A group of people are listening to Caroline Lucas MP discuss democracy and policy. They are listening much like any group of political supporters would do across Britain: the occasional ‘hurrah’ or murmur of assent makes for a warm atmosphere; people are attentive and appreciative. The difference here is that the group has been holding this space in Parliament Square for six days in the face of disproportionate police brutality, unforgiving weather and a considerable lack of sleep.
This is Occupy Democracy – a grassroots action stemming from the Occupy movement. The group is here to provide a visible alternative to the politics of vested interest: to try to model what real democracy could look like through a 10-day occupation of a symbolic space. With workshops, debate and shared decision-making, their programme includes days dedicated to discussing equality, the environment, war, money and tax, public services and positive solutions.
The Occupy action has gained huge solidarity and support via social media in Britain and across the world, while receiving limited coverage on the mainstream news. There are obvious similarities with Hong Kong’s ongoing civil disobedience campaign – not least the use of umbrellas for shelter – and, like in Hong Kong, action has continued despite repeated police attempts to squash it with heavy-handed tactics.
I must admit, when I first heard about the action, for a fraction of a second it crossed my mind that maybe this might have been more effective if it was held in a conference centre. Surely that would be a more suitable space for engaged and intelligent debate than a windy, exposed and police-protected square of grass? I mean, how much would we actually get done in those conditions?
But then I attended the TUC (Trades Union Congress) march on Saturday and I took part in UK Uncut’s ‘tax-dodgers bingo’. And I saw how at every Starbucks, Nero’s and Tesco on the march route there were police lining the shop-front. Who were they guarding? Whose freedoms were they protecting?
I saw how some of the protesters had been getting creative, transforming a tarpaulin into a banner that said ‘WE DIDN’T VOTE FOR FRACKING’. And I remembered again the truth: that we didn’t vote for Prime Minister David Cameron’s ever-desperate dash to drag remaining fossil fuels out of the ground in direct contradiction to our emissions reduction targets. That we also didn’t vote for changes to trespass law, or for the criminalization of ‘Occupy-style’ protests. We certainly didn’t vote for TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership set to curtail the rights of individual governments to stand up to transnational corporations). We didn’t vote for student fees, austerity and the cuts either. So, whose rights exactly is this government representing?
Considering all this, occupying a square opposite the seat of power feels entirely appropriate and necessary in response to such an ‘undemocracy’.
Read the rest on the New Internationalist blog site.
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