Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Occupy the Cities

I briefly commented a few days ago on the "Occupy Nottingham" protest taking place in the Old Market Square, and I've decided to return to the subject.

I've received some correspondence from people who have been at the protest, explaining their own personal situation and why they were there. It is clear that people from a variety of backgrounds are suffering terribly in the present climate, and that for them enough is enough.

The Occupy the City "movement" started with "Occupy Wall Street" in New York a few weeks ago, and now there are nearly 1000 venues across the world in over 80 cities. One of the slogans is, "We are the 99%", who are frustrated and angry, that, as Polly Toynbee says, "growth is gobbled up by the greedy 1%". The protests across the world are largely peaceful, with the violence in Rome solely due to the protest being hijacked by groups of anarchists. In Wall Street, sound systems are prohibited, so a kind of 'human microphone' system had to be used, with words being repeated time and time again as the message was relayed to the thousands in attendance.

Outside St Paul's Cathedral
In London, the original aim was to 'Occupy the Stock Exchange', but they had to settle for setting up camp outside St Paul's Cathedral, with the support of the Cathedral's Canon Giles Fraser.

I suppose it's a tribute to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter that such an assembly could be gathered in such a short space of time. I do find it slightly ironic that protests against the downsides of capitalism use Facebook, with its almost total dependence on Microsoft advertising directories, and Twitter with its funding from venture capitalists to fight the cause. In a similar vein, many protesters will no doubt have an Apple product, even though protesters in China are campaigning against Apple because only 1% of the sale price of an Apple iPhone finds its way into the workers pockets. Hey, but lets not be petty, as after all we're only at the beginning of something here.

Some may ask, "What do the protesters want?". There is no party line to tow here, and exact wording may differ across the world, but the protesters outside St Paul's did come up with some broad proposals, and agreed this was a work in progress. On agreeing this broad proposal, Polly Toynbee commented, "I watched the laborious process of getting a crowd of more than 500 to agree detailed wording with one feeble microphone, repeating the words to those at the back". This is what they came up with.
  1. The current system is unsustainable. It is undemocratic and unjust. We need alternatives; this is where we work towards them.
  2. We are of all ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, generations, sexualities, dis/abilities and faiths. We stand together with occupations all over the world.
  3. We refuse to pay for the banks' crisis.
  4. We do not accept the cuts as either necessary or inevitable. We demand an end to global tax injustice and our democracy representing corporations instead of the people.
  5. We want regulators to be genuinely independent of the industries they regulate.
  6. 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.
  7. We want structural change towards authentic global equality. The world's resources must go towards caring for people and the planet, not the military, corporate profits or the rich.
  8. 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.
  9. This is what democracy looks like. Come and join us!
Some may be in broad agreement with the protesters, but ask, "What's the point?", nothing ever changes. But mass movements can bring about change, and for Polly Toynbee in Monday's Guardian on-line, the world is responding. She draws attention to Monday's leader column in the Financial Times. "Today only the foolhardy would dismiss a movement reflecting the anger and frustration of ordinary citizens from all walks of life around the world ... the fundamental call for a fairer distribution of wealth cannot be ignored". The American dream "has been shattered by a crisis brought about by financial excess and political cynicism. The consequence has been growing inequality, rising poverty and sacrifice by those least able to bear it - all of which are failing to deliver economic growth. The cry for change is one that must be heeded". It's expected of the Guardian to say such things, but for the Financial Times to say that inequality is not just socially but economically disastrous, shows that the message is beginning to get through.

Lest anyone is in any doubt that we are in a real crisis that will just magically disappear, note two reports that have just come out.

Figures released yesterday by the Office of National Statistics show that unemployment has hit a 17 year high, with almost 3 million people in the UK now out of work. Jobless figures went up by 114,000 to 2.57 million between June and August this year.

Youth unemployment in the same quarter hit a record high of 21.3%, with 991,000, 16-24 year olds now out of work. To many economists, this is evidence that the economy has stopped growing.

In another report released on Tuesday, official figures show that inflation rose to 5.2% in September. The retail price index inflation registered its quickest rate of increase since June 1991. All of this is important for a number of reasons, not least of which is that the figures are used to calculate benefit increases, as well as the rise in the basic state pension implemented next April. To the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Rachel Reeves, "It's now clear we have the worst of all worlds - high inflation, rising unemployment and a stagnant economy since last autumn. When Britain now has the highest inflation of any EU country except Estonia, families and pensioners feeling the squeeze want out of touch ministers to take some responsibility and take action now".

Occupy the Cities is calling for change. In some ways it's a simple protest at "the gross injustice of bailed-out banks and company CEO's still pouring bonuses into their pockets while everyone else pays the price in cuts and lost jobs". The ball has started to roll in favour of the 99%, and I for one hope that there's enough people out there who care enough to keep it rolling until change is achieved. 

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