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Where are we going?
In Bristol today I passed, once again, the Occupy camp, located on College Green which, if the news is to be believed, is land certainly not owned by the camp. It is a fairly largish open space opposite the council offices and Bristol Cathedral and Park Street. It's popular in the summer and pleasant all year around.
The camp isn't pretty, there's no denying that - even if that is a somewhat middle class perception. The ground is going to suffer having been reduced to a lot of mud. There are a fair number of tents with constructed buildings in between as well as a couple of portaloos. I'm sure it's none too warm either.
The residents all too easily fit the dropout profile; once they would have been called new age travellers (correctly or otherwise) as well as crusties (even if they don't all have dreads). Of course that's just a superficial thing. I'm sure they represent all manner of people and views. Broadly speaking I share their views; it's all too easy to think the way the media want to think and to counter them on their terms.
Yet I'm not sure what I really feel about this. As I've said before, I support their aims. I want to see an end to capitalism, competition and the crass consumer nightmare we have been living in. It clearly isn't working and it's clearly not going to change under the current political machinery, left or right (because the current left is not really any less right). it's a battle for the centre dictated by the likes of the Mail, the Sun and the Express with facts replaced by hysteria and lies.
I come from what can only be described as a middle class environment. I can't change that, it's part of me. Those that live here, even though the Mail is a disproportionately popular news organ, are not the enemy, they are just ignorant. That's not surprising. So when confronting the likes of the Occupy movement it's easy to be sniffy because it's something new and perhaps threatening - even if just to the grass beneath.
I find myself looking through two different eyes as I behold this movement and this camp in particular. One view is that of the middle class: I see the dirty camp that resembles a stereotypical traveller camp, for instance, I see the dogs on string and I wonder just what is being achieved or what will ever be achieved.
The other view is more positive and more forgiving. I see people, with all their issues and imperfections, sharing a common aim, no matter how lofty, just trying to find a new and healthier space for society. These are baby steps for a better world. They may not succeed, but god loves a trier, so they say.
Again, it is easy to be critical by thinking the way the media, such a huge force in all our lives nowadays, wants us to. So in offering this critique it behoves me to offer alternatives, and I have two:
Firstly, I do think the movement suffers from a lack of direction. Where is it heading? Can it really stay in these occupied spaces indefinitely? Come next summer, if they remain, I think they will find a lot of opposition from ordinary people who want to also use that space and that would be extremely counter productive. How do they seek to achieve their goals? Is it merely an exercise in raising awareness?
To that end I wonder if they would have been better moving into an empty building, like a squat, and creating a more concrete, so to speak, presence, rather than a grubby looking outdoor camp. Turn such a building into a working clean establishment and I think that would impress more people. A haven for people that want to build a better future that can spread. The current camp can't really spread. What would happen if they had enough people to occupy all of College Green? Where then? If they took up the entire space they'd have been moved on weeks ago. There's no way the public would have tolerated that, for better or worse.
Secondly, I think the real weapon that we have to build a better future is massed peaceful civil disobedience. Strikes are not enough, but the unions don't have the stomach for a greater degree of unrest. This doesn't have to be violent, nor should it be. I think this is the only way we can get the powers that be to listen. If we all down tools they have to listen.
The power is in our hands.
So, while I watch these camps with much interest, I really do think that their fuzzy nature and the lack of overall direction is going to be detrimental long term. It is important that this movement goes from strength to strength, and that's how I think it can achieve this.


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