In the small hours last night the agents of the City of London Corporation moved in to sweep any remaining traces of Occupy from the steps of St Pauls. The event itself was barely newsworthy, at least from the mainstream media’s perspective, quite a different scene from the thousands of people swarming Zucotti Park in response to their eviction last year and nothing like the apocalyptic violence some expected. Instead the Occupiers acted with grace and decorum, proving to their detractors that they were always what they said they were, reasonable people who are unhappy with our current economic and social regime.
The City of London decided to ignore the Justice Department’s guidelines for a safe eviction and conduct the clearing of the camp at night. The call came after midnight and the protesters were given five minutes grace to grab what they could and get away from the tents. The City’s nervousness is perhaps understandable. Risking a day time eviction, and the hoards of supporters it might have attracted was never going to be an option. Neutering the camp at St Pauls was always going to be a question of how to arouse the least attention possible. Especially for an institution that has managed to shape our country for hundreds of years, largely out of view.
It seems that at least in that respect the City have been successful. After four months Occupy had fallen entirely off of the news agenda, the cold had driven away all but the hardiest new recruits and had yet to make significant progress on a strategy to garner popular support. The City’s original offer of allowing the camp to remain until the 31st December follows broadly the same plan.
The dissolution of the camp occurred with barely a whimper but that isn’t to say that Occupy is dead and finished. It will be difficult though, now the movement has now been pushed back to only a single site at Finsbury Square. The third occupation, a disused primary school in Islington dubbed the “School of Ideas” was also evicted late last night. The building was demolished this morning.
Despite the eviction, General Assemblies will continue to be held on the steps of St Pauls. The City’s injunction applies only to tents and structures, our civil liberties will need another decade or so of erosion before anyone can remove the right of protesters to gather and discuss further tactics. St Pauls has long been a site of community organising, and Occupy are all to happy to carry on that noble tradition.
If Occupy are going to rise from the ashes they will need a coordinated strategy for doing so. I can’t help but feel that this is what has let them down in the last few months. There is so much energy at the camp, so many dedicated, talented people giving up their time to drive the movement forwards, but one person’s forwards is another’s backwards. It seems like Occupy have spread themselves too thin to maintain a sustained assault sufficient to build up a head of steam.
There is so much public support for the mission of taking apart the finance sector, exposing their greed and corruption. Support for attacking globalised businesses that damage the environment and the lives of faraway people. Support for calling to account the politicians wedded to power and money. Support for a non-mainstream critique of neo-liberal capitalism. The Occupiers knew this when they set up, but it was assumed (by myself included) that that would be enough, that if you build it, they will come. Occupy started a hundred small fires to try and ignite public opinion and win them over to the cause, in fact they only ever needed one.
The organising structure is also severely flawed, it may allow everyone to have their say in the progress of the movement, but it is unsuited to the fast changing, dynamic environment it is trying to operate in. The working groups too are rather ineffective. Most only meet once a week and can spend hours upon hours just deciding what to do, productive work is done alone and then brought back to be dissected by the group.
Spreading their attentions so thin has meant that significant progress has not been made on most of the 10 initial statements, I can’t help but feel if Occupy had made more progress on these aims then the Court might have looked more favourably on the future of the camp itself. There may have been a rather radical shift in the mainstream media narrative towards equality, tax-justice and the rest, but I honestly can’t ascribe these gains to Occupy. More that Occupy was an obvious symptom that made editors wake up to the anger festering in so many people in this country.
The real challenge to Occupy will be whether it can overcome these problems and regenerate itself into a more effective challenge to the staus-quo. I think Occupy has accomplished it’s most important task already, it has come to terms with itself. Now if only it can come to terms with its place in the rest of the world it can start changing things.