Last week my girlfriend and I spent a night camped out at St Pauls. Obviously having jobs and lives outside activism we were not able to stay there indefinitely, so spending one night there seemed an easy way for a pair of lightweights to support the cause and salve our consciences a little.
What did we find there? Well, this isn’t some patronising ‘aren’t these young people wonderful’ Gruandiad-style piece nor an Evening Standard demolition job. Overall, I’d say I found the experience invigorating and inspiring. My hat goes off to all the main organisers. They still hold the upper hand in the propaganda battle and have already achieved a great deal – for one thing, they have already been there longer than their comrades in New York.
But I wonder if their major weakness might be the ‘come in come all’ stance they’ve adopted. To put it bluntly, Occupy London XS seems to have attracted a number of people with serious mental health problems. Some of these are homeless, others are clearly drug addicts or alcoholics. My girlfriend was followed round during the morning by an crackhead who said he used to be a member of the IRA. We met one girl whose tent had been stolen and there were various other stories of theft. We also encountered other individuals, some of whom lived on the street and were clearly in serious need of professional help but had been attracted to St Pauls like flies to amber. Perhaps it was the free food and tea. Hanging around the enampment there were clear signs of alcohol being consumed and spliffs being smoked, in clear contravension of the ‘no drugs or alcohol’ signs that the organisers have put up.
What do you do about this? It’s clearly a problem for the Occupy movement and one they really need to confront sooner rather than later. Do you eject people displaying signs of chaotic lives? Can you attempt to police this utopian enclave? But how? And through what sort of force? In my opinion charging people for the food and refreshments would be a start. But many would argue that that would run contrary to the anti-capitalist spirit of the camp.
I don’t have the answers but I have seen these same problems occur at social centres before. And I do know that no matter how ideal the ‘alternative’ society, some sort of class stucture usually ends up reasserting itself pretty quickly. Outcasts usually end up becoming outcasts once more. But Occupy have objectives and it would be a huge shame if these were thwarted by the wooly-minded idealism that (in my mind, at least) undermines the movement as a whole.
Talking of objectives…yes, contrary to what the majority of the media believes, Occupy London Stock XChange do actually have a number of concrete goals. Last week they offered three demands to the City of London – to publish year by year breakdowns of the City cash account, that the City be subject to the Freedom Of Information Act and that a detailed account be provided of all the advocacy undertaken on behalf of the UK’s banking and finance industries since the 2008 crash.
Now, to my mind these are not unreasonable. In fact why on earth aren’t the Lib Dems and Labour demanding these very measures themselves?