It’s day two of the occupation of Albert Square in Manchester. Inspired by the Wall Street Occupation, among many others, it’s looking to join the burgeoning European Revolution taking place all over the continent.
Right now, around 40 protestors or so have set up in the square, putting up tarps and organising meetings. A general meeting has been called on twitter for 6pm. Initially, after seeing the vast majority of the 35 000 marchers on Sunday (who, to be fair, often had to catch buses back to where they’d come from) ignore or preclude themselves from the demonstration, but people appear to be sticking it out. It’s certainly good to see a successful urban overnight occupation in a context where the most recent murmurs in Trafalgar Square (however patchy) and the City of London have just been drowned in police violence. Are the Manchester police more reasonable than the Met? Has the rioting and the general unease at the Tory government reduced the zealousness of officers? I don’t know.
The atmosphere is strange. As far as my activism goes, I’m a pretty grumpy bastard. I’ve sat in enough squats, enough fields and enough lines of soon to be hospitalized demonstrators to be pretty jaded by now. And yet… and yet…. Being there is strange because, seeing the occupation go from a rumour to reality in the context of what’s happening in the world was weirdly moving. There is this potency, because being there meant that things suddenly stopped being so hopeless. I would recommend it.
With this said, the left is still pretty stressful because, well, it seems to be quite content with it’s marginality. For whatever reason, I tend to find the occupation filled with the same sorts of people I quite readily associate with the activist movement. This is completely understandable somewhere like climate camp, which is by definition quite remote, but in the center of Manchester it’s quite hard to make sense of. Certainly, I sat nearby for about half an hour today as an experiment to see if anyone would come and talk to me about the occupation, which no-one did. This isn’t an attack, and it’s not like my feelings were hurt, but it’s just confusing when the movement is expressly about (at least in the European and American examples) engaging people let down by the political system in a communal atmosphere. This isn’t helped by the fact that, from outside, it’s completely impossible to work out what’s going on.
Gaining momentum means both going out an finding people, whether leafleting or knocking on doors, but also means finding out a convincing way to talk to people. This doesn’t mean educating people about what’s at stake, because they already either know or will pick it up along the way. It means, I think, making it clear that there is something they can do with their anger that won’t just be a waste of time. After a decade of pointless marches, maybe the occupations can be that, but it’s up to everyone involved or sympathetic to make it the sort of welcoming, accessible environment that it needs to be for this to happen.
Follow it here: http://twitter.com/#!/search/occupymcr
Read about it in Shift here: http://shiftmag.co.uk/?p=489
[UPDATE: The MCR occupation appears to have called it a day, having not achieved a critical mass early on. Occupations in Britain, oragnizing principles and so on, will certainly be dealt with in upcoming posts. In the meantime, for British purposes the best place to go would be http://www.occupybritain.co.uk/protest-details/ . Looks like the 15th of October might be big. “Let all the indignados in all the squares join together.”]