Occupy Local Communities

November 15, 2011

by Kwadwo Kari-Kari

“All day, all week, we sleep on London’s freezing streets.” – Occupy LSX placard

Let me start with a confession: I have not spent a single night sleeping at any of the occupations. If that appalls you I can only apologise, but I was one of two protesters that successfully “occupied” Paternoster Square (ok hung around in Starbucks) from midday to 2pm on 15th October. I do see myself as part of the Occupy Movement, and admire those who camp in the City of London. I think that the majority of sympathisers and supporters aren’t attracted to sleeping on freezing streets of London as a method of enabling social change. So I want to suggest not that we do something different, but instead diversify our tactics to engage more of the “99%” we claim to represent.

Whilst many take inspiration from Occupy Wall Street in the Global North, my inspiration is from the south of our shores: the Indignados of Spain, the uprisings in Egypt and Uganda, the “Women of Zimbabwe Arise” movement, Via Campesina and the South African shack-dwellers movement: Abahlali baseMjondolo.

What they all have in common with us, is that they are social movements, they are broadly non-hierarchical and they have visions of a world in where people take priority over Capital. We are not all anti-capitalists but we are all united that the current system we live under is not working for the 99%. So we could unite and learn from each others experiences to build alternatives here and now.

This is easier said than done, I’ve been part of what I’ll call the London “activist scene” for over 5 years, it has both depressed and uplifted me at different times. A perennial concern of mine and many others is how unrepresentative this scene is of the people they claim to represent. We are the 99%, we are the oppressed, the mocked, the exploited but we do not all face the same social problems in equal measure. A poor Nigerian disabled lesbian asylum seeker faces more barriers in our society than a privately educated English millionaire, however I’m more likely to see privately educated white people than working class immigrants at direct actions against the 1%.

Brixton and Peckham are parts of London that are majority black/African, and climate change is an issue that will affect continents like Africa and Asia much more severely than Europe. I have been a part of setting up Transition Towns in these two localities yet throughout I’ve been the only participant in the group who is actually of African origin. Please don’t misunderstand my point, I’m pleased and inspired by people of all backgrounds participating in the struggle for a better world, and also want to see privately educated people choosing to side with the 99% and not with their natural heritage. However something is serious wrong if those who experience privilege are more representative of our community of rebellion than those who are the most directly affected by the oppressions we seek to abolish.

I am a volunteer in South London Anti-Fascists Group, we are supported by Battersea & Wandsworth and Croydon Trade Union Councils. For the last 4 years we have been building community groups in areas like Morden as a way of developing solidarity against the BNP, the EDL and other forms of racism. We have had some successes, in which we’ve brought together a working coalition of a local Mosque, three churches, activists from 6 political parties including mainstream ones, also activists from no political or religious group affiliation including independent trade unionists and Anarchists. These diverse groups coming together was a slow and sometimes painful process; there were many preconceptions and distrust to overcome in a one group of just 30 odd people. However despite our differences and different visions of a better world, we were united on what we needed to oppose. This was our strength. We developed structures of accountability without imposing authority on any other, people voluntarily contributed in their ways to resisting local racism. We came through the process of struggle with increased or renewed respect for each other and we felt part of something bigger than ourselves.

This story, I believe could be ours also. We could develop working groups to participate in local trade union councils and anti-cuts groups as a hub of solidarity between localities. It has already started, Lewisham, Southwark and Lambeth anti-cuts groups have a South East London tent in Finsbury Square. This could spread, and I hope it will. We could extend outside our safe activist hubs and reach out into local communities, we can listen and understand why many ordinary people who find their own lives a daily struggle haven’t yet participated concretely with us. We can learn to show solidarity with the under-represented, let’s start by occupying our communities.

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