Saturday, 15 October 2011

The day the occupation came to town

It seems surreal to be sat at my desk typing this - my heart is still back at St Paul's with new found family and friends from today's first day of London's Occupation - Occupy London Stock Exchange.

OccupyLSX (one of the tags from twitter, and a tag being used for it on the livestream also) began at midday today.  Protestors gathered outside St Pauls, meaning to march the short distance to Paternoster Square, the home of London's Stock Exchange.

In what seemed to me an auspicious sign, my friend and I bumped into Billy Bragg on our way down, and walked there with him.  Definitely a big positive to start the protest.

The police were out in force even at the start of the march - Paternoster Square was well and truly protected, and the protest moved back to St Paul's itself.

A General Assembly began - hundreds (and actually, probably thousands) sat and stood in front of the steps of the cathedral, as small groups discussed and fed back thoughts, feelings, strategies, proposals and plans.  It was a beautiful thing - such a degree of organisation and cooperation coming from a massive crowd of people who'd never met each other before.  The common purpose and feeling of solidarity - both amongst protestors there, but also felt with those occupying and protesting all around the world, permeated strongly throughout the day.

Several working groups were formed, including those to discuss process, legal, food, sanitation and many other topics.  In my group, we discussed process, thinking about the decision making process within the whole camp, working at a way that all voices that want and need to could be heard, either through consensus or some other method.

An info point was agreed on and set up.  It is located at the corner of the cathedral - on the left hand side if you are facing it.
Its purpose: 
- to collate information from each of the working groups and feed this back to anyone visiting the info desk
- to provide a daily list of planned meetings, workshops, agendas
- to act as a way to find out what's happening around camp

The thrill of working and sharing with others determined to make this all work was only equalled by the level of positive energy, goodwill and compassion shown again and again within the camp.  People pooled resources - offering up paper, pens, tape, donating food and drink to the kitchen space that has been set up, responding to calls for volunteers instantly.

As the evening fell, police numbers swelled, and the force made their presence increasingly known.  They had gradually moved their lines in, closing in on the camp by degrees.  Following a distorted loud-speaker announcement, police lines charged into the crowd.  As protestors urged others to sit down and stay calm, police, some in hi-vis, others in riot gear, barged their way through people, not caring who was hit by swinging helmets or boots.
Their goal, it seems, was to get a line of police across the front of the cathedral.  Linking this up with the lines of police round the back and sides, they effectively kettled most of the camp.

Behind the back lines, in the space between those being kept in and the hundreds being kept out, the police also brought out attack dogs.  They seemed to want to do what they could to intimidate and aggravate*.

Despite this aggresive stance, and with some understandable unrest amongst protestors, the crowd stayed relatively calm.  People were urged to sit down, and the general assembly continued.  No matter how much they tried, the police couldn't kill the good feeling and purpose of the camp.

*In all fairness, I should note - not all the police were out to terrify.  I saw some officers chatting and joking with protestors (all the while keeping their lines tight) and most responses to any of my questions posed to officers were civil, at the very least.

In true Nigerian style, I was ordered home by my mum. he said she'd seen us on the tv.  This was when I found out the BBC reporter I'd seen earlier had done the typical BBC thing of presenting a skewed view of what had been going on, thus freaking out waiting loved ones not at the camp.

I left with a heart heavy to be taking leave of the occupation, but determined to share as much as I can, and get back tomorrow with supplies.  You can do this too: blog, tweet, share on facebook and everywhere you can think of.  Lobby local newstations and papers to cover this.  Go down to St Paul's to donate blankets, tents, food, warm clothes and anything else you can think of.

With regards to the police's somewhat aggressive tactics, I also want to point out: there was no time I felt unsafe or like things had gotten out of hand.  I felt protected by fellow protestors, and also did not witness any violence (just bullish behaviour towards the camp).  There were people there with young children.  This camp's intentions are powerful but peaceful.  Do not be scared away from bringing your support.

You can find all of my photos from today in this set on flickr. Feel free to share (under the creative commons: Attribution - non-derivative - non-commercial)

No comments:

Post a Comment