There was a point, during yesterday’s Occupy protest in the City of London, with hundreds of people flowing down High Viaduct from Holborn Circus, high above Farringdon Street, and heading towards Newgate Street, Cheapside and the Bank of England, when there was a real power to the message that protestors around the world are sending to their leaders, and to the bankers and corporations they serve — that their greed is still the problem, and that austerity targeted at the poor, the young and the disabled is unacceptable and unforgivable.
With a mobile sound system pumping out pounding militant dub music, there was, for a while, an energy surge that reminded me of the spirit of creative dissent that was such a feature of Britain when I was younger — in the free festivals of the 1970s, the class war of the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher took on the miners, the travellers and the printers, and the late 80s and early 90s, when the free party movement and the road protest movement emerged, and when, most resonantly in an urban context, the theatrical activists of “Reclaim the Streets” started a global movement of occupying high streets in cities around the world.
In the late 90s, until the universal distraction of the “war on terror” conveniently took over, allowing Western governments to clamp down more heavily on the civil liberties of their citizens than ever before, the anti-globalisation movement brought together all the elements of the dissenters from the 60s onwards — anti-capitalism, environmental activism, social liberalism, all driven by utopian, revolutionary and anarchist impulses — which are largely reconfigured in the current movement for global change.
Noticeably, however, a crucial new addition is the wreckage of the global economy in the wake of the economic crash of 2008, a disaster created by the banks and their lackeys in government, and a crime so monstrous and so huge that many people — additionally distracted by the wholesale greed and materialism and self-absorption of the last 15 years in particular — are unable to grasp its scale and significance. This is in spite of the fact that the rich continue to accrue monstrous wealth, and that governments, with a straight face, dare to punish ordinary citizens from almost all walks of life — but especially the poor, the young, the unemployed and the disabled — with crushing, grinding austerity that could be avoided if the rich were made to pay their share, the real criminals were punished, and the vast, dubious debts and losses which have begun to cripple countries in Europe — particularly Greece and Spain, at present — were all written off and the financial sector was actually regulated.
The solidarity that I glimpsed yesterday in London, and that unites protestors worldwide, is something that the Occupy movement has had since its beginnings in Zuccotti Park in New York, where Occupy Wall Street started last September, and it is clearly not something that has been crushed by the sometimes violent eviction of the Occupy camps in numerous US cities at the end of last year, and the eviction of Occupy London outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, in February this year.
The Occupy movement was profoundly influenced by the revolutionary uprisings in the Middle East last year, and particularly the huge crowds that gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square last January and February — and which have regularly returned, despite the ongoing brutality of the military council (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces), which held onto power after Hosni Mubarak was deposed, and whose instincts are at odds with the pressure for real democratic change.
In turn, the protestors in the Middle East inspired the indignados of Spain, another profound influence on the Occupy movement, and the protest in London yesterday — and another planned for Tuesday outside the British Bankers’ Association in the City of London — was part of a global day of action, or, more accurately, four days of action from May 12 to 15, to mark the first anniversary of the indignados‘ occupation of public spaces throughout Spain, including a massive encampment in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square, where tens of thousands of Spanish citizens camped out last May, and where, yesterday, similar numbers turned out again, to occupy the square, while protests also took place in dozens of other cities across Spain.
In Spain, in particular, the protestors are demanding practical solutions to their version of the economic crisis, which has only become worse in the last few months, through a savage austerity program imposed by the new government, even though austerity can only make worse an already catastrophic economic situation, in which 1 in 4 are unemployed and youth unemployment stands at 50 percent. This is a disaster that only economic stimulation — probably, as in Greece, through leaving the Euro and allowing Spain to have power over its own currency, letting it devalue and become competitive again — will achieve, along with a wiping out of illegal debts accrued during the global and pan-European orgy of predatory or reckless lending over the last decade.
This “Global Spring” — which involved other protests throughout Europe, and in Russia, South America and the US, including Chicago, where a People’s Summit has been taking place this weekend, to prepare for a NATO Summit attended by the G8 leaders on May 20 and 21 — was planned and coordinated by the indignados and by activists worldwide involved with the Occupy movement and Take the Square, and other groups in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and I recommend anyone interested in how the movement is developing to read the “Global May Manifesto” that was issued last week, after four months of input from activists all round the world.
Yesterday, I posted photos from outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, and below (and above) are photos that I took at Holborn Circus and outside the Bank of England. I’m happy for readers to use them, although if you do, please credit me, and provide a link to this website.
Campaigners at Holborn Circus during the Occupy protest in London on May 12, 2012, as part of a global day of action against the governments, bankers and corporations that continue to profit at the expense of the 99 percent, despite having caused the global economic crash of 2008 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Police reinforcements arrive at Holborn Circus during the Occupy protest in London on May 12, 2012, as part of a global day of action against the governments, bankers and corporations that continue to profit at the expense of the 99 percent, despite having caused the global economic crash of 2008 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Campaigners arrive at the Royal Exchange, opposite the Bank of England, during the Occupy protest in London on May 12, 2012, as part of a global day of action against the governments, bankers and corporations that continue to profit at the expense of the 99 percent, despite having caused the global economic crash of 2008 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Campaigners, watched by police, at the Royal Exchange, opposite the Bank of England, during the Occupy protest in London on May 12, 2012, as part of a global day of action against the governments, bankers and corporations that continue to profit at the expense of the 99 percent, despite having caused the global economic crash of 2008 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
The police watch campaigners at the Royal Exchange, opposite the Bank of England, during the Occupy protest in London on May 12, 2012, as part of a global day of action against the governments, bankers and corporations that continue to profit at the expense of the 99 percent, despite having caused the global economic crash of 2008 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Campaigners at the Royal Exchange, opposite the Bank of England, during the Occupy protest in London on May 12, 2012, as part of a global day of action against the governments, bankers and corporations that continue to profit at the expense of the 99 percent, despite having caused the global economic crash of 2008 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Richard Osbourne wrote:
Where was this on the news??
The mainstream media didn’t really engage with it, Richard. It was an add-on to reports from Spain, where there were a lot more people, and mostly the mentions of the London protest were of 11 or 12 arrests, which was pretty irrelevant. I suspect the mainstream media has largely decided to move on from Occupy, which would be a shame, but it won’t destroy the impetus to call for change and to work out how to try to achieve it. I think Occupy London had some great stuff on the financial crisis on the “Meet the 1%” guide, and on their website: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2012/05/12/occupy-london-plans-a-multitude-of-actions-on-global-days-of-protest-may-12-and-15-2012/
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I’m sharing this, Andy. I Dugg it a few minutes ago.
Thanks, George. Much appreciated. I didn’t see any reportage mentioning what happened everywhere around the world, which is disappointing, and I haven’t had time to look into it. What I have seen is quite a lot on Spain, bits on London, and brief mentions of protests in Moscow, Belgrade and Berlin and Frankfurt. More would be good.
Toia Tutta Jung wrote:
Andy, how can this movement keep its legitimacy if only a few hundred people show up for a protest? Or am I missing something here, because as you mentioned, mainstream media will not show anything about Occupy – my point is, I believe it´s time to go on with another kind of protest, the kind that has some economic effect on the 1 %…
I don’t know the answer, Toia, when the question is: why do too many people in London and the UK not believe that it’s worth taking to the streets, when there’s no viable political party to elect either? That seems like a dismal sort of resignation to me.
In Spain and Greece, where the true nightmare is comprehensible every day, with 50 percent youth unemployment, and, in Greece, the most savage sort of austerity, people are trying to effect change in larger numbers – with the indignados movement in Spain, and with increasing numbers of people voting for a radical left coalition in Greece.
I agree that new inititatives are required, and am trying to get involved in various actions, which I hope to announce in due course. From what I can see though, the first steps to truly effect change need to be on a local basis, through community actions and pressure on local government, and from there on central government.
The grand public gestures are useful if people turn out in large numbers, but at present the various forms of dissent on the left seem to be much more fragmented than they were a year ago, which is rather dispiriting, of course, although, on a more positive note, the opposition to the prevailing narrative about capitalism has been under such pressure for the last 30 years that no one should think that viable forms of opposition would be easy to achieve. For many, the conversation only began last year …
Mike Price wrote:
Failure to support any political party candidates due to disgust with party leadership failure will result in good individuals being tossed out and folks like the Corpublicans, Teahadists and Nazis getting into office like here in the USA…
Thanks, Mike, although I think there are similarities in how the systems work in both the US and the UK, even if the components are somewhat different, so that most of the voting tends to involve relative small swings that shift the winners from one party to the other at election time – sometimes every four of five years, sometimes every eight or ten. Neither of the main parties are that much different anymore, although the Republicans/Tories are always worse than people tend to recall when they’re not in power. And they’re getting crazier as time goes on, that’s for sure, but the Democrats/Labour aren’t significantly different. They’re all the parties of vested interests.
Mike Price wrote:
Time for new blood…not yet tainted and which cannot cause cross contamination…same here…
Toia Tutta Jung wrote:
There´s no such thing as new blood. We all carry an inheritance, social, biological, economic. We have to deal with it. We have to learn to control our ego and really have focus on what´s important. We can change our behaviour and decondition, but you don´t do that repeating old romantic strategies that please some people´s egos and do nothing but guarantee no changes at all – very safe for the elites. I believe that everything that´s happening is predictable and allowed by those who are in charge of controlling things. There´s no way that the same kind of action will have the same outcome in different places. The situation is very serious in Greece and Spain and these are two of the most politically engaged people in Europe. I think that the most efficient way to really change things at this point is to rethink how we deal with our money. Or our debt, because that means a lot of profit for the banks, so people should be aware that even when they owe money to the bank, they still have the power to decide, who gets the interest on their debt. My point is, there was a lot of talk about “moving your money” at some point, that idea got somehow lost among many other ideas that don´t seem to be changing anything.
Thanks again, Mike. That’s how how I see it. Essentially a new movement required, which those involved in old failed models are free to adopt so long as they jettison the baggage.
Toia, I don’t think you’re right about the apparent futility of public demonstrations of dissent, as they have a social angle that is important for human beings – and perhaps especially so now that we spend so much time alone at computer screens.
However, you’re also correct to point out that this alone won’t change things, and to ask why people aren’t focusing on taking control of their money – or their debt. Perhaps most people have essentially been conditioned to think it’s too radical to move their money to – for example – credit unions.
Perhaps there’s a whole avenue of creative opposition to the damaging status quo that isn’t even being considered – a genuine people’s bank, of the people, for the people, for example – which can operate ethically, but still generate returns.
I’m wondering how a company like Ecotricity fits into this, as they are essentially generating green income running the most ecologically sound electricity and gas supplies in the UK, as a company, a business – but perhaps that model is a good basis for a green bank. Perhaps it’s time to talk to 38 Degrees about it.
Thanks, Lotus. Link TV is news to me, but I’m very familiar with RT. On Guantanamo and torture, they provide the kind of coverage that the mainstream US networks largely ignore, and feature people like myself and my colleague Jason Leopold!
GREAT! Important piece to get up there and get people to see.
Too many people hang up on this idea of “anarchy” when one says it is a “leaderless movement” – MSM play that so much. Even a few of the less Right leaning publications attack the anarchists in the movement and paint the entire movement with it.
Thank you, as always, for bringing the story back to the forefront. It is important to get the history known as it becomes a legend of the people.
You’re welcome, cosmicsurfer. Thanks for the constant support, and the understanding that I’m trying to do my bit in opening up some perspectives on the issues I write about that aren’t discussed enough.
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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