What is Occupy? A beginner’s guide to understanding what those ‘homeless hippies’ are actually trying to achieve.

28 Feb

The Occupy movement is being moved along – it happened in Exeter earlier this month and this morning the centre of UK Occupy, Occupy London Stock Exchange, was evicted from the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Amongst social justice types, if ever someone links to an article in a mainstream news source, that link is usually accompanied by the warning ‘don’t read the comments’. Because it seems like every single article that is even vaguely related to (delete as appropriate) social justice/equal rights/socialism/feminism/being a tolerant, inclusive human being is doomed to get swamped with comments that are mostly uninformed, often ignorant, and sometimes deliberately and blatantly offensive. Occupy has fared badly in the comments. Public opinion seems to be largely against them. I’ve walked past the Occupy camp in Exeter (when it was still standing) and had acquaintances, friends or relatives refer to them as hippies, insinuate that they’re scroungers, claim their protest is ‘pointless’. And mostly, when asked, those people haven’t had the first clue what Occupy is, why it started, and what the protesters are hoping to achieve.

I’m not sure that the fault can lie entirely with Occupy here. I think there’s been a lack of detailed, informative media attention to this movement, which has left most people thinking they know exactly what Occupy is (‘it’s an anti-capitalist movement and they want to, y’know, camp out and change stuff and they’re all homeless and they live off benefits and they hate the government and they’re anarchists and they take our hard earned taxes blah blah blah…’)

If you go to their Occupy London Stock Exchange website, you can see that not only is it a well laid-out, clear, clean and attractive webpage, it’s also pretty damn obvious how you too can learn what Occupy is, why it started, and what they’re hoping to achieve. Please, I encourage you, if you still don’t know why there are tents in your city, go and have a look at this website. Have a look at the Occupy Wall Street site too, since (not to give away the answer) that’s where and why it started. But if, like all the people leaving a mess in the comments all over the mainstream media, you still can’t be bothered, here’s a very quick, very basic lowdown.

Occupy was inspired by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, where people have been fighting against corrupt governments. (Source)

It is a global movement so the best way to actually learn about it is to find your nearest camp and actually talk to some real human beings about why on earth they’d want to live in cold, vulnerable tents for months on end. (Source)

It is a simplification to state that Occupy are anti-capitalism or anti-democracy. Occupy believe that, in it’s current structure, the capitalism we all know and love is undemocratic and unjust. They believe (you might have heard this one) that it is unfair for 1% of the population to control the majority of the wealth. They are the 99% (you are probably the 99% too), and they are fed up. (Source)

They’re all about equality. And they believe that an economical and social system that still benefits the white, straight, cis-sexual, able-bodied male over everyone else is pretty shitty. (Source)

They think that we shouldn’t be paying for the mess the banks made. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t agree with that. (Source)

Occupy is an idealistic movement. They have high goals. They genuinely want to work out a system of government that will be fair and just to everyone. Is that an unrealistic notion? If you’re saying ‘yes’, then why is it unrealistic? Is it unrealistic because it hasn’t happened yet? Or because it can never happen? Why not? In between the badly informed and the ignorant comments that get attached to the Occupy movement, I also see a lot of comments that are pessimistic and apathetic. Some people genuinely seem to be telling Occupy that they are wasting their time. And I find that sad.

I’ve never Occupied anything. I did not join the camp in Exeter. If I’m truly honest with myself, I probably never will. I recognise that, for some reason, somewhere inside me, my lofty ideals do not match up with what I am willing to do. I am not yet willing to put myself, my safety, my career, my education at risk for the pursuit of social justice.

But I am also not willing to tell the people who are risking all of that that they are wasting their time. I am not willing to be happy that they are being evicted. I am not willing to join in with the people around me who have decided they know exactly what Occupy is and what it can do without doing one jot of actual research.

So if people are discussing the eviction of Occupy London Stock Exchange today, and you find yourself about to join in, I encourage you to be damn well honest with yourself. If you don’t know why those protesters were there, say so. If you don’t know what they wanted and what they’re going to do next, admit it. If you’re tempted to join in with a light bit of uniformed bashing, ask yourself why. And then go away and educate yourself.

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