Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Occupy Brighton. 'Just the Facts' : a personal account from the viewpoint of 2011

Occupy Brighton. 'Just the Facts' : a personal account from the viewpoint of  2011

Written in 2014 by S.F.

This essay is really important to me so it my be revised many times.

Quoting Chomsky Quoting George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia,

I had dropped more or less by chance into the only community of any size in Western Europe where political consciousness and disbelief in capitalism were more normal than their opposites...In theory it was perfect equality, and even in practice it was not far from it. There is a sense in which it would be true to say that one was experiencing a foretaste of Socialism, by which I mean that the prevailing mental atmosphere was that of Socialism. Many of the normal motives of civilized life — snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc. — had simply ceased to exist. ..In theory it was perfect equality, and even in practice it was not far from it. There is a sense in which it would be true to say that one was experiencing a foretaste of Socialism, by which I mean that the prevailing mental atmosphere was that of Socialism. Many of the normal motives of civilized life — snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc. — had simply ceased to exist. 

As Chomsky notes "With a few proper nouns adjusted,much the same statement could come from a witness to the Occupy movement, though the awe would be less well deserved"

 I won't go into the background or context of Occupy here. This is not an academic essay. This is a personal account. This account comes mainly from my memory. Since it was back in the heady days of  2011 , my memories have faded slightly so I'm grateful to have occupy videos on YouTube to rejig my memory and compliment it.

I can't say exactly how I first heard about the occupy movement. I think I must've come across Occupy LSX(London Stock Exchange) on TV. I wanted to be part of these exciting developments and so decided to ask online. I remember asking Brighton Solfed if there was an Occupy Brighton and I didn't hear back until one day I received a message about an event this coming Saturday (29th Oct) It was the night of Brighton's White Night event.

I admit I probably wasn't thinking as clearly as I could've done as  I got the train across the Sussex coast into Brighton. I was in the middle of two crisis'- one political and one personal (having that week had my fiancée of 3 years break up with me)

I got to Victoria Gardens the designated meeting place for the General assembly (GA) and met a few people (Joe /'Fabrice' , Helen, Fiona ) under  a flag proclaiming "we are the 99%"

Nothing much particularly happened though were was some vague discussion before the event started.

a woman called  Tilly introduced herself as from Occupy LSX and was voted in as facilitator. She then went through the famous hand signals of the Occupy movement( born from Feminism and  Quaker  movements)  agree jazz hands, disagree jazz hands, technical point T, raised hand, two index fingers for direct response etc..

Joe spoke about the importance of Occupy. another guy spoke of the issues which brought us together. Joe spoke again. A guy got up to give criticism of Joe. He argued against defining Occupy Brighton as solely non-violence and implying violence may be necessary at times. I disagreed with him.

We then split off into working groups to introduce ourselves to each other and discuss occupation locations. There was about 80 or more people there( I'm such a bad judge of these things)  The group included families, students, many older people, hippies, freeman of the land people, Zeitgeist supporters, leftists, Greens, welfare campaigners etc.

As the General assembly reconvened to discuss occupation options, police turned up. The police were told about this event beforehand. There was a sense of hostility and invasion. We had been invaded. There was some discussion on what to do about them. It was a heated debate. I could tell some left because they disagreed with the decision to embrace the police. It passed over quickly and there was the decision to have a police liaison team. They quickly went over to the police guy who was introduced to us as 'Neil'. There was a  vote on whether to let police speak at the general assembly to  boos. It was decided yes.

We then had our debate about where and when to occupy. I remember meeting dreadlocked anna.
 A  number of speakers from the crowd got up to put forward their respective views formed from the working groups. Someone pointed behind us and  we had a great joke about a building which said  "available  for occupation". It was just too perfect.

We took to a vote and  there was consensus to camp in Victoria  Gardens. For a long period after there was  discussion of practicalities  and setting up of camp.

Jesus ,The beauty of the first night. The first night was beautiful. It will be imprinted on my memory till the day I die. It was magical. Strangers who had just met, helped each other set up tents, kitchens, improv kitchens etc. The stars seemed to shine that night like never before. Everything felt possible. I knew then a new world was possible. I had no clue how I could help. I decided I'd buy them things.

I headed off to buy food at asda with Linda.  Linda  was a new age hippy. I remember not knowing what to buy. What do you buy mostly vegans. to use outside .without electricity. From asda.....
 I ended up spending  the ridiculous amount of  around £70.It felt well spent. I went home inspired.  This felt  monumental. The 'outside world' felt pale and pathetic in comparison to the camp. How cruel the outside world was. I didn't want to leave the camp. If I didn't have a job then, I wouldn't have.

Not much later  at work, I learnt the lies of the Argus newspaper. They claimed the camp was being evicted already. When I was next at the camp ,those lies were quickly debunked. I had come face to face with the lies of the media. I've never forgotten that. I've never forgotten how relentlessly the media slung mud at us and how unwinnable they made the discussion.

My next memory is jokes over tea and curry around the washing machine drum barrel which was our fire.  Joe let me stay overnight in his tent. That night I helped a drunken woman who wandered into our camp chumming her to Brighton Pavilion. She threw her shoes at this homeless guy and I was horrified until it turned out she knew him. It seemed she was safe so I left her.I left the camp the next day and it felt an exciting adventure. Being in the camp however, was cold and boring. I can't comment on things that happened when I wasn't there.

Sometime around then I remember outside hecklers and the awkward moment when someone tried to engage with a passer-by who told us he was voting BNP and an occupier invited them into the camp. That disturbed me no end...

By November, I was becoming disillusioned. My voice wasn't listened to. I tried to demand the inclusion of feminism and indigenous rights in our statement of principles and was shot down with the reply that "we're already inclusive so it's unnecessary". That and the growing hostile atmosphere had me considering quitting yet I'd grown to love the characters .No to mention, It was fast becoming too expensive for me to travel there as often as I liked .

Joe came to be called 'febreeze'.  By that time I was hearing about fights, sensing an atmosphere of  hostility, guys were wandering round in army fatigues talking of evangelical Christianity, I was hearing conspiracy theories like chemtrails and freeman of the land.One tent had people using drugs who insulted me so I left. I felt increasingly uncomfortable and the camp dropped down my priorities. Weeks went by and I didn't think of going.

Unlike many occupy camps around the world, Occupy Brighton was not killed off by violent eviction but by internal conflict, by fights within the camp, by a fire then finally by a storm which the council asked the camp to clean up .That happened by about the 14 December 2011* . I read about it online on the BBC website keeping well  away.Occupy Brighton was over.

 It had lasted 3 months.  I felt deep sadness and  for over a year I retreated from  my previous anarchist  politics. I  retreated back to moderate politics and only attending one march( which was my first ever)

 I had  conflated   my personal politics( anarchism)  with Occupy especially Occupy Brighton. I saw the failure  of one as the same as the failure  of the other. It has took me quite a long time to realize how mistaken this was.

I would later become involved with Occupy again when I got back to Scotland. There I came across the much more positive, Occupy Edinburgh......

I don't want to give the impression Occupy Brighton was completely negative. It and my general experience of Occupy changed my life. It politicized me in a way I never imagined. I can never be the same again. I can never be 'normal' again. The way I view space, the way I see space has changed forever. I made friends and learned lot.  I love Occupy, and Victoria gardens will always be special to me. Occupy Wall street,  Occupy Oakland etc. continue to inspire me. But I'm not uncritical **.

In this essay I deliberately just gave a very superficial description of what happened ,without commentary . I basically tried to mimic the way I behaved back then which was very uncritical . I have much more to say bout Occupy Brighton though . In another essay, I will look back over Occupy Brighton with a more critical eye and subject what I've described here to critical analysis. I also plan to write another essay  in which I give a critical analysis of the Occupy movement in general, it's pros and it's cons.

* as far as I'm aware the camp was not evicted as claimed here

** I'm not so pessimistic as my friend Matt Richards.

day 2.

Check these out:

Occupy Brighton - Day 1 - Monday 15th October 2012

Minutes General Assembly Tuesday 22nd November

Initial Statement - Revision 1st December 2011

 The Occupied Times featured 'good' debate

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