Part four of my feature on OccupyLSX, on how people and the media have reacted to the movement.
As with any movement, the reaction to the Occupation has been mixed. Polls conducted by YouGov in late October revealed that 44% of the 1676 respondents agreed with the aims of the Occupation, compared to 30% opposed and 25% not sure. I think the 25% not sure is the most telling statistic, the furore surrounding St Pauls has given the hostile media a club with which to beat the camp and has forced the camp into a defensive position.
But that is changing now the camp has found its feet, the City of London have been put on the retreat by their refusal to respond to the camps reasonable demands for transparency and statements to be released by the end of the week should solidify the camp’s attacking stance. Let us hope that those don’t knows can be persuaded to become agrees as the camp continues to battle injustice, who knows we might just convert a few of the opposition.
It is rather unfortunate that Occupy are so beholden to the media and whatever slant they decide to put on a story. Although those that are interested can go directly to the OccupyLSX website to get information directly, the majority of people will absorb whatever they are told about Occupy by newspapers and TV.
For the first few weeks of occupation the main response to the camp was confusion, it was a feeling largely mirrored in the occupiers themselves. Most campaigns are spawned amongst groups of like-minded individuals, planned over months, grown over years until they reach a stage where they can project themselves to into the world. Occupy had no such advantage. They had to collect their members and organise themselves directly in view of the entire country and its media organisations.
It made life very difficult for newspapers and TV, they couldn’t craft a story out of their demands because there were none, at least not at first. Even the initial statement gave little meat in terms of concrete aims. So the story became “OccupyLSX has no aims” rather than the fairer “OccupyLSX is working towards focusing it’s aims into workable demands and solutions”. It is unfortunate that the coverage in those first few weeks will likely brand the movement forever, at at least make its stereotype very hard to break.
During my time at St Pauls I interviewed passers by and some members of the camp, to see what they thought about Occupy. Although my selection process wasn’t exactly representative of the people I talked to the well-wishers and detractors were in equal measure. I’ve published the transcripts of some the interviews below.
A photographer who was visiting for the day and would rather remain unnamed said “The banking crisis was caused by the public and businesses having who have the philosopy of spend today pay tomorrow, no matter what the banks do it’s going to happen. So what do you do? Stop lending people money so all the businesses go bust? They want jobs so that means there’s got to be employers, employers need to have cash flow, where do they get this money from? For new equipment, for new premises to pay their staff wages. From the banks. So if the banks stop lending money all these people complaining about the banks wouldn’t have a job anyway. Unfortunately its a group of people that think they have a right to protest about everything. They’re lucky that in this country they do have a right to protest they’re not being washed off the streets with a water cannon as they would be in every other major city in the world. After the first week they’ve made their protest and they could have gone away. “
Another who would rather not give his name was rather worried about the imact on his job if he was known to be around the camp. “I actually work not too far from here, I’m on my lunch-break. I just thought I’d have a wander and read some of the articles here. Certainly I agree with some parts of the agenda, obviously it’s primarily an attack on wealth, de-regulation, privatisation all the other neo-liberal policies that got everyone into this mess. I have a lot of sympathy with them, I suppose one of the reasons I’m not pitched up with a tent is that I’m fearful that these kinds of protests don’t often change the long term discourse. I think eventually, sad for me to say it but the tents will disappear and in 12 months time no one will remember it. The main issue is that they haven’t been able to resonate with any large section of the population or the media, if you read a lot of commentary there might be some sympathy for the motives but actually it’s dismissed out of hand. I think that’s a wider problem of the basic neo-liberal consensus in the press and the wider world.”
Gail Partridge aged 71 and her husband said “We’re out in London today for Remembrance day, and I really wanted to see the occupation and lend our support. Capitalism has been proved not to work, its boom and bust all the time and all we’re doing is propping it up. I haven’t got a clever solution but I know this is the wrong one. I think they’re having success already, I think they’re making people think. We might need a complete U-turn but I’m not sure how we can do that. I think these demonstrations do have a natural life, I think there will be a gradual fading away as people need to get back to work and it gets cold. I don’t think they should be murdered but they should be allowed to naturally die.”
At the end of the day people will believe what they want about Occupy, the reaction in the long term will depend on how well the camp can get their agenda across in a rational way. It’s slow but it is coming, we’ll see whether what is to be released will have the content and the popular support to provoke the mainstream media into catapulting OccupyLSX’s agenda into the public discussion. Only then will they achieve the change they desire.