• Occupy Democracy 28 October 2014 | View comments

  • Protesters had their right to protest challenged in a week-long demonstration at Parliament Square organised by Occupy London, those taking part planned to camp there all week. There were numerous speakers at the event and the aim of Occupy Democracy as stated on their website was to “direct the energy from current single-issue struggles into a critical mass that can radically challenge the corrupt and unrepresentative system”. It began on Friday the 17th of October and the evening saw the peaceful protest being turned into a tug of war between protesters and police. Under the 2011 Social Responsibility act, it is an offence to have any 'sleeping structure' at Parliament Square, this included tarpaulin put down so they could sit. Videos of police dragging people on the tarp arose on the internet and it was dubbed 'battle of the tarpaulin'. 

    Westminster is where democracy is supposed to be upheld and the square has been used for protesting frequently in the past, however, there are increasing restrictions on peaceful protest. Police can confiscate any equipment which can be used for sleeping on such as a sleeping bag, if charged you can be fined up to £5,000 and you have to get permission from the Greater London Authority to have a speakerphone.

    David Graeber sums it up pretty well in the Guardian saying, "sleeping outside for an iPhone is OK, but do it in furtherance of democratic expression and you’re in trouble."

    After being evicted from the square, fences were then erected around it, signs stated it was so ‘maintenance’ could be done on the grass. Regardless, the occupiers weren’t deterred and moved to a spot to the right of the square. Campers were awoken on Tuesday morning by the police, one lady, Natasha was arrested along with 26 others and charged with obstructing a police officer and having tarpaulin. A sign popped up saying, ‘the revolution will not be confiscated," following attempts by the police to take away anything which could be slept on, including pizza boxes. On Tuesday morning, Green party member Baroness Jenny Jones headed down to the Square after being contacted by the protesters and was investigating the claims of heavy-handedness from the police. She was briefly arrested among others for obstructing the police.

    On Tuesday, one protester named Dan climbed onto the statue of Winston Churchill, defending their right to form an assembly. He describes the events that unfolded for him to get onto the statue on his blog, ‘the large green at Parliament Square and the Churchill memorial was now caged in behind security fencing. I watched on as civil liberties were confiscated from peaceful citizens’. He climbed the security fence and says it was the beginning of his first protest saying his initial point was to ‘reclaim the square for the occupiers’. He stayed up there overnight, apparently leading a yoga session in the morning for the camp. Dan told organisers, “I’m up here because Churchill is a symbol of freedom and we’ve had our freedom to protest removed, with no proper explanation why”.

    Russell Brand visited, bringing food to the campers, one-night bringing pizza and another night he apparently brought them sushi. He’s helped bring the conversation to light, with his celebrity status since his interview with Jeremy Paxman last year on Newsnight and with his Youtube series The Trews. He’s just released a new book ‘Revolution’ and it seemingly tackles topics similar to what Occupy is talking about. Such issues on their agenda seem to be energy related, against further use of fossil fuels and fracking, increased surveillance, TTIP and privatisation of the NHS. 

    A young man wandering around the grass hung a painting on a tree. It balanced on a branch stump briefly before two heritage wardens armed with camcorders asked for it to be taken down.

    Dan has been up to the statue for a good twelve hours, he’s not been allowed water or food and is surrounded by the Metropolitan police. What with all that attention on him he's probably a little hungry, poet Martin Powell piles some hot food into an ice cream tub, breaking the top of plastic forks off so that they fit discretely in. "I hope I don't get arrested," he says recalling the other time he's spent in a cell, similarly because of his involvement in a protest. He makes a successful pass, before getting dragged off by police. "Shame on you!" exclaims the crowd. Dan digs in. 

    Occupy London picked their location well, as well as being in front of the building where the Government make decisions, it's bang in the middle of London. Some of the city's' biggest landmarks are within a mile or two, so tourists pass through looking at signs and quizzing those taking part. Traffic is constantly passing from numerous directions, buses full of people all staring out of the window to check out what's going on. Anyone trying to get from one end of London to the other would pass the space during the week, no wonder they don't want them to have signs. The Occupy movement occupies space and goes on to occupy people's minds. Despite demonstrators being asked to take down signs they walked around the square with a massive 'real democracy now' banner.

    Later on the Wednesday, Dan the plinth guy left the statue and was charged by the police, he explains his four charges in this video with the Artist Taxi Driver. His bail conditions included not to enter the square, whether that included the small patch of grass they moved to was not made clear and he was rearrested upon re-joining the camp. Dan went to magistrates' court on November 12th where all charges were dropped.

    The sun was shining on the penultimate day of the protest, and gates remain around Parliament square and Churchill. The police seemed to of relaxed their stance against the movement, no longer circling the group of protesters. Multiple people stood with posters along the main road, stating things such as 'we didn't vote for endless war', honks from passing drivers responding to the 'honk for democracy' sign are greeted with cheers. There was a blackout in mainstream media of the demonstration with only the Guardian and the Independent reporting on it.

    The Occupy movement began in September 2011 at Wall Street in New York, against social and economic inequality. Their slogan 'we are the 99%', brought to attention how the majority of us are paying for mistakes of the top earning 1%, like when banks were bailed out in 2008. The campaign spread internationally with Occupy London taking up camp by St. Pauls Cathedral until eviction in February 2012, the movement has also been cited in influencing the Arab Spring of 2012. Most recently, protests in Hong Kong erupted on the 28th of September, fronted by Occupy Central with Love and Peace. Over 100,000 protesters gathered where they were met with tear gas and pepper spray. The campaign is ongoing and the fact that China's largest search engine has blocked search terms such as 'tear gas' and 'Hong Kong students' as well as Instagram shows the disobedience scares politicians. 

    Activists plan to come back to Parliament Square on the 21st of November, their plan is to work collectively and bring about a democracy that puts people, community and the environment before profits. 


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