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19th September 2012

Happy Birthday Occupy Movement!

Since it’s birth one year ago, the Occupy Movement has spread across the world, writes Eve Fensome

Happy First Birthday Occupy Movement! We have cake (organic of course) and everyone’s hanging out down the local park for a party!

The Occupy Movement was born on September the 17th 2011 in Zuccotti Park in New York’s financial district – Wall Street. A lovechild of unknown parenthood, the occupy movement’s ancestors may include the Canadian activist group Adbusters, the Spanish ‘Take the Square’ movement and the Arab spring. While it began in America, this precocious youngster quickly spread globally and by the 9th of October 2011 was taking place in 82 different countries around the world.

Occupy Manchester began on the 2nd October with protesters setting up camp in Albert Square but later moved to the nearby Peace Gardens to allow a food festival to take place in the square. Occupy London, the annoying, bigger and flashier younger sibling of Occupy Manchester was born on the 15th of October. While occupation of the London Stock Exchange was initially planned, the land on which it is situated is privately owned so the Occupy movement set up outside St Paul’s Cathedral instead. As well as camps in Finsbury Square they occupied an office complex owned by UBS which the protesters named the ‘Bank of Ideas’ and an unused premises of Old Street Magistrates Court.

Many of us will remember the preposterous comments made by Louise Mensch when she criticized the protesters for drinking Starbucks caffé lattes saying ‘you can’t be against capitalism and then take everything it provides’ to which Ian Hislop replied; ‘you don’t have to want to return to a barter system in the stone age to complain about the way the financial crisis affected large numbers of people in the world, even if you’ve got a cup of coffee and a tent.’ Which leads us not-so-neatly onto the question ‘what does the Occupy movement actually stand for other than camping and coffee?’

The ‘Initial Statement’ made by the Occupy London protesters on the 16th October identified nine assertions. The first was: “The current system is unsustainable. It is undemocratic and unjust. We need alternatives; this is where we work towards them.”

The rest, among other things, asserted a refusal “to pay for the bank’s crisis”, a non-acceptance of the cuts and a desire for “regulators to be genuinely independent of the industries they regulate.” The sixth assertion stated “We support the strike on the 30th November and the student action on the 9th November and actions to defend our health services, welfare, education and employment, and to stop wars and arms dealing.” The eighth called for “a positive sustainable economic system that benefits present and future generations” rather than the present economic system which is “accelerating humanity towards irreversible climate change.” The final statement reads “We stand in solidarity with the global oppressed and we call for an end to the actions of our government and others in causing this oppression.”

The slogan for the Occupy Movement is ‘We are the 99%’ pertains to inequality and the Initial Statement highlights the movement’s opposition to cuts in public services as well as the financial sector. However the first statement may be key to understanding the Occupy Movement. To paraphrase ‘this is where we work towards the alternatives’.

Which is to say; the Occupy Movement is not just a protest to give voice to people’s dissent, but it is also a forum for the protesters to discuss and formulate ideas. As a social movement it is exceedingly clever in its concept, for while usual means of protesting such as marches and rallies are highly visible, they only last for a short time. Occupations, on the other hand, have a much longer presence and are also a far more impressive feat. It’s easy to go on a march for a few hours waving a placard, whereas it takes a heck of a lot of commitment to sleep in a tent in the middle of a city during winter.

The student tuition fees protest lost a lot of credibility because of the violence committed during it, even though it was probably only a small proportion of attendees, the media focused on the violence rather than tuition fees. The Occupy Movement has been non-violent from the beginning. This made it even more shocking when heavy handed police tactics were used on protesters. In America in particular the use of pepper spray and nets as well as mass arrests caused international outrage and increased sympathy for the protesters.

During the occupations over 7,400 arrests and 330 injuries were sustained by demonstrators. While some camps lasted through the winter, by February 2012 the two highest profile camps: Washington DC and St Paul’s London had been cleared. While the gains directly attributable to the movement are unknown, many political leaders, including Barack Obama have spoken about the movement, and some individuals have claimed that the political discourse has altered because of the movement.

And maybe they’re right. Elizabeth Warren – Democratic nominee for the Massachusetts Senate, speaking at the 2012 Democratic Convention clearly echoed some of the Occupy sentiments when she said: “The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in profits. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretary. And Wall Street CEOs, the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs, still strut around congress, no shame, demanding favours and acting like we should thank them. Does anyone have a problem with that?”

With the New York Times reporting 185 arrests having taken place on the year anniversary as Occupy demonstrators gathered to mark the occasion, this social movement has still got plenty of fight left. And here’s to many Happy Returns!

Eve Fensome

Eve Fensome

Eve Fensome is a second year PPE student and Politics and Comment editor.

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