[This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.]
At Occupy the London Stock Exchange, the obsession with empty tents and health and safety regulations which has persisted since the camp came into existence appears to have finally given way to more serious discussion. This has no doubt been assisted by the pause in legal action from St Paul’s and the City of London Corporation, with a tentative offer now on the table which would allow the camp to stay put until the new year.
However, casual observers frequently complain of their difficulty understanding the occupations currently springing up in more than 900 cities across the globe. The protesters are described in much of the mainstream media coverage as anti-capitalists, yet many would argue that this definition is far too narrow. The political views of those within the movement appear to span a comprehensive spectrum, with many simply wishing to register their opposition to the contemporary incarnation of ‘bad’ capitalism which has wreaked so much havoc since the crash of 2008. In the aftermath of triumphant neoliberalism, ordinary people are being forced to suffer the consequences of risks taken by those recklessly gambling with the global financial system.
Whilst the coverage of #OccupyLSX is at times frustrating for those within the camp attempting to get their message across, I don’t believe we should be too surprised that corporate media – primarily funded by corporate advertising – isn’t doing a great job of representing what are essentially anti-corporate demonstrations.
The protester’s demands may be vague – although some entirely sensible ones do exist – yet I see no reason to use this weakness as a stick with which to beat the occupation. Our criticism should be muted further if we recognise that our traditional political establishment – the coalition and its Labour opposition – have both proved themselves to be wildly ineffective in devising solutions to a financial crisis which still holds the potential to tip the country back into a deep recession.
The openness and inclusion of the various occupations is – as one might expect – both a strength and a weakness, yet the organisers have demonstrated considerable PR savvy, gaining legal representation and operating a media tent to deal with enquiries from the press. Their slogan of we are the 99% is both easy to digest and media-friendly. Yet even this has its problems, being slightly contentious from a statistical perspective.
Further public relations challenges lie ahead, particularly with Remembrance Sunday just around the corner, although so far no convincing reason has yet been posited as to why disruption to proceedings cannot be avoided.
Despite major hostility from some sections of the media, almost every opinion poll demonstrates public support for the aims of the movement, even if some may disagree with the specific tactics being used, or with the camp itself.
So what happens next?
Unlike those currently adding their names to government e-petitions, those camped outside St Paul’s, along with similar occupations across the globe, have become difficult to ignore and are now starting to influence mainstream political debate in the manner originally intended. In the US, support for the occupy movement has increased still further as the public have been informed and educated on its aims.
The concerns of the protesters – anger with taxpayer-owner bailed out banks, frustration with 49% pay rises for FTSE 100 directors whilst many are losing their jobs and concerns with the effect of government cuts on vulnerable groups – are shared by a significant proportion of the population across the political spectrum and it’s therefore crucial to emphasise these grievances wherever possible.
The protests have also successfully directed attention towards organisations and institutions who I fear would rather have remained out of the spotlight, such as the unaccountable and undemocratic City of London Corporation, whom many are now learning about for the very first time, myself included.
Whilst the protesters are determined to avoid the threats to their continued existence, when protesters do eventually leave the site, this certainly does not have to signify the end of the movement. As Noam Chomsky wrote back in 1993:
If you go to one demonstration and then go home, that’s something, but the people in power can live with that. What they can’t live with is sustained pressure that keeps building, organisations that keep doing things, people that keep learning lessons from the last time and doing it better the next time.
Change doesn’t happen overnight and persistence will be key to success. The tents will eventually disappear, but the knowledge acquired and the connections made during the time at St Paul’s will remain as valuable building blocks for the future.