This past weekend, I had an opportunity to participate in some direct democracy in action as part of the Occupy London movement. As a student in the newly-created MA in Economics for Transition at Schumacher College, the opportunity to contribute to – not simply study – the co-creation of new forms of social, political, and economic organization was fantastically empowering.
Now entering its second week, Occupy LSX – just one of over 950 related Occupy movements across the globe – is continuing to grow and thrive based on a non-hierarchical, consensus-based model of organization. Everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, socio-economic status, religion, nationality, etc, is encouraged to participate in the decision-making processes which affect the camp. With several hundred ‘permanent’ campers (now at two sites!) and up to several thousand visitors, sympathizers and tourists interacting on a daily basis, this is quite a dynamic, evolving, sometimes lengthy, but collectively empowering process.
Roughly 200 tents occupying the square in front of St. Paul's Cathedral in London
And as several representatives of Occupy LSX beautifully expressed in the Guardian, this participatory democratic process is exactly what the movement is about. It’s not about merely producing talking points for the media to regurgitate or politicians to ignore, it’s about collectively creating an alternative way forward. It’s not solely thinking and talking about change, its about living that change.
To be sure, there is quite a lot of fruitful thinking and talking taking place at St. Paul’s as well. The Tent City University hosts a varied array of lectures and discussions on a daily basis – I participated in talks on political philosophy and practical reforms of the financial system on Sunday – and completely self-organizing working groups are exploring everything from the health and safety of the camp to recycling and waste collection to climate change to land reform.
The newly occupied Finsbury Square in London
But this is a movement built from the ground up by people taking action. As an example of how easy it is to contribute, I showed up on Saturday afternoon just after the second occupation site had been established at Finsbury Square, about a mile away from St. Paul’s. By Sunday afternoon, I had physically helped build a giant public kitchen and construct a yurt for a second Tent City University at Finsbury Square, joined a newly formed working group now called ‘Energy, Equity, and the Environment’, and helped write an environmental statement that will soon be added to the official Occupy LSX Statement.
In true democratic form, all voices are respected and given space. At the general assembly on Sunday, two members of the St. Paul’s congregation expressed anger and sadness at the Cathedral’s closure. Indeed, there has been an unfortunate lack of communication between the camp and the Cathedral in recent days, but the Cathedral’s decision to close their doors is simply not a response to health and safety concerns posed by the camp. City officials themselves have confirmed that the camp poses no direct fire threat and all entrances to the Cathedral have been kept clear.
Expressing solidarity with the movement, a retired reverend from St. Paul’s came forward on Sunday to criticize the Cathedral’s decision to close. Speaking to the general assembly, he said, “I had no difficulty whatsoever in getting to the door [of the Cathedral on Sunday]. The only difficulty I had was getting into the Church because the doors were locked.”
While these global actions may have coalesced around corporate greed, unacceptable levels of inequality and a destructive financial system, ultimately this is a revolution in how we choose to relate to one another. The communities growing up in St. Paul’s, Zuccotti Park and elsewhere are demonstrating how we can organize our relationships around something more meaningful than monetary transactions, that we can choose to base our relationships on cooperation instead of competition, generosity instead of greed, creation instead of consumption.
While it may not appear to be causing any change at the highest levels just yet, this is definitely a threat to the status quo as more and more people begin to see themselves as co-producers of their world, not just passive consumers of it. It is a non-violent and egalitarian response to a fundamentally unjust and violent system. Whether it changes the entire economic system or not, there is no doubt that it is changing people on a daily basis. And it is just one part of a much larger process of change.
These are my thoughts from the ground in London. Have you participated in other Occupy actions? Have thoughts on the movement as a whole? If so, please share them below!