Thursday, December 29, 2011

Occupy London protesters take over Shoreditch courthouse

The Hackney Gazette

Thursday 29 2011

Anti-capitalist protesters have moved into another disused Hackney building after taking over the old Shoreditch courthouse in Old Street.

Members of the Occupy London movement have already set up the ‘bank of ideas’ inside a UBS office block in Sun Street.

But the group - including ex-servicemen called the Occupy Veterans - have now settled inside the former magistrates’ court, which has been empty since 1996, after entering the property at 7.15am on December 20.

Protester Ronan McNern said they would be using the courthouse, renamed Occupy Justice, to “put the 1 percent on trial” by inviting people they believed had caused the financial crisis to defend themselves.

“It is not about mock trials, we have qualified solicitors who are volunteering to do these cases,” he added.

Occupy London campaigners are currently embroiled in a High Court battle against the City of London Corporation over their encampment outside St Paul’s Cathedral.

A spokesman for developers Mastcraft Limited, who bought the Old Street property in 2008, said work to transform the courthouse into a luxury hotel was planned to start within the next month.

He said the company was pursuing taking legal action against the occupiers, which they expected to start on January 3.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Here to Stay

The Occupied Times

October 26 2011

Anti-cuts activists in the heart of London remained defiant this week as Occupy London Stock

Exchange nears its first fortnight in action - infrastructure and all.

An estimated 5000 people have passed through the sprawling camp on the steps of St Paul’s

Cathedral, with a resident population around 300.

The camp is part of a global movement against corporate greed and unregulated banking systems,

subverting hierarchies and creating a space where people are encouraged to join - with a second, growing occupation established at Finsbury Square on Saturday.

It has been nearly two weeks since the initial chaotic scenes on October 15 when police kettled

protesters, arresting eight on suspicion of police assault and public order offences.

Since then the camp has turned into a solid, peaceful working community - complete with kitchen,

university, prayer room, waste management and power generation - and speakers at the camp’s

daily general assemblies have frequently voiced plans to stay “until Christmas.”

German student Nikita Haag told the Occupied Times he planned to stay as long as the camp remained.

“I’m going to stay here as long as it exists, the thing is going to exist until we reach some change,” he said.

All work done at the camp is voluntary, with occupiers lending their support when needed.

Meanwhile food, clothing, equipment and monetary donations have flooded in; mostly gifted to the occupiers from people passing by.

One camper, Sean, told the Occupied Times he had put his experience as a civil servant to use in the

information tent, a first point of call for many visitors - along with stints in the kitchen, tech tent

and setting up Finsbury Square.

Since his arrival on the 15th he had seen the camp become more and more organised, he said: “We

spent the first week getting the structure together - the working groups - and getting people used to our direct democracy.”

The camp is founded on direct democracy, where demonstrators gauge support for various motions

and ideas at daily assemblies.

Residents and visitors alike are welcome to vote and contribute.

“Every time we have a problem we find a collective solution,” said Tina Louise, a grandmother

who had joined the movement.

But the movement has not been without tension: on Friday a spokesperson for St Paul’s Cathedral said the church was closing its doors while the occupation ran its course - despite initially supporting the protests.

The church had offered no reason for the closure when the Times went to press, and occupation

organisers told the Times they had repeatedly tried to contact the church with no success.

Nor had the City of London’s health and safety team told them of any contact with the church.

“We once again urge the Cathedral to bring to our attention, immediately, the particular details of the health and safety issues to address them,” organisers said in a statement Saturday.

“Our concern is if there are health and safety issues (which we in any event refute) by the Church failing to tell of them, they are exacerbating any perceived dangers.”

*last names withheld

Occupiers Unfazed By Eviction Threat

The Occupied Times

November 23 2011

Legal action against OccupyLSX protesters is underway, but occupiers remain unfazed.

At the time of print, the City of London Corporation was planning on taking occupiers to the high court to start an eviction process. The City considered the St Paul’s occupation a trespass on its public highways and said it was disrupting businesses in the area.

Eviction notices were served last week after negotiations between the two parties failed- the City asked occupiers to scale back the number of tents and leave by the New Year, to which occupiers asked the City to make its business transparent and democratic.

Protesters spoken to by the Occupied Times were not fazed by this recent development, and remained defiant about their cause when the eviction notices were pinned to their tents.

The notices told occupiers to remove “all tents and other structures” by 6pm last Thursday or face legal action. The tents remained and in the lead up to this City deadline, the camp’s legal team John Cooper QC, and Karen Todner talked to occupiers about the legal issues.

Cooper said they would make sure occupiers interests were “fearlessly defended” but urged occupiers to continue to stay within the law while they could work on their case.

“Right down to smallest degree you have followed the legal advice you have been given, and you have become respected for it.“

Cooper told the Occupied Times he was “very interested” in how the City had worded its eviction notice, and said ownership of the land was a contentious issue.

My clients were accused of health and safety breaches when this started and that was entirely wrong, we need to check everything.”

When asked by a camper if there was any chance the police might “jump the gun” and forcibly evict occupiers before the case went through court, Todner said it was unlikely as long as the campers “remain within the law.”

“The only way the police could forcibly remove you is if there was a public order incident and as far as I know there hasn’t been any.”

Cooper and Todner were representing the occupation at no charge.

Cooper told the Occupied Times he was doing this as it is “an example of how the legal profession do have a social conscience and it’s just me perhaps expressing that conscience.”

USA Solidarity

the Occupied Times

November 23 2011

Last week the USA occupation movement took a heavy blow as many camps were evicted, shocking and appalling occupiers in London.

Camps in New York City, Portland, Oakland, and Denver amongst others had been raided by police in the last week, while hundreds of American protestors had been arrested.

In a move of solidarity last Tuesday, OccupyLSX protesters went to the American Embassy in London to protest the actions against the USA raids. Most prominent in participants’ minds, was the raid earlier last Tuesday in New York City, where police forcibly evicted occupiers from their Zuccotti Park camp.

Five American citizens, with their passports in hand, demanded to be let into the Embassy to voice concerns over the USA evictions, there was a crowd of about 30 protesters at the Embassy, who were out-numbered by a heavy police presence.

Occupier Adam Fitzmaurice, from LA was one of the US citizens to speak to the Embassy representatives. He felt the USA was hypocritical about human rights.

“I want to know why Secretary of State Clinton feels comfortable demanding dictators such as Mubarak and Assad respect and allow peaceful protest while the NYPD, Oakland PD, Denver PD, and others across the US brutally gas, pepper-spray and beat peaceful protesters to suppress dissent.”
Emma Davies, an American now living in London was outside the Embassy to express “solidarity with all the occupy protests across the world.”

She said she was heartened to see “the brilliant displays of resistance -people going back to reoccupy, it’s clear the protester aren’t giving up they will carry on demonstrating.”

Another American supporter, Taryn Ladendorff was visibly shaken by the New York events.

“I got really emotional about it I could hardly believe it had come to this.

“One of the most important things about being an American is the right to protest and the right of freedom of assembly – the right to let your voice be heard especially in a peaceful way.’’

She said the actions in the USA went against everything she was taught about freedom as a child.

“They really hammer these kinds of rights into you as a child, when you grow up you realise they are not real but there is something visceral about seeing them being taken away from you over and over again.’’

The Art of Activism

The Occupied Times

November 23 2011

Punk-inspired designer Vivienne Westwood has told occupiers to regain their fighting strength through art.

Westwood spoke to occupiers at St Paul’s on Saturday, and said what they were doing was “absolutely wonderful.”

She spoke out against consumer culture, and said people should put more effort into appreciating the arts.

“An art lover is a freedom fighter; it gives you strength in your whole life. The opposite of that is people who just suck up consumerism and don’t have any formed opinions….they are just distracted by rubbish,” she said.

She said this mind-set had meant a lack of art today.

“We are completely in danger from lack of culture.

“We were all trained up to be consumers in the twentieth century: throw away the past, the future will take care of itself, catch the latest thing and suck it up. We don’t have any art today.”

She urged occupiers to rejuvenate themselves when visiting the nearby art museums tired them.

Other than offering her praises and support to the occupiers, Westwood also spoke about climate change, an issue she was “terrified” about.

“The financial crisis and the ecological crisis are an absolute match for each other you have one because you have the other.”

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Safety in the Camps

The Occupied Times November 16 2011

Keeping female campers safe has been an important issue discussed over the last week at OccupyLSX.

At last Thursdays general assembly occupiers discussed any personal safety problems they had experienced, and how they can keep women safe in the future.

While most females said they generally felt safe within the movement, it was people outside the movement, who passed through the camps at night that they were wary of.

Teenage occupiers B* and Ella* told the Occupied Times they both felt safe , especially since they had been adopted as substitute daughters to people within the camp.

They said unwanted male attention within the camp was ‘’annoying’’ but they never felt threatened.

Zena,* a student who had been camping on and off for the past few weeks at St Paul’s, was quick to state she felt safe within the movement.

“I think the majority of people here are on the same vibe, there’s not really a lot of violence or dodgy stuff going on that I have noticed.’’

She said she felt as safe at the St Paul’s camp as she would anywhere else in London, and is as aware of her safety as she usually would be.

“I’m not doing anything I wouldn’t usually be doing, I’m not out late by myself at night, and I’m around people all the time if I want to go somewhere I ask someone to go with me.”

She said her main concern was people outside the camp trying to cause problems, like drunken revealers stumbling past.

Natalia, also a student echoed her sentiments, and was particularly grateful for the Tranquillity group, who patrol the camp through the night, keeping an eye out for trouble.

While another woman, who did not want to be named, said she understood why women would feel vulnerable camping out at either occupation.

“I feel fine, but it (women’s safety) is a real issue in protest camps, the nature of them usually means there is a male majority here.”

She said she would not feel comfortable on her own tenting in the city, due to passers-by.

It is the people passing by in the night that the Tranquillity group are most aware of.

The group is made of men and women who patrol the camp from 10pm until 8am, some of who have worked in security in the past.

One of the tranquillity members, Bear* said the group urge “mutual respect,” so people can sleep.

They do not get physical with anyone, rather “purely negotiation and dispute mediation.”

They try and reason with those causing trouble and steer them away from the tents, but if anyone does feel threatened, they call over the police.

Weekends in particular were proving difficult for camper’s safety, said occupier Lisa Ansell.

She had come across people intentionally antagonising protesters, looking to incite trouble.

“We are in a real bind. We have no authority to protect the site; we don’t have the right to ask people who are not in the camp to behave in a certain way because this is a public space.

“We are firmly peaceful and keep repeating ‘you will not find a fight here’, and try and move away from them,” she said.

*Last names/real names withheld.

Night Watch Prevents a Suicide

The Occupied Times November 16 2011

If it weren’t for a quick-acting occupier, St Paul’s could have had a dead body on it’s steps last week.

George Mayne, a student who has been camping at the OccupyLSX St Paul’s base since October 15 was on night watch when he came across a suicidal man on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The man was already known to the camp as a problematic alcoholic with suspected mental health issues.

George said he was radioed by another night watch member who came across the man writing a suicide note, so the team all agreed to keep an eye on him.

George had the foresight to get the the first aid team members numbers, in case something happened.

He said night watch had been trying to get the man to cut down on his drinking, but this night it appeared he had drunk a bottle of vodka, and mixed four packets of painkillers into it.

George went to talk to the man, who was sitting on the steps of St Paul’s.

“He said he had taken all these pills and was holding my hand saying he was going to die.”

The man was shaking, and agitated, but slowly became tired as George tried to calm him down.

Knowing he could not radio for help, as it would further agitate the man, he slyly texted one of the first aiders, who got to the steps straight away.

“I went over and called an ambulance, telling them we needed someone here immediately.

“Then two police came along. I told them not to interfere because he would probably lash out at police, so they didn’t get involved.”

An ambulance came, but the man lashed out at the paramedics, so George and another night watch person had to put the man in the back of a police van, who then took him to hospital.

While the relations with the police were formal, George said it was obvious they were pleased with the work of night watch, because of the responsibility they handed on to them.

A Working Community

The Occupied Times, November 16 2011

As OccupyLSX enters it’s fourth week, the Finsbury Square camp has become a well established community, complete with a hotel, bike workshop and a group set up to help the homeless.

Conor Hohan, who has been camping at Finsbury Square said the occupation is “now in the process of refining” its space.

Conor is part of the housing team, and has implemented a system to make sure the camp utilizes as much space as possible and to accommodate new occupiers.

They have a peg system where pegs on a tent represent if there is room in a tent, and if it is male or females currently occupying it. For safety reasons, Conor said they try and keep tents to either male or female.

The camp also had set up a “hotel”- the only free hotel in London – which holds six people so if someone arrives late they can be housed in the hotels, then moved into a tent the next day.

The camp was currently at peak capacity and they were trying to come up with more ways to increase capacity, like putting up larger tents in place of smaller two person ones.

Even if people are sharing spaces with relative strangers in the camp they endeavour to make people feel comfortable.

“Even if people don’t own the tent they are staying in they feel comfortable and safe in it.” he said.

Also at the camp is Ace’s Bikes, a bike workshop set up by occupier Ace MacCloud who has been homeless for the last 25 years.

He spends his days fixing the bikes of the campers and also those not in the movement, at no charge.

He said it keeps his mind occupied, and he bikes between the two camps to fix St Paul’s occupier’s bikes.

He is also part of an OccupyLSX homeless working group.

He said this group is about “trying to get people back in hostels or a place like this.

“We tell them to go to the housing tent, see if they have a spare tent, give them something to eat and then try to help them out. We want them to stick around and help them out if they have a bike needing fixing.”

Seven Occupiers Arrested

The Occupied Times November 15 2011

Seven OccupyLSX supporters were arrested on Monday night after protesting outside an elaborate feast for London’s rich and powerful.

About 25 supporters of the occupy movement staged a peaceful protest outside the Guildhall, where the new Lord Mayor David Wooton entertained David and Samantha Cameron, Theresa May, the archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and bishop of London Richard Chartres at his annual banquet.

OccupyLSX supporter Dan Ashman was present at the protest and said the Guildhall event was symbolic of the gap between the rich and poor.

“People are losing their jobs and are struggling to survive across the globe, and there is still this rich pompous ceremony going on where people are gorging themselves on food and almost behaving like this is of no consequence. It’s quite enraging.”

Protesters outside the Guildhall were soon kettled by police, who doubled them in numbers.

The police issued a Section 14 order on protesters – where police place conditions on public assemblies “to prevent serious public disorder, serious criminal damage or serious disruption to the life of the community”.

Protesters were given until 11pm to disperse which they complied with, however, five protesters were arrested, one for allegedly assaulting an officer.

Eye-witnesses disputed this assault and told The Occupied Times the police were overly heavy-handed to the peaceful protesters.

Around 15 supporters went to the Bishopsgate Police Station to support the five that had been arrested, but while there another two were arrested.

Occupier Sean Ganley was one of them. He said police nearly broke his wrist after they tried to break his camera phone as he recorded events in the station. He was charged with indecent behaviour at a police station.

Those arrested were later released on bail, but under the condition they do not enter the City of London – where the St Paul’s camp is. However, they were able to camp at the Finsbury Square occupation.

Friends and supporters of those arrested held a small farewell ceremony for them on Tuesday as they left the camp to Finsbury.

One of the arrested, Robin Nikolai Von Mickwitz addressed the supporters before leaving the camp for the Finsbury Square occupation.

“Do not let them grind you down,” he urged.

“we will be back here as soon as we can.”

Rage with the Occupation

The Occupied Times Nov 16 2011

“What better place than here? What better time than now?”

The words roared through the frosty air around St Paul’s last Wednesday as anti-capitalist rocker Tom Morello led campers and student demonstrators in a literal rage against the machine.
Morello, best known for playing guitar in activist band Rage Against the Machine, joined the occupation after the November 9 student march through the city.

He played an acoustic set outside the kitchen to a enthralled crowd, and spliced his set with commentary on the global occupation movements between songs – told using the human microphone technique (when the crowd repeats what he says, so all can hear).

After the concert, he told press OccupyLSX was the ninth occupation he has visited across the globe.

“I’m on my occupy the planet tour at the moment to express my solidarity with the people of London who are part of the 99 percent who are standing against the corporate Malthusians that have torpedoed the global economy.’’

He said the movement represented the “stock and trade” of what his musical career has been about.

His music urged direct action, social and political reform and was often about injustice through the world.

Morello said that every successful struggle for social justice needed a good soundtrack and he was doing what he could to provide one.

“It (protest music) puts wind in the sails of the struggle, it’s something that speaks truth to the reptilian brain in people in the combination of melody, rhythm and rhyme.”

He had been to eight other occupations and said people are learning that “in order to change the world, walk out your front door and just do it.”

While You Were Sleeping

The Occupied Times Nov 16 2011

Thefts, drunken abuse, paranoid schizophrenics, argumentative bankers, copious amounts of coffee and plenty of pacing is all in a night’s voluntary work for one of the toughest roles in the OccupyLSX movement.

The Tranquillity Team – also known as Night Watch – is made up of a variety of occupiers who stay up all night to keep a beady eye on what’s going on around the camp. They pace around, keep in touch over radios and try to calm down any trouble that may be brewing.

I joined the team for a few shifts – on a Monday and a Friday – and soon realised it is a tiring, frustrating and dangerous role. But someone has to do it.

I attached myself to Antonio Maniscalco an Italian chef who alternates between tranquillity and kitchen duties. He is dedicated to the movement; is highly intelligent, compassionate and a natural at resolving conflicts and keeping the peace – the point of the role.

Antonio moved around groups loitering on the St Paul’s steps, in the tea tent and around the kitchen with ease. He is well liked, and spoke well of the people he was trying keep safe.

His main tactic was to “keep people relaxed.”

He urged everyone to “behave, be respectful and civilized.”

On the Monday, between 10pm and 6am there were always at least six people on the lookout, and the problems came from people who were not camping at St Paul’s but hanging around the area – some with the sole intent of causing trouble.

There was a group of young men spotted rummaging through people’s tents, trying to steal clothing and sleeping bags, they were quickly surrounded by Tranquillity as well as curious campers, and when they realised they would be intensely watched all night, skulked away from the camp.

Later on, there was an old man, with a hacking cough, wrapped in a shawl and carrying a staff. At varying points he was aggressive, dismissive and nonsensical to the Tranquillity volunteers.

He demanded Antonio organise a meeting with two campers the man had met earlier, so he could discuss meeting government officials and starting his own march.

He later asked for a taxi to be called to take him to a hospital, but it needed to bring him some ecstasy first. His final request, at about 3am was for Tranquillity to arrange a date for him with a 16-year-old girl he met earlier that day.

Antonio tried to offer the man, who was clearly in desperate need of medical attention, a place to sleep but he was not interested, and eventually moved on.

With not enough numbers and no one with experience on how to deal with the man’s delusions, there was nothing Tranquillity could do.

I also joined the team on a bustling Friday night, when there were rumours flying around of an English Defence League (EDL) infiltration, so numbers were beefed up after a call out at the General Assembly for more volunteers.

Despite the anticipation, the night was relatively quiet, made up of what is becoming the usual antics of a Friday night at St Paul’s; bankers and city workers on their way home from after-work drinks trying to instigate arguments with campers, people more aligned with the movement letting loose at the free concert by the St Paul’s steps, and others getting drunk and rambling to each other in the tea tent.

Antonio was pleased it was an easy night, as the one before certainly wasn’t – last Thursday one of the volunteers had been repeatedly assaulted, and had clothes stolen from his tent while other Tranquillity members had to try and defend the kitchen from campers’ drunken rummaging.

Tranquillity members that I spoke to all agreed it was excessive drinking that was making their roles difficult, and that was what made a division between those camping out to make a change, and those camping out to party.

“Seventy to eighty percent of the people here believe in the movement, but the rest have no idea, and should party elsewhere,” Antonio said.

They had been repeatedly called fascists last Thursday night, also a typical occurrence.

Military veteran Matthew Horne said when he was on Tranquillity duties he often came up against people who deemed the group as another form of authority to oppose.

“They need to realise that no matter what society you want to live in, no matter where you go in the world there will always be a need for a form of security or a police force, this isn’t something new it dates right back to the dawn of humanity, even in the animal kingdom.

“There are threats out there, it’s always better to have an alert system in place, if that means having people walking around at night with a radio in communication with each other, then so be it.”

Two nights with Tranquillity and it was pretty clear something had to change, there were people who could not hold their alcohol and got aggressive from it, and there were also people flocking to the camp for lack of a better option, and they needed help.

This is a sentiment many in the camp are aware of, and are trying to address.

Occupier Alison Playford is one of them. She is involved with the new welfare centre set up at St Paul’s – the centre aims to deal with all the issues I witnessed while with Tranquillity. When the centre is better established, it will provide help for Tranquillity as they patrol the camp.

Alison said the centre was set up to deal with peoples’ mental well-being, from stressed out campers to those who come to the occupation suffering mental illness, addiction or homelessness problems.

I visited the centre on a Wednesday afternoon when there was a counsellor and homoeopathist on site, waiting to help anyone who may need it. They were but two of the many who responded to a call out for health service providers to offer their expertise to the camp.

The centre was working on having counsellors, clergy and other service providers available around the clock.

Alison said as soon as they had the numbers they would support Tranquillity with remedying situations and getting people the help they desperately need.

She, like so many others I have spoken to at OccupyLSX, was aware the movement has become a beacon for London’s vulnerable and disaffected, but, unlike wider society, this community did not want to ignore them.

“We are supposed to be the change we want to see… an inclusive society that protects its vulnerable members and that’s what we are trying to do.”