For nine days, from the 17th to the 26th October, the Occupy London group held a peaceful protest in Parliament Square with the wish to educate each other on the internal problems our country has and on solutions to them and to reclaiming our democracy. As the videos show, the police made every attempt to stop this from happening. The programme that ran that each day had a different theme, each focusing on a specific problem with our current system. I had the privilege of attending the first Sunday and I can say, as an eye-witness, that everyone at the protest was peaceful, welcoming and generally very nice.
The theme of the day that I went was finance and there were some very interesting speakers, including Ann Pettifor (who has devoted her life to analysing the global financial system and the UK’s financial system), John Christensen (Director of the Tax Justice network, analysing the harm that tax evasion and fear of tax can bring) and two volunteers from UKuncut (a grassroots movement taking action to highlight alternatives to the government’s spending cuts). Each had something different to say on the matter, not only highlighting the problems but suggesting solutions.
As I mentioned earlier, the police made every attempt possible to close down the protest. Now obviously they were only doing their job and it would have been more than their job was worth not to do what they were ordered to do. That is not what angers me. The real issue here is the use of the police as a political tool. The day before Occupy Democracy began, the police made excuses about maintenance of the grass on Parliament Square and put string around it, not allowing people to go on the grass. Once they had admitted the grass didn’t need maintenance, a bye-law was invented claiming that, as Parliament Square was owned by Westminster Council, it was private property and the protesters must leave. The police again had to admit they were wrong.
From here the police plucked bye-laws out of nowhere, stopping people from having banners, voice amplification, warmth when sleeping and even an umbrella. One man was arrested for cutting a piece of string that surrounded Parliament Square. Later in the week, when the police again were not allowing people on the grass, a man climbed up on to one of the plinths surrounding the square. Someone handed him a bottle of water and was arrested. The police didn’t allow the man on the plinth to have any food or water for the duration he was up there and, when he climbed down, he was instantly arrested… For exercising his right to protest.
Ten minutes after I had left the protest, on my way home, I heard reports of police brutality at the protest. The police were arresting people for sitting on a tarpaulin in Parliament Square (not just a legal place of protest, but a historical site of protest, a place put there specifically for protests) and they were using force to remove the protesters. This didn’t just happen that evening; it had happened the evening before and it happened again later in the week. The police kettled the protesters, using Guantanamo tactics: not allowing them access to food, water or a toilet, preventing them from sleeping, putting up umbrellas and wrapping themselves up to keep warm.
This happened even though the protesters had not put up banners (according to a made-up law) or used voice amplification (according to a made-up law) because they’d been told not to. The police had said earlier in the day (I was there to hear it) that the tarpaulin would be allowed.
Before the kettling the police had tried to intimidate us by surrounding us, taking notes and videoing us (for later evidence?) and generally trying to outnumber us. When the kettling happened, there were only around 30 protesters, yet there were 140 police officers, a police helicopter and several riot vans. This is all because the Government is concerned that maybe Occupy Democracy has a point and that if Occupy Democracy gets the attention of the public before it is shut down, it might make a difference. Does this not raise the question of whether we truly do live in a democracy?
Following all this there were several other arrests, including that of Jenny Jones (a senior Green Party politician). The "reasons" for her arrest are laughable at. She arrived to investigate the claims of police brutality, as she is on the board that makes sure that the Metropolitan Police does its job correctly. While there (doing her job), she was arrested. The police could not come up with a reason better than that she was supporting the protest. She could still be taken to court. See more on her arrest here.
Another protest was taking place on the first Saturday of Occupy Democracy and it was redirected so that it did not pass Parliament, so as to not give Occupy any more attention.
So why all this, then? Is our country really in that much of a state that people are willing to go and get arrested just to show that we don’t have a true democracy?
Wherever we place ourselves on the political spectrum, we have to admit that our Government doesn’t run on democracy, it runs on money. This means that the interests of the people aren’t served; instead, the interests of big, money-making corporations and big banks and the institutions where politicians work when they’re not being politicians are being served (it is easy to spot which organisations the Government is serving at any given time because those are the ones where the leading ministers work when their term in office comes to an end). Our mainstream media is paid for almost entirely by big companies, meaning that the needs of 99% of the population are not served, as the media and Government work closely to put in charge those people that the big businesses want in charge.
Over the past thirty years, we’ve seen the wages for many flatlining and coming out of sync with inflation, putting many people out of pocket and in difficult positions, whilst bankers take huge bonuses and large companies avoid tax so that the bosses can make as much money as they like whilst their workers get minimum wage, not a living wage. More and more people are forced to choose between heating and eating.
Because of the control of the media by the Government and big companies, many of us don’t know the huge issues that surround housing, education, health etc. Even our voting system is unfair: proportional representation is quite probably the closest thing we have to true democracy - except we don’t have it. It would surely be much fairer to have the number of votes for a party to reflect the number of seats they hold. We are put in a position in which, if you don’t vote for one of the three main parties, your vote becomes void - and you couldn’t fit a piece of paper between the three main parties as they all offer the same thing: cuts to public services.
The way that political parties are funded means that banks directly benefit from financing a certain party’s campaign, then making money out of what they do with their power. For example, when the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition privatized the Royal Mail (which is a whole other debate in itself), close friends of the Conservative Chancellor, George Osborne, made huge amounts of money out of the privatization.
All of this draws me to the conclusion that our country is not a democracy and that only if we stand up to the system and tell those in power that they’re wrong will we get anywhere. The government is not serving us as the people and that needs to change. We need a revolution.