Less than 24 hours after their tents were removed from outside St. Paul's Cathedral in London, the Occupy protesters were back for their General Assembly, planning the next stage of their campaign. Earlier I interviewed supporter Tina Bakolitsa.
A new political movement was born in 2011: the Occupy movement. It began in Wall Street. Since October 15, protesters have occupied an area outside St. Paul's Catherdral in London (because of its proximity to the London Stock Exchange). The occupation has been characterised by a tent city, V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks and the effective slogan "we are the 99%". While the occupation has been the object of strong criticism ranging from "comic" mockery to hysterical condemnation, it has been very influential. Similar camps have sprung up around the country and "the 99%" has entered the political lexicon of the global left.
However, the mainstream media has only given a partial picture of the Occupy movement. And, now the tents have been removed, what will happen next?
People ask: what do they want? What do they stand for? The answer is that a range of causes have been united under the Occupy banner. Supporter Tina Bakolitsa argues that what unites the group is "in my view, a visceral revolt against the current extreme (and growing) concentration of power observed worldwide. It is an imbalance that takes many forms but is mainly visualised (and experienced) in terms of financial and political injustice. This injustice can be simply stated in the realisation that our democracies no longer represent or uphold majority interests, and includes economic, environmental and social concerns." While this is not a straightforward message, it is clearly more intelligent and complex than it is sometimes characterised by Occupy's critics.
In fact, rather than simplistic sloganeering, the movement has been engaged in detailed and academic discussion about its aims and its criticisms of modern capitalism. The Occupy camp has had a library, a "tent city university" with visiting academic speakers and free university courses. They have published their own newspaper. This aspect of their work is not reported in the mainstream press, leading to critics accusing the demonstraters of having little knowledge of capitalism or economics.
Who are the protesters? If you listen to TV comedians and Tory politicians (like Louise Mensch on Have I Got News For You) they are all wealthy, over-privileged hypocrites, fighting capitalism while sipping their Starbucks lattes and going back to warm beds at night, leaving their tents empty. Tina Bakolitsa strongly challenges this stereotype.
Since 15th October, I've encountered every possible combination of individual engagement and localisation. People living in tents and having no political interests. People not living in tents and being some of the hardest workers for Occupy London. People living in tents while also being intensely engaged in the Occupy movement. People living or not living in tents and pushing their own agendas. People in it for the limelight or to beef up their CVs. People in it to party or because it looked so cool. People in it because this was their first ever encounter with a community and because they had nowhere else to go. People with and without jobs. Students and illiterates. People with homes to go to or homeless.
She continued that many of the challenges that Occupy London has faced reflect this diversity: activists with or without internet access; reformists and revolutionaries; pacifists and those arguing for other forms of protest. Even the City of London council seemed to accept this diversity, referring to vulnerable people and homeless people effected by the eviction.
What next for Occupy London? Although Occupy's General Assembly met on the steps of St. Paul's less than 24 hours after the eviction, the centre of operations for Occupy London has moved to its other camp at Finsbury Square. It might be that future venues for occupation will be identified by Occupy's Direct Action group, but nothing has been confirmed along these lines. The term "Occupy 2.0" has been used to identify the next stage in the movement's history.
Many would like to place Occupy London in the context of pre-existing political movements. The very diversity of activists involved in Occupy means that this is not a straight-forward task. The protesters have been closely involved with industrial disputes (supporting local strike actions as well as the 30th November mass public sector strike). Politicians have engaged with Occupy. The leaders of the parliamentary left, like Ed Miliband, John McDonnell and Caroline Lucas, have all attended the camp to give speeches and support.
Although it is unclear what the immediate future has in store for Occupy London, it is quite apparent that activists see the eviction as a change, not an ending. Occupy London has succeeded in getting everybody talking about big issues: capitalism, democracy, morality in public affairs. While they continue to get people talking, they will continue to play a significant role in the politics of the UK and, with Occupy campaigns elsewhere, the World.