I had written this article last month when I was involved in Occupy Exeter, and before it was moved from Cathedral Green. I also wrote a song for it at the time called “I can’t buy this world with gold” <- click on the link to here it in a new window.
The article may seem a little dated now, but here it is.
I have said before that I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of “protesting” myself, even though I think protestors fulfill an important role in society. As such, I didn’t initially want to be involved in Occupy Exeter. But over the weeks I’ve seen them do some amazing peaceful protest work, but also an equal amount of amazing positive action towards creating a new democracy. This includes, their amazingly democratic daily General Assembly meetings and discussions, Free University, Free Market, and daily engagement with the public to raise awareness about important social and economic issues, and much much more. They have also attracted a reasonable amount of press. Each time, the press of course prefers to focus on the negative, but none the less the exposure is getting people thinking about the issues. And so, seeing all this amazing work done by Occupy Exeter, I’ve got involved.
So much negative press about Occupy Exeter has been put out, that I’d like to even the balance by rebutting some of it, and by putting forward my own experiences of Occupy. Many judgements has been made about the camp, mainly by people who have never been to a meeting there or spoken to any of its members. I have always believed in changing the world for the better, and lived in an unusual way. However living at Occupy has for the first time given me the opportunity to be judged and abused by the general public for being the same person I’ve always been. I’ve had pensioners tell me that I’m “a disgrace and a waste of space”, heard young people shouting “GO HOME! DO SOMETHING USEFUL!” and heard parents tell their children that the camp is full of people who sit around and do nothing all day. People’s opinions of Occupy seem to be that it is full of irresponsible, lazy, degenerates, who sit around complaining as an alternative to getting on with their lives. I have to say that this is absolute rubbish, and the complete opposite of what I’ve experienced at Occupy.
Occupy Exeter is a community of amazing forward thinking people, who feel so passionately about changing the world that they are willing to put in huge amounts of effort, alongside living their normal lives. It is a mix of employed people, unemployed, disabled, students and homeless. To those who think that camping is lazy, you try living outside in the frost with no source of heat, sleeping under a massive bell that chimes every hour, getting up for work or study the next day, and still contributing to the work of the Camp at the end of it all. Some don’t got to work because they unemployed, but they are amongst our most valuable members, since they are able to maintain a daytime presence and engage with the public or press when they visit the site. Likewise, some of the homeless are amongst our most valuable members since they are a dab hand at living outside, they know how to fix things have other skills that help us enormously.
Occupy has been accused of not having a clear idea of what it’s trying to achieve, but this again is not quite correct. Clearly, Occupy is protesting about social and economic injustice, and working towards change. It is not sticking to a hard and fast list of aims and goals, but it IS taking action – lots of it. No individual member could tell you what we’re going to do next, but that is because Occupy Exeter is truly a democracy and all decisions are made by the General Assembly, which anyone can attend, and takes place every day.
I won’t go too much into the issue of the less positive homeless campers who have been involved in anti-social behavior, except to address these few points. Firstly, Occupy is portrayed as though this behavior is somehow part of the the protest, when in fact those involved are breaking camp rules. Secondly, much is made of the the idea that camp members may be causing trouble, but strangely no attention is paid to the general public’s irrational and sometimes violent behavior towards the camp. This includes an incident last year when fireworks were fired at the camp at 2am, and one firework went into a tent that someone was sleeping in. That sort of thing is left unmentioned. Instead, people talk about the camp as if all that ever happens there are fights and drunkenness, which is exactly the view that the media have been portraying – well done media: It’s worked.
However, here is a link to one of the reasonably balanced pieces of media: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-16587701
There are a couple of other criticisms I’d like to address. Some people are angry that the camp claims to be an Occupation whilst most of the tents remain empty at night. Since getting involved I’ve therefore been determined to camp more than half of each week. I was surprised to discover that the “empty camp” idea is a myth. Each night that I’ve stayed, 3 of the 4 tents immediately next to mine have been Occupied. Some people would be out of their tents of course, on a “Tranquility Watch” shift, and one tent near mine is not slept in because it’s the “construction tent” where we make signs, but the camp is certainly not empty.
There has also been a lot of misinformation about Occupy’s relationship with The Cathedral, and this is generally portrayed as a “stand off”. In reality, the Cathedral was initially welcoming to the protestors, and representatives from both parties regularly meet to discuss the complex issue of Occupy camping on Cathedral land. I have been to one meeting myself, and witnessed that lines of communication are open and that both parties are being very reasonable and listening to each other.
Since being involved with Occupy Exeter, I have been amazed and impressed by the maturity of the community as a whole and how it approaches protesting, living, and democracy. By contrast, I have been completely shocked by the negative and judgmental streak that I have experienced from the general public, and by people’s willingness to be abusive without being informed. Occupy Exeter is a complete inspiration as a community and as a set of individuals.