Thursday, 3 November 2011
Why I'm Not Pre-occupied with the Occupy Protest
A protest against the iniquities of capitalism? Count me in ...
Only I hate camping, come out in hives when near religious institutions and well UK Occupy have got their tactics wrong haven't they?
The biggest problem is there is little they can offer up about their protest other than an ill-defined disgruntlement. Though they have garnered lots of media coverage, little of it engages with their purpose and few media outlets seem that interested in trying.
Already the counter-reformation has led to media obsessions with tents being revealed as uninhabited at night, through the use of (battlefield?) infra-red cameras and questioning whether office commuters are being tripped up on the way to work in the City in the morning. The agenda is being shunted into obscure sidings. Also, if you propound the lack of leaders and spokespersons as an organisational and political strength, it does make it hard to convey your viewpoint on serious TV news programmes.
The assembly of people under canvas say that they are debating and discussing ideas. Now this strikes me as a generational thing, because I have all my arguments against capitalism long marshalled over the years. (I've written fictional books to prove it!)But it's true that pace Thatcher and merrily continued by Blair and Brown, there has been a decreasing public space for debate among the demos, as collective and social institutions are eroded (libraries anyone?) and the Executive agglomerates more and more power to itself so that Prime Ministers can take the country into openly unpopular wars.
There really is nothing new under the sun, either about capitalism's opprobrium, or the lack of any credible economic system of organisation to replace it. There has been no new political or economic thought since John Maynard Keynes. Even the radical free marketers espousing Milton Friedman in the 1980s, were only rehashing John Bright And William Cobden's nineteenth century credo. Movements like UK Uncut and Occupy display wonderful creative organisational energy in the nature of their protest, but are completely stumped for offering up alternative systems to replace that which they're protesting.
If you were going to be both rigorous and spectacular with your approach to protest, then maybe rather than occupy a cathedral's walkup space and hit the concessions kiosk takings, maybe construct a simulacrum of the Houses Of Parliament and hold a genuine discussion of politics and constitution, which in the British case is actually to figure out what our 'invisible' constitution actually is and set it down and make it accessible for all. Symbolic and practical resistance and protest all in one. So far the only casualties of the protest have been some clergymen, as the Anglican Church is further rent down the middle by the spasming twitch of its radical rump suddenly getting a jolt. This from an institution beset by strife over gender and sexuality among its own priesthood.
But in fact we don't even need this symbolic form of protest I believe, since the means for change have already been laid, somewhat unwittingly by government themselves. Before I go on to suggest what this might be, I do commend the sentiment behind Occupy of talking and debating those areas of politics and finance that the worlds of Politics and Finance don't want us to discuss and have effectively kept us in the dark about these past 30 years. For me, a crucial precursor involves a politicisation and an education of the electorate and such debates and discussions, if there is an upswell, can only help contribute to such a process. (Hence Occupy can only be termed successful if people are inspired to go and raise these issues in their Parish councils and WI meetings and the like).
I think the government have opened up a whole can of worms with their online petitions and plebiscites. We've already had the disclosure of the details behind the Hillsborough disaster finally after 22 years of suppression of information, because the public managed to get sufficient numbers of signatures online to force the issue. There ought to come a time when people realise that rather than sign up in order to have the Parliamentary talking shop discuss a particular issue, we the people are perfectly capable of discussing it for ourselves and voting online, without recourse to craven representatives doing it on our behalf and defanging anything remotely threatening to the status quo. The will of the people directly transmitted to the Civil Service who would then expedite our actual needs.
Of course the politicians may look to withdraw online democracy if it proves too menacing to their livelihoods, but the genie is out the bottle on that one and any attempt to deny us service will make them appear as craven as Mubarek's attempts to hold on to power. And yes not every household has access to online technology (didn't Gordon Brown promise every household would be digitised by 2012 and not just its television services?). And no doubt there can be fraud and technological jerrymandering, but hey there are enough rotten boroughs up and down the realm already extant.
The two greatest barriers to this bloodless revolution, are our own will, (not grasping the nettle out of timidity or deference) AND our paucity of political education and awareness of the issues and a lack of commitment to take responsibility and get to understand the affairs of government - self-government in this case. So I do salute the faint stirrings of public debate offered by Occupy, even if they seem to be starting from a very low base. But only if such a will to debate and discuss and exchange ideas grows countrywide, can it possibly lead anywhere. But oh my, how radical a destination could it take us to?
with thanks to Alex Butterworth,Bibi van der Zee, Ted Vallance and Dan Hind for panel discussion hosted by Little Atoms that helped me order my thoughts above