The Occupy movement that has spread with remarkable speed across the U.S. is coming to London tomorrow. New Left Project will be running a series of articles looking at issues of relevance to the protest, including the role of the financial system in the economic crisis, alternative ways of doing banking, and discussions of activist strategy. We begin with an interview with Naomi Colvin, an activist and organiser with Occupy London.
How have you gone about preparing for this event? And what prompted you to do so? The initial impetus for OccupyLSX was, of course, recent events in New York – which were themselves the culmination of a series of grassroots democratic movements that really began with events in Tunisia and Egypt at the turn of the year. It’s hard to see that kind of thing happening and not want to recreate it in the city you live in, as has been proven by the appearance of occupations across the US in the past few weeks. That London is Europe’s most important financial centre presented an additional imperative to make sure the Occupy movement was properly represented here.
It should be said that London is certainly not the only Occupation happening in the UK. A group of occupiers (@OccupyMCR) have been camped out in Manchester for nearly two weeks now and Saturday will see the start of actions in Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow, Bristol and Norwich to name just a few. We’ve really been staggered by the press response to OccupyLSX – but, in a way, it’s also an example of how disproportionately London is represented in national media coverage. It’s the sheer number of occupations in the US which is so impressive and we want it to be known that the UK movement goes way beyond what we’re doing in London. We want to support our brother and sister occupations in every way we can.
What messages or lessons have you taken from observing the occupy movement in the U.S.?
There are lots of practical lessons to be taken from the different US occupations: OccupyWallStreet’s media outreach – the library, the Occupied Wall Street Journal – is amazing and OccupyBoston have learned a lot from the arrests that happened there earlier in the week. The great thing is that links are really being fostered between all these different branches of the movement and those lessons are being actively shared. In some ways, it’s a similar situation to what happened earlier in the year where Tunisian activists were in contact with their friends in Egypt with very practical advice about how to manage large demonstrations.
It’s also worth saying that it’s not only the US which is providing us with valuable practical guidance. Occupy Melbourne’s website is a model of its kind. We’re also extremely fortunate that London is such a cosmopolitan city. A certain proportion of the people who have been working very hard on OccupyLSX have direct experience of the Spanish Real Democracy movement. It’s hard to overestimate how important that experience has been to us in our planning.
What do you hope the London occupation will achieve?
As with the other Occupy movements, it is up to London’s General Assembly to define the aims of the occupation. Those who are working on this project at the moment are really just getting to the point where the General Assembly can take over – and we should reach that point on Saturday.
The General Assembly is open to anyone who wishes to take part in it, and enabling people to experience this kind of consensual decision-making is in fact a major part of what the Occupy movement in general is about. I think we would all like to see people meeting, debating with and educating each other and sharing their thoughts and experiences. Beyond that, it is really for the General Assembly to decide.
Why should people show up on Saturday? Why now? And why the Stock Exchange?
Those of us who are working hard on this event come from many different backgrounds. Some of us have been involved in activism before, in the UK and elsewhere, and some of us are completely new to this. But we all share a general concern about the role the financial services industry plays in this country and around the world. We’re concerned about the circumstances that led up to the financial crisis in 2008 and how things were allowed to fail so badly. We’re also concerned about the amount of public debt that has been taken on in the wake of the crisis – and particularly who will be affected by the measures that are being taken in order to pay back that debt. Some of the most vulnerable members of our society are being impacted, and even those in good jobs are finding things much tougher. Young people in the UK are facing the highest unemployment rates since records began.
Finally, we’re all concerned about the measures government is taking to prevent the crisis of 2008 happening again. We’re not sure that effective measures have been taken. This is worrying because it suggests that government might not be able to protect us, the 99%, in the way it should be doing.
The momentum that has been developing behind OccupyLSX suggests that there are a lot of people out there who feel similarly and want to do something about it. The most pervasive lie we are told is that we are powerless. The second most pervasive lie is that economic matters are beyond the understanding of the average person. By coming to the London Stock Exchange, people can give the lie to all that. They can take back the initiative and start talking about – and maybe even working towards – an alternative, in an area (both in terms of geography and of policy) where we are very used to being told there is none.
Naomi Colvin is a supporter of Occupy the London Stock Exchange (@OccupyLSX)