The Problem with Occupy

Occupy Glasgow today voted at their General Assembly to move the camp from George Square to Kelvingrove park, where the council have agreed to provide them with facilities including lighting, toilets, heras fencing, CCTV, heaters and a water supply as well as transportation for all tents and materials.

At one level this is a positive move – who would want to stay in a location where a young woman was gangraped, but on the other hand, I am having increasing doubts about the whole Occupy movement.  When I wrote my previous blogpost in the middle of last week, although I had considerable doubts over Occupy Glasgow, I was still supportive of the wider movement.  Despite the fact that this was the third reported rape which had occurred in activist space and dreadful rape culture reaction that I had witnessed, I put this down to a lack of awareness of the need for security, the nievety and lack of experience of the average protester involved and a kneejerk defensive reaction coupled with a good bit of Scottish machismo.  But as this week has progressed and more and more and more and more and more and more tales of sexual abuse and rape emerge from the Occupy movement, it is clear that this wasnt an isolated incident but is something which is affecting Occupy internationally.

Lets look at the concept, the original intention was to Occupy Wall Street.  To demand that our money is spent on our needs, which I am totally in support of, but as time has gone on, its turned into Occupy Zucutti Park.  In London, the intention was to Occupy London Stock Exchange, instead its turned into Occupy St Pauls.  In Glasgow, lacking a significant financial centre, George Square was the target from the start, now moved to a public park with council approval and support.  Increasingly rather than targeting and taking over private capital, Occupies have taken over public space.  Their targets, aims and ambitions however seem diluted from the first intentions.  As if by simply being there they can change the world.  Meanwhile the world goes on around them oblivious.

The organisation level in the camps varies.  Some seem to have a good set up, while others are considerably more disorganised.  Many of the camps have experienced the same difficulties as Glasgow has faced, with people seeking them out looking for food and shelter.  Glasgow, despite a legal obligation on the council to house anyone in need of accommodation, has a significant homelessness problem.  Despite legal entitlements to benefits, many find themselves cut off and unable to access them.  Despite a free NHS many find themselves unable to access the medical care they require.  Despite a large city, many find themselves alone.  It is unsurprising that people would be attracted to occupy camps in search of food, shelter and company…and maybe with the possibility of acquiring the means to buy the drugs on which they are dependent but they are denied on the NHS.

This attraction of the Occupy camps to the marginalised elements of the 99%, has proven challenging – not just in Glasgow, but elsewhere, and has caused significant divisions between those who would welcome them and those who see them as freeloaders to be discouraged.  Yet this is the other 1% – the most marginalised, the most affected and the most excluded.  If a movement cannot encompass the most marginalised elements of late capitalism, what good is it.  At the same time, if it cannot adequately manage the issues that many marginalised elements bring with them, then is it any better?  And by meeting their needs and managing the outcomes are they effectively allowing the state to shrug off responsibility for meeting their needs.

At the same time, society also has a significant problem with violence, sexual violence, misogyny, racism and homophobia.  These attitudes are ingrained in our society, promoted by the media and surround us everyday.  Men are expected to be “hard” while women are expected to be sexually available and the norm is the straight white male for whom culture, media and memes are produced.  Black, female or gay perspectives are marginalised as a minority interest, while violence against such groups is minimised and trivialised within dominent communities.

Justice and security are things which we generally look to the state to provide, in the form of police, prisons and law and order.  Many of us are extremely critical in the way that this is manifested – the prioritisation of private wealth over personal security and of the way the system victimises people – yet at the same time, any alternative, particularly one which desires to handle these issues internally must demonstrate that it can provide this at least as well as the state is able to.  And I am not convinced that the Occupy Movement has done this and indeed from some reports the structure, or lack of it, appears to be unable to develop and enforce agreed conduct.

In terms of the wider impact, I am very doubtful as to what this movement will achieve.  Many within it are critical of politics, and explicitly state that this is not a “protest” movement.  It fits to some extent with the concept of “building a new society in the shell of the old” but at the same time is becoming increasingly reliant on the state for services, as the problems and issues within the camps grow.  As time goes on, its challenging nature seems blunted and at best it seems to be creating modern day Hoovervilles.

I am unwilling as yet to write off the entire Occupy Movement, and I hope that Occupy Glasgow will consider carefully whether it can overcome the issues that it has found, re-engage itself with its purpose and find links to the wider movement, whether that is as a traditional “Occupy” or as an evolved entity.  No autonomous anti-capitalist movement can succeed on its own – it needs linked to worker struggles and political engagement – without that it just becomes a few tents in a park.

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