I few weeks ago I wrote on this blog about two underground 16mm films I’d been to see in London. The article I eventually put up was only half of the intended post, I had gone on to write as much again about my experiences earlier in the day at the Occupylsx ‘Bank of Ideas’ social centre in Sun St, just behind Liverpool Street Station.
At the Bank of Ideas I’d met a group of very creative, inventive people, who were putting on meetings and workshops in the squatted offices of Swiss Bank USB. People who were organising, planning and carving another new autonomous zone right in the heart of the beast. I met a guy on the door who’d been at Newbury and other 90’s protest sites. Upstairs I helped paint one of the banners on a stunning bamboo and netting structure known as a demo-unit. There was tweeting and speaking and drinking tea all round. I felt most welcome and at home. In fact it was only once I’d left and was tacking through the city of London rush-hour crowds, somewhere along London wall, that I again felt that familiar awareness of myself as a middle-aged ne’er-do’-well in tatty second-hand clothes, one of Boris Johnson’s ‘fornicating hippies’ in fact.
Just as I was about to post the second half of the article a friend gave me a copy of a more hands-on piece he’d written about St Paul’s Tent City, where he’d been sleeping for a while. Although I would recommend an afternoon (any afternoon, every afternoon) knocking around at the bank of ideas, I thought this report by Spider Anonymous was more interesting than my own…
Occupy LSX: First Recon Report: Covering the Story 6-8 November 2011
I hitched down to St Pauls with Raula Duchessa on Sunday 6th. We got picked up after a mere 40 minutes by an ex-LSX finance adviser/trader who was really keen on the Occupation having served the 1%er Empire from the inside for enough years to have been spiritually broken by the experience.
We took part in a General Assembly almost immediately. The system of responsive hand-signals used by the crowd throughout made participation as easy and intuitive as swimming. The executive includes everyone divided into small-groups reporting back on a daily basis. Topics included switching to solar power from diesel generators and building a compost bag based garden.
We were assigned a pitch by a very friendly no-longer-homeless dude. You probably won’t need to take a tent as there are usually a half-dozen empty tents at any one time (caveat: Sod’s Law states however that if you don’t take a tent there won’t be any spare that evening). Do take a ground mat and a couple of sleeping bags – concrete is foken cold man. Big socks and thermal leggings are essentials too.
The toilets are well clean – people seem to treat ‘em with a degree of respect sorely lacking at every damn festival on the circuit. Everyone knows that dysentery could kill this thing faster than more than 10,000 riot kopz.
The Information Tent down at the front (near the loos!) is a good place to start. There’s always someone who will give you the tour and help your orientation. This is good moment to make a good friend. We met Bobby, an ex-serviceman and veteran of the war inIraqand one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. A diamond geezer as they say.
Further up is TentCityUniversity, full of books and information about what’s going on in terms of discussion and policy groups, i.e. what we believe and want from the Occupation. I got a copy of the initial demands and a summary of our aims in about five minutes. It took a further twenty to disentangle myself from Discuss Further Man. You quickly learn that starting a conversation is more than 10,000 times easier than ending (or even just concluding) one.
There’s also a Meditation tent, First Aid station, massive Kitchen and finally a Tea & Welfare tent. They do what they say on the tin. There are about 250 people there at any one time although more people come in for the evening meetings. Of the 250 I’d say about 150 stay for only a couple of days at a time, popping home to recharge before returning, which means that the number of people involved could conshervatively be at least 700.
So who are these people; what are they like? Well, to not put too fine point on it, they are not at all short of crazy loons. If you point the finger at how silly they are it won’t take much doing. There’s the Reindeer Ears Jesus Woman, who preaches the Love That Surpasses All Understanding while wearing reindeer ears and holding an Israeli national flag. There’s the guy who claims to have been a member of the Pogues but won’t tell you his name or even what instrument he played. There’s the chef who works a twenty hour day and sings opera (pretty well) to the passers by. There’s the IT professional who collects antique gold coins who seems really really straight until you realise he’s wearing home-made chainmail and is trying to tell you about how aliens from Sirius are going to transform our cosmic consciousness. There’s the guy who just may actually be God since he seems to be everywhere, doing everything, all the time (while dressed entirely in white). When asked he vehemently denied it, of course, which obviously means that he is…
Sheeit! Get a grip! I think I’m succumbing to the madness of the place. You certainly don’t get much sleep between the cold, the incessant traffic, the bells of the cathedral, the 4am security alerts – EDL spotted! Six big fellas in footie shirts and white reebox and shaved heads seen getting into a tent together, no-one thinks to ask ‘em if they just having a big gay gang bang. Sorry, I take that back, a massive transvestite does just that. The ‘EDL cell’ stumbles off in broken and humiliated retreat in search of another drink.
The ex-LSX trader who gave us a lift turns up one evening. We take Trader Tom round the site since we are now old hands having spent the day helping out here and there as it might be, washing dishes, making tea, removing an ear-plug that’s become dislodged in someone’s ear canal, sweeping the streets clean; and incessantly dealing with the demands of Joe Public(school) who in his own lunatic way wants to tell anyone willing to listen about how We Are Wrong and that the Free Market (propped up by massive public subsidies) is the only way to ensure our families and future. Actually he tends to steer clear of the massive public subsidies bit.
Quite often the Sirius guy sounds more down to earth. Tom is blown away by the breathtaking level of organisation, the cleanliness, the food, the people. We try to point out the loons, remind him that it’s cold and frequently wet; that trucks pass by at all hours day and night, the impossibility of sleep or hot showers. To no avail – he stays to see a General Assembly and decides despite our best efforts to come down the following weekend. “I know it sounds crazy but this feels like home somehow” he says as we say fond goodbyes.
I know what Tom means. I stay awake most of the night, cursing the place, hating the hippies and promising myself that I’ll leave today. And yet, within twenty minutes of stiff, sore waking up I know there is nowhere else I would rather be; no other people I would rather be among.
Well, I guess that you’ll be wanting to know what these crazed loons want from the 1%er Empire. It’s bound to insane and unreasonable, I, like you, would probably be lead to expect. I won’t bore you with my opinions on this, I’ll just list their demands given in response to the demand from the Corporation of the City of London to vacate the site by Christmas.
“We will agree to leave the site by Christmas if the City of London Corporation agrees to:
1. Publish full, year-by-year breakdowns of the City Cash account, future and historic.
2. Make the entirety of its activities subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
3. Detail all advocacy undertaken on behalf of the banking and finance industries, since the 2008 financial crash.”
I was there at the General Assembly when this was agreed by overwhelmingly warm majority. I was astonished that these are the demands of a bunch of unkempt crazy loons. They need your help – getting the message out, and bodies on the ground. This may be the start of something good, a tethering of the predatory capitalism that’s been making our lives increasingly miserable of recent years. They need your help, even a pair of warm socks would be a worthy action.
I’ll be reporting more, from the concrete pavement of Tent City of Occupy London, I am, Spider Anonymous. Thank you for taking the time to read this. We are the 99%