been fully tried on the scale that we were using it with. The most successful use of consensus decision making is when Occupy have used it. So many camps across the world have used this system and many of them are still active today! Without it, we would have come crashing down and our protest would have been ineffective.

Other things which make us effective is the way people naturally work when put into a group like this. There were people that automatically sat down and decided what they were going to do to make their part in the camp successful. I tried out for the media team at Occupy Bristol but then I found that finance was more my thing so I did that for a week. I learned how to manage finances for the first time in my life using a real organisation’s money and I had to record it all in a book and report it back every GA. People found that as a result, we were very transparent. Transparency is something we aim for at Occupy. We feel that in order to gain the trust of the public, we must tell the public what we are doing when they aren't around. People would give us donations and it was my job to record them and allocate where the money should be spent. It was then found that I did this incorrectly to the person that took over. To this day, I don't understand what went wrong with that, but the fact that I had tried and appeared to be so successful at the role prompted people to trust me with similar positions again. At the moment, I am acting as a media/networking person who relays information to and from other occupy sites about Bristol. In Bath, I don't really have a responsibility but I'll talk about that in a minute.

My role in Occupy Bath was a short one, but I quickly learned the ropes of Bath and learned how to be an effective team player. Bath was a lot smaller than the Bristol camp, having about 2/3 of the people that were on site at Bristol. Bath would often have problems with people staying over at the camp and it was the case that people had to sit by themselves manning the camp for the whole day because no one could turn up to relieve them. That kind of camp couldn't be sustained which is why we decided to close it on December 8th and had the final camp meeting to organise logistics on December 9th to pack up by December 10th.

The reaction from people at Bath was very similar to those from Bristol. We still got the abuse and the mockery although there was a different class of people at Bath. I met two students from St Brendan’s College in Bristol who came over to talk to me. They were nice guys who had come over to talk to me about why we were there. I tried explaining it but it was obvious they didn't see the full picture and had a very one sided argument about things. For example, we discussed tuition fees and a few other things. I said most universities were charging £9000 to which they claimed was wrong. They then claimed the bankers had not committed any crimes and then they claimed that the Vickers report was going to solve everything. I was not feeling up to my prime that day so I stormed off, doubting whether what I was saying was right. It turns out that I was! I counted all of the universities that were charging £9000 to which at the time was 57 which is a large majority. I then looked up the Vickers report to which it said ring-fencing between investment banks and high street banks was needed. So does that mean they were right? No, ring-fencing just means limiting the amount of money that can go through, not eliminating it meaning from 2019, the rules will just get slightly stricter. So in fact, the students were ill informed and looking for a fight, which unfortunately, they had. As I said, I do regret acting like a spoilt child, but in my defence, they were being small minded. What else could have I done if they weren't listening to me? I agreed to look these things up but when I pointed these things out to them they pretended like nothing had happened. I'm not saying I was in the right, but then again, they weren't either.

The fact is, my experience of Occupy has been to inform, persuade and argue. Three things that I am good at because I am doing A Level English Language at college. Doing it in real life to real people can be difficult when people aren't willing to listen. They claim we have the wrong end of the stick when in reality, if people do the research themselves, they would find that we are in fact the ones who are right. But people feel that they don't have to do this extra research because what they are being told is right. Well guess what, it's not right what we are being told, it stinks. It's so full of bullshit it's hard not to scream at people that believe it. It's really easy to turn around to someone and ask them 'so what's your opinion on fractional reserve banking?' They don't know obviously, but it's the fact that people don't know how the money system works which is the worrying thing. In fact, more people know who the latest singer is on the chart then they do their local MP or even who messed up the economy.

So what am I going to do about this? Well, after remembering my experiences I want to shout and scream and go blue in the face at people for not listening but I know that won't help. I will continue to offer peaceful resistance to what is going on in this country and just because a bigot tells me that I am wrong doesn't mean I am going to stop and become ignorant again. I am 18 and I am writing this stuff, doesn't that mean something? Isn't it good that I am getting off my arse and contributing to the debate? Apparently not. People would rather me get wasted so they can complain about me doing nothing rather than doing something. People that complain that I am protesting don't have a leg to stand on. They are the ones who are consenting to the government ripping us off daily and they are the ones who need to stand up and say 'this isn't right'. I don't care what your political views are, I don't care of your age, gender, sexuality, height, weight, appearance, skin colour, origin or any other feature, get out there and protest! If you understand what is happening you have to say something. If you don't, your rights are going to be eroded away like the NHS.

If you are interested in writing a Guest Blog for Standing Stone's Blog, relating to the Occupy Movement, environment, other protest movements, or your visions and ideas for the future, get in touch at standingstonesblog@hotmail.co.uk . No commercial requests please.

Previous post on Occupy Bath: Moving Beyond this Representative Democracy

Sunday, 11 March 2012

6 Ways the Occupy Movement is Continuing in 2012

With most of the camps now gone, Occupy in the UK is still very much alive and well and continuing in various different forms. Here I present six of the more successful and promising Occupy Phase 2 activities that have arisen over the last few months. I'm sure there's probably a lot more, so if you have anything you'd like to add, feel free to comment below.

1. Move Your Money
It's a simple message: Don't like the big High Street banks that gambled with our money and lend to companies involved in arms manufacturing and environmental devastation? Then don't give them any!

There are a lot of other banks and financial institutions out there who are pretty good. These include many Credit Unions and also ethical banks and building societies such as The Co-operative/Brittania, Nationwide and Triodos in the UK. For more information on the UK Move Your Money Campaign visit http://www.moveyourmoney.org.uk and for the US campaign visit http://moveyourmoneyproject.org.

Many individual Occupiers I know have already moved their money, or plan to in the near future. Also, street and social media campaigns to spread the word are being undertaken by various Occupations and individuals. Some Occupations are also attempting to persuade councils and businesses to move their money by creating dialogue with them or through petitions - see here for the petition to get Bath and North East Somerset Council to move from NatWest to an ethical bank, and also my previous blog entry Do the Right Thing - Move Your Money!

2. People's Assemblies
As well as the protest element of Occupy, there was also a strong element of working as democratically as possible. Consensus decision-making, a form of direct democracy, was used in the General Assemblies of many Occupations throughout the world, although there were those who didn't get on so well with it and much has been written by critics on the flaws of this system. But even so, I'm of the opinion that it is a good place to start, and there's nothing that says it can't be modified. What many people agree on is that this current form of representative democracy has led to corruption and hasn't always represented the people - so we need alternatives. See here for more information on consensus decision-making, and also my previous blog entry Moving Beyond this Representative Democracy

People's Assemblies don't necessarily need a camp or people opposed to the excesses of capitalism to function - they can, and by their definition, should be open to everyone. They can be successfully set up in a local area to discuss local, national and global issues, and to formulate ideas and proposals. From this, action could be taken, which may include petitions, events, dialogue with authorities etc. with the backing of a group of people who want to see changes. It's also conceivable that a representative from a People's Assembly could be elected to a council seat - or even as a Member of Parliament. If we're going to remain as a representative democracy, lets at least get people who will act on behalf of their constituents' wishes.

See the Bath People's Assembly website for an example of a successful People's Assembly, with minutes and more information (an improved website is currently in the works), and also the worldwide People's Assemblies Network website. A World to Win has an excellent article on the need for People's Assemblies here.

3. Pop-up Occupations
Easy one this - Occupy somewhere for a day, or a few hours. There's many variations of this being trialled or talked about, including temporary encampments, occupying banks, setting up a stall in town or putting up a marquee for the purposes of a gathering. Be as creative as you can - perhaps even include art, music, street theatre or costumes.

Pop-up Occupations can be used to highlight a single issue, such as a company not paying their taxes. Leaflets could be handed out or someone could give a talk on a particular subject. There could even be temporary small-scale versions of the Tent City University that was formerly the centrepiece of Occupy LSX.

So far, Occupy has largely impacted on the big cities and towns - try bringing the movement to smaller towns and villages, or places like out-of-town shopping centres and supermarkets. It's also a good idea to check who owns the land you are occupying, as these days many shopping centres and some streets are owned by a private corporation, who may send the security guards out.

Occupy Bath recently re-occupied Queen Square for a day to cook a meal - free for anyone to partake in - and to re-group - see my blog entry Occupy Bath and Bristol - January 2012.

4. Talks and Presentations
The Occupy Movement was among the biggest news stories of 2011 and early 2012, and it's still a hot topic in the news. Lots of places want to know more. Last week there was a talk on the Occupy Movement at Bath University, and just yesterday there was a debate amongst post-graduate students at Bath University, for which two of Occupy Bath attended. Occupy London had the idea of going to give talks in schools and universities - see this news article.

There are also other avenues to explore, such as debating societies, academic institutes, political parties, university societies, campaign groups, speakers' corners, religious groups and other clubs and societies.

5. Working with Other Groups, Movements and Campaigns
Occupy is a mix-bag of people from different backgrounds, and many people involved have links to other campaigns. Occupy has already forged links with other campaigns and organisations with similar views, such as UK Uncut, Move Your Money and The Quakers. Some camps have also collaborated with other groups on certain issues, often on a local level. Realistically speaking, Occupy won't change the world on its own, but by working together with everyone else that is trying to change the world, there might be a chance. Looking to the future, we would have a better chance through networking and collaborating with other groups and individuals on areas that we see eye-to-eye on.

Many organisations came down to Occupy Bath to offer their support, from local businesses to campaign organisations to political parties. I'm sure this is same for many other occupations. Those still involved in Occupy, or who want to be involved, could go and speak to them and hopefully find common ground and ways forward.

In a previous blog entry, The Ongoing War Against the Corrupt Financial Elite, I explored the concept that many protests and campaigns throughout the years and in the modern age are all fighting different battles of the same war.

6. Occupy the Vote
In America, the Occupy the Vote campaign is attempting to rid the nation of the two-party system and is supporting Independent candidates - which outnumber those running under the banner of Republican or Democrat - and attempting to eliminate the "wasted vote" mentality, which has hindered Independents and many of the smaller political parties for decades. In the UK, MPs don't actually have to keep any of their election pledges, and sometimes this is down to the three-line whip - an instruction given to MPs of a particular party by those higher up in the party, which if they do not follow, expulsion is on the cards.

Getting an Independent majority is not just a pipe-dream. On a local level, a group called Independents for Frome were able to get a majority on Frome Town Council, thus taking the control out of the hands of the big political parties and allowing the new Councillors, in their own words, to make the town "cleaner and greener" and to create "openness and involvement in decision making". Their story is an inspiring one, and I urge anyone with an interest in alternative politics to read it: http://iffrome.org.uk/past.


Further Reading:

What Has Occupy Been Up To? 6 Great Actions You Can't Miss This Spring: http://www.alternet.org/story/154411/what_has_occupy_been_up_to_6_great_actions_you_can%27t_miss_this_spring

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This is a semi-sequel to a blog entry I wrote way back in November entitled 10 Ways to Support the Occupy Movement if You're Not Camping, from which I have had a lot of positive feedback, and to this day remains by far my highest-viewed effort. I hope that this can be as useful to other Occupations as that one was.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

On Professional Protesters


The term "professional protester" seems to be applied by the opponents of almost every demonstration or protest I get involved in or hear about. When referred to as such at Occupy Bath, I decided to treat it like a badge of honour - my thought was "we're THAT good that people think we're professional!"

For the purpose of this blog, I sought out a definition of "professional protester" to use as a starting point. Unfortunately, despite finding numerous blog posts and comments on news articles using the term, the only definition I was able to find was from that treasure trove that should sit along the Oxford English Dictionary in terms of impact on the modern internet user's vocabulary - The Urban Dictionary. Here, the term is defined as:

"Any unemployed, fanatically Liberal protester, who spends an inordinate amount of time protesting the Republican wing. Often protests so frequently, they lose track of what they are actually protesting. Usually falls within the age range of 18-35. Descriptions include bad dye jobs, nasty facial piercings, and copious amounts of tacky tattoos. While adopting a "hippy-ish" style dresscode, and associated hygiene practices."

The author of this definition (who goes by the name of D. Gould) is obviously biased, but is probably not too far off the mark considering the context in which the term is usually applied.

Let's take a long look at the definition of professional. The Oxford English Dictionary (online version) has several definitions, those appropriate are listed below (the numbering is my own):

1. "In humorous or derogatory use. Of a person: habitually making a feature of a particular activity or attribute, esp. one that is generally regarded with disfavour; inveterate."

2. "Of an event, activity, occupation, etc. (now esp. a sport): undertaken or engaged in for money; engaged in by professionals (as distinct from non-professionals or amateurs)"

3. "A person who engages in a specified activity, especially a sport, as a paid occupation. Freq. opposed to amateur."

4. "Engaged in a profession, esp. one requiring special skill or training; belonging to the professional classes"

5. "That has or displays the skill, knowledge, experience, standards, or expertise of a professional; competent, efficient."

The first definition I give is the one usually applied to people who spend a lot of time protesting. It's a put-down. However, definitions 2-5 are much more positive.

Many of the people I have met on protests have been involved in other protest activities. At Occupy Bath and Bristol I met people who had been involved in the 2003 war march, Greenham Common, Stop the War Coalition, Newbury Bypass, G20, the recent tuition fees protest and many others. It is very common that you will find a lot of people at a protest who have previously been involved in other protests, and some have been involved in a lot. At a recent demonstration outside Bath City College, when Vince Cable was opening a new building, there were more than a few familiar faces. But I don't meet a lot of people who don't know what they're protesting about - more often those that attend a lot of protests know too much, and care so much, that they feel they need to make a habit of making a stand on a regular basis. I won't deny having met a few individuals who were doing it because it was cool, part of a scene or didn't quite understand what was going on, but even then I think they often learn something from others there, so I wouldn't tell them to sod off.

In America there is a popular conspiracy theory amongst some Republicans that Occupy protesters are being paid by the Democrats. See this article for an example (note the comments below), and this article for a reasoned criticism of this claim (Occupy in America have protested against Obama and the Democrats on several occasions - see here and here, and also Obama has signed the "anti-Occupy law"). As most protesters aren't being given a wage to protest, we can discount definitions 2 and 3. Long term protest camps such as Occupy, Newbury Bypass and Democracy Village did get given donations of money, food and equipment from members of the public, but this is not a wage. At Occupy Bath and Occupy Bristol we regularly received donations, with the people donating often commenting that they would be camping out if they didn't have work/kids/partner etc.

Definitions 4 and 5, on the other hand, are more relevant. They separate the newbie and the amateur from the seasoned banner-waver, the person who knows how to put up a tent and cook on a fire, the person who knows what to say to the cops and how to talk down aggressive opponents, the one with all the knowledge of the issues and the experience of many years of protesting.

Many people who support causes or who are opposed to an activity do not have the time to attend every demo or set up camp somewhere in protest against the issue at hand. Even of those that do, there is also often the fear of arrest, or being looked down upon by certain sections of society – which may include friends, family and workmates. These are the people who send in their messages of support, or drop by with some food and few quid for the collection box every now and then, and perhaps even write a letter to a newspaper. They rely on the actions and abilities of others to protest. Then there are the part-timers and the occasional protesters – those that have other commitments, but do it when they can. They rely on the professionals to organise things and keep things running while they are not around.

Professional protesters are not always hippies, and are not always left-wing and/or liberals. Back before hunting was banned in the UK, there were many people who didn't fit this description marching and demonstrating against the proposed ban on a regular basis. I never had Fathers 4 Justice down as hippies. However, as this country has long been governed by centre-right and moderately authoritarian parties, one would expect the majority of modern protestors to be mostly the liberal-left. If the Green Party ever got into power, could we expect to have Conservative voters camped outside St Paul's Cathedral or Parliament Square demanding a return to corporatism and a relaxing of green legislation? Perhaps even people chaining themselves to the cooling towers of gas and nuclear power stations about to be de-activated? Maybe calling for an increased tax on the poor?

So, after careful consideration, and in another of case of reclaiming a formerly insulting term, I’m going to redefine it:

Professional ProtesterA person with considerable experience in protesting who is often willing and able to put themselves in sometimes compromising positions in which others are not. Usually highly knowledgeable of the issues surrounding the protest and dedicated to the cause. Often a veteran of many protests and demonstrations and usually well-equipped to ensure that things run according to plan. 

Update July 2012 - The Urban Dictionary has now accepted this definition! http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=professional+protester

Standing Stone's Blog would like to express solidarity with the protesters (professional or otherwise) currently surrounding Hinkley Point nuclear power station, and it is with regret that I am not there with you.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Moving Beyond this Representative Democracy

We live in a supposedly representative democracy, where we elect officials to govern us. There's no denying that this system reflects the wishes of the people more than the totalitarian regimes in other parts of the world, some of which are not elected, others of which rig the elections. But do our elected officals truly represent us?

In Bath and North East Somerset, our elected official is Don Foster, who famously campaigned against a rise in tuition fees and then voted in favour of them. Let me tell you about the time he came to the Occupy Bath camp on one evening back in November. That night he was invited to attend a meeting about the NHS reforms, hosted by Dr Wendy Savage. Around 200 people attended. Instead he arrived at Queen Square just after dusk, and just after a talk entitled "War and Capitalism". The person giving the talk immediately recognised him and gave him a big lecture on his voting record. Looking nervous, he then said loudly - and I quote - "I have no objections to this camp." He then made promptly for the exit, commenting on the way that he had a sports event to go to. Later, when interviewed by Breeze Bath, he commented "I think it is wrong that - as a country - we support banks, not only if they get it wrong in terms of lending mortgages but many other issues. The other thing we are trying to do as a government is to try and do more to support the least well off in society." Well said Don, now some actions would be nice.

Don Foster, Bath and North East Somerset MP (Lib Dem), giving the Occupy Bath camp his approval

The following morning, scores of people turned up at the camp - Dr Wendy Savage had expressed her support for the Occupy Movement and had recommended that people come to the camp to support us and find out more. When we told them about our visitor, they were appalled. Don had the time to visit Occupy Bath on a whim, but didn't show up to a meeting he was invited to weeks ago. Of course, he knew he'd be ripped to pieces, and probably thought he would have an easier time at the camp. I'm proud that we gave him hell too.

I don't recall Don talking about NHS reforms before the election. Like all other politicians, he was elected based on a manifesto and pre-election pledges. As far as I am concerned, in a representative democracy the elected official's job is to uphold these things. Unexpected things will almost certainly arise during their term, and in which case the democratic thing to do would be to consult the people - perhaps even hold a referendum. If there really is a good case for doing what they want to do, then surely the public would vote in favour of it.

On the subject of referendums, a simple yes/no is not always the best choice. Since 1973 there have only been 11 referendums in the UK, and most have been regional referendums on devolution. The most recent referendum - on the Alternative Vote - was a shambles. Not only was the Conservative smear campaign out of hand, but even the Liberal Democrats didn't really want it. Why were we not given the option to vote for other voting systems, such as some form of Proportional Representation?

Was the war against Iraq in Labour's manifesto? No. I was among the many thousands marching in the street back in 2003, and felt disgusted when Tony Blair didn't acknowledge us. If there had been a referendum, I am in no doubt that we wouldn't have gone to war. I also don't recall being given a vote on bailing out the banks - hands up who would have voted "NO!".

Now, in 2012, we are facing a potential war with Iran, privatisation of the NHS and the police force, and cuts left right and centre. Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats won the election, so they have even less right than the previous Labour administration to go to war in our name without consulting us first. Rather than giving us referendums on the big issues that none of us voted for, they are even reducing our right to oppose them via our remaining options - the petitions service and protests.

There are many untrustworthy politicians, but even among the more honest ones there is another barrier to a true representative democracy - the three-line whip. When a party insists that all of it's MPs vote a certain way on an issue, they issue a three-line whip - which means that anyone who rebels against the party line is expected to resign from their position. So here's a scenario - what if an MP gives their constituents a vote on an issue, promising to vote whichever way the people decide. The party then issues a three-line whip requesting that they vote the other way. Through being democratic, the MP could potentially lose their job. Is this why we don't have referendums at the level of a constituency in this country?

This is 2012. We now have the technology to crowdsource and to use wiki platforms to create a new constitution (and a written one - this country doesn't even have one!) - this worked for Iceland. Let's bring in a new era using the tools we have available to us, tools we didn't have until recently, a new era where democracy is truly a government of the people and not run by elected officials who can go against the will of the people whenever they feel like it. Occupy, the Indignados, the Quaker Movement and many other groups around the world have advocated more direct forms of democracy. Let's move this forward this year, and make the old ways irrelevant.

Previous post on Occupy Bath: Do the right thing - Move Your Money!
Next Post on Occupy Bath: Occupy the UK. That's at Least What The Shittro Thinks (Guest Blog)


Further Reading
Don Foster visits Occupy Bath - http://bath.thebreeze.com/news/baths-news/bath-mp-supports-occupy-bath-113/

House of Lords report "Referendums in the United Kingdom" - http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200910/ldselect/ldconst/99/99.pdf

Guardian article on the Iceland constitution - http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/09/iceland-crowdsourcing-constitution-facebook


A major reference for the kind of democracy used in Occupy camps and by other groups worldwide - http://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/free/consensus