Thursday, 20 October 2011

Suitpossum in the Guardian: On Financial Activism and the Occupy Movement

Winter is approaching and it’s looking like one of discontent. St. Paul’s cathedral has become home to a couple hundred protesters freezing in colourful tents, railing against the global financial sector. It's the Occupy London movement.

On Tuesday night I attended the general assembly outside St. Paul's. It was mostly to go through certain housekeeping protocols, like why it’s a bad idea to piss in bottles and throw them into public bins. Other items on the agenda were issues of security and maintaining good relationships with the St Paul’s clergy. It’s calmed down a lot since the first Saturday, when the cops were doing their tacky psychological warfare techniques, whispering sweet nothings like “Sir, if you enter the protest, you may not be able to leave again.” There’s a few cops left now, but they’re mostly blending into the scenery.

I was impressed by the camp food system that has sprung up, driven by kind donations, some from local chains like Pret (which incidentally are making shedloads of cash from cold protesters buying coffee from them). We even managed to get some sushi to go with our homemade vegetable soup. I was slightly less impressed by the public talks that have been occurring, a lot of (what I perceive to be) clichéd stuff about neoliberalism and bankers, and in general nothing particularly interesting or new. Indeed, it still seems to be much the same crowd that does all the protests. I suggested during the general assembly discussion group that much more needs to be done to translate the message to a wider audience, lest it fizzle out into a cliquey back-patting exercise.

These issues weigh on my mind a lot, and yesterday I got an article published in the Guardian entitled 'Has the Occupy movement considered subverting global finance from within'. It was pointing out that while occupying a physical space is a worthwhile exercise, I think it’s time activists started pushing the  conceptual boundaries of protest. I want progressive movements to try gain some control of the creative potential of the financial sector.

Needless to say, when you put yourself out there in a public forum (such as the Guardian), you get all sorts of ideologues that try throw knives at you. It was fun defending my ideas, but the ad hominem attacks are pretty disturbing at first. One suggested I wasn’t worthy of being in the human race. A couple attacked my professional credentials. A few attacked my grasp of socialist theory, under the somewhat presumptuous assumption that having read the great Marxian works was a prerequisite to commenting on activist techniques.

Such is the nature of public commentary though, and, on the plus side, some great people have got hold of me to discuss the ideas further. It's really rewarding to hear opinions on how the concept of financial activism could be refined, so please do read the article and post any comments on the Guardian site, or here. I'll be  sure to respond.

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