By Kwadwo Kari-Kari
“All day, all week, we sleep on London’s freezing streets.” – Occupy LSX placard
Let me start with a confession: I have not spent a single night sleeping at any of the occupations. If that appalls you, I can only apologise. However, I was one of two protesters that successfully “occupied” Paternoster Square from noon to 2pm on 15th October (mainly by hanging out in Starbucks).
Yet still, I see myself as part of the Occupy Movement, and admire those who camp at St. Paul’s and Finsbury Square. And I believe that many others share my point of view. Many sympathisers and supporters are not attracted to sleeping on freezing streets as a means of enabling social change. It might thus be useful to diversity the movement and engage more of the 99% we claim to represent.
Whilst many take inspiration from Occupy Wall Street, my inspiration comes from the South: From the “Indignados” of Spain, the uprisings in Egypt and Uganda, the Women of Zimbabwe Arise movement, the international peasant movement: Via Campesina and the South African shack-dwellers movement: Abahlali baseMjondolo.
All these social movement share a non-hierarchical structure and a particular vision for the world with the Occupy movement. They all strive for a world where people take priority over capital. Let us unite and learn from each other’s experiences. We are not all anti-capitalists – but we are all united in the belief that the current system is not working for the 99%.
That is easier said than done. I have been part of the London activist scene for five years – I have found it uplifting, but I have also found it depressing. A perennial concern of mine (and of many others) is how unrepresentative this scene is of the people we claim to represent.
We are the 99%, we are the oppressed, the mocked, the exploited – but we do not all face the same social problems in equal measure. A poor Nigerian disabled lesbian asylum seeker faces more barriers in our society than a privately educated English millionaire. Yet when it comes to direct action against the 1%, I am more likely to see privately educated white people than poor working-class immigrants. Brixton and Peckham are parts of London that are majority black/African. Many of those immigrants’ countries of origin will be very affected by climate change in the coming decades. I have been involved in setting up Transition Towns in both neighborhoods, yet throughout I have been the only participant in the group who was actually of African origin.
Please don’t misunderstand my point: I’m pleased and inspired by people of all backgrounds participating in the struggle for a better world, and I am glad to see privately educated people taking sides with the 99%. It would be easy for them not to care. However, something is serious wrong if those who experience privilege are more representative of our community of rebellion than those who are the most directly affected by the oppressions we seek to abolish.
I am a volunteer in the South London Anti-Fascists Group, an organisation that is supported by the Battersea & Wandsworth and Croydon Trade Union Councils. For the last four years we have been building community groups in areas like Morden as a way of developing solidarity against the BNP, the EDL and other racist organiations and practices. We have established a working coalition of a local Mosque, three churches, activists from six political parties (including mainstream parties), and activists without political or religious affiliation, such as independent trade unionists and anarchists. Establishing that coalition was a slow and sometimes painful process. There were many preconceptions and distrust to overcome in a one group of just 30 odd people. Yet despite our differences and different visions of a better world, we were united on what we needed to oppose. That was our strength. We developed structures of accountability without imposing authority on another. People voluntarily contributed in whatever way they saw fit to fight local racism. We came through the process of struggle with increased or renewed respect for each other, and we felt part of something bigger than ourselves.
This story, I believe, could also become the story of the Occupy movement. We can develop working groups that reach out to local trade union councils and anti-cuts groups, acting as hubs of solidarity between localities. Already, that process is under way. Anti-cuts groups from Lewisham, Southwark and Lambeth have a tent in Finsbury Square. I hope that this momentum will spread. We can reach out to local communities, we can listen and understand why many ordinary people who find their own lives a daily struggle haven’t yet participated concretely with us. If we want to show solidarity with under-represented groups, let us start in our own communities.
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