by Damien Gayle / @damiengayle
Days after the NYPD imposed a media blackout to stop the world seeing how they evicted the Occupy Wall Street camp, I fell victim to Occupy LSX’s own press ban.
I had been visiting their newest occupation, a vast network of buildings owned by banking giant UBS, on Sun Street, near Moorgate station, on the edge of the City.
I wasn’t even there in a professional capacity. I was on my last day of paternity leave, following the birth of my daughter two weeks ago. But when I read the news of the latest occupation, I had to go down to witness it.
After all, what’s the point in being a journalist if you don’t go and witness historic events as they happen?
Before I even made it into the squat, I had been on the receiving end of some curt questioning by police. A WPC had demanded to know my identity and, bizarrely, kept asking me if I owned the building. I don’t even own my own home, I told her. But I hadn’t expected such a curt response from the activists inside as well.
I had not tried to hide my the fact I’m a journalist. While I didn’t have my press card showing on a lanyard (I don’t even HAVE a press card…), I wandered around the place openly taking notes in a reporters’ notebook. For a few hours, no-one seemed to be bothered that I was there watching things unfold. It was only when someone recognised me from my Twitter profile picture that things got unfriendly.
An older crusty, who called himself Phoenix and had been directing the other activists, came over to me and said: ‘Someone’s told me you write things for the Daily Mail.’
‘That’s right,’ I answered. ‘Well, for the MailOnline. But I’m not here for them. I’m here for myself.
‘In fact, maybe you can help. I’d quite like to speak to someone about why you’ve squatted this place.’
He wasn’t keen to help. Instead, he insisted I leave. My requests for someone to talk to about politics were answered with a post-it note on which someone had written a press office number.
‘I think it’s time for you to leave,’ he said. ‘We had a press conference earlier. Now we don’t want to be in press mode.’
Again I tried to explain to him that I wasn’t there on my bosses’ behalf, but he didn’t want to hear it. I said that instead of speaking to someone, I would be happy instead to just soak up the atmosphere until they all wanted to go to bed. Although he was friendly(-ish), Phoenix made it clear that he didn’t want me to stay, although it was hours before they were due to shut things up for the night.
Perhaps their hostility was understandable, given the less than positive pieces some of my colleagues have written about the Occupy LSX camp outside St Pauls. But it pissed me off, still. Their response to me as a journalist stank of double standards. The Occupy protests are demanding – among other things – greater scrutiny of City institutions. But, it seems, they are not so keen on being scrutinised themselves.
Don’t get me wrong. I support the Occupy camps in London. I’m glad that people are willing to take a stand against the City institutions that have dragged us into recession. But in order to represent the 99 per cent of the people, they have to be open to the people – and that includes journalists, of whatever stripe. If they are not open to the public, the only people they represent are themselves.
If they want to tightly manage their press coverage, then they are really no better than any other special interest group. To try to fob me off with a press office number makes them no better than a stonewalling cop. At the nub of it is the question of whether these activists are really revolutionaries, or just reactionaries.
The reactionary response to finding out a reporter from the corporate media is in your midst is to kick them out. The revolutionary response would be to welcome them, to talk to them, to bring them over to your side.
Another thing that left me feeling distinctly jaded was that one person who was playing a major role in the organisation of the squat asked me for crack cocaine.
This pissed me off on two levels. First because I fucking HATE crack and crackheads. And secondly that someone thought because I am black and wear a baseball cap and trainers that I am likely to be carrying that kind of shit. I still support the protests, but I hope there are some Occupy LSX people who find this blog post and read it. And comment.
Originally published on Damien Gayle’s Blog
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