Inspired partially by Occupy Central in Hong Kong, London’s newly formed Occupy Democracy is being called a revival of Occupy London, which for a brief time in 2011 served as a major center of the global Occupy movement.
The new occupation began shortly after an 80,000-person march organized by the country’s Trade Union Congress, though it has not been involved with Occupy Democracy in any official capacity. According to organizer Phil England, the idea for the occupation came in March, when a general assembly of Occupy London decided to embark on “a campaign for real democracy [in the United Kingdom].”
Demonstrators have been camping out since October 17, and intend to stay until Sunday. As in Hong Kong, organizers are looking to build a movement for truly representative democracy. On the group’s website, Occupy Democracy couches this call in a larger narrative around austerity and growing corporate influence in parliament and on 10 Downing Street. “We know that democracy is not just about having a vote every four, now five years,” it states. “It is about having the power to make your voice heard. We know that a government that answers to profit before people is no democracy … Nobody voted to be made homeless, hungry or unemployed. It is clear whose voices are being heard.” Over email, England said that the group “[wants] a democracy that works for the 99 percent instead of corporations, banks and a tiny wealthy elite.”
Protesters’ messaging deals with Britain’s governmental structure, though many of the stories to emerge from Occupy Democracy’s focus on the technicalities of laws that govern free speech in London’s public spaces. The week’s events have been centered in Parliament Square, a park directly across from Britain’s main legislative body where it has recently become illegal to hold signs or use amplified sound systems. The Greater London Authority has fenced off the square, an area traditionally known for protests, in accordance with laws passed in 2011 to discourage demonstrators in the lead-up to the royal wedding. The 2011 Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act allows London Police to confiscate anything that could be considered a “structure” in Parliament Square, which in recent days has come to mean pizza boxes and tarps.
Most of the 40 arrests made have been on the grounds of confiscating “structures,” which have been forcefully taken by police. Occupiers, too, have been dragged out of the square. Similar to its namesake, much of the initial media coverage of Occupy Democracy has come as a result of police repression. These confiscations have even given Occupy Democracy a new name: “The Tarpaulin Revolution.”
The question remains as to whether Occupy Democracy can become a movement larger than the square. This time three years ago, Occupy encampments worldwide debated what would become of the movement after it was evicted — either by the police or the weather. Occupiers’ shared identity became so bound up in what was happening in the park that, shortly after tents and kitchens collapsed, so too did the movement. Having set a time limit on their occupation, it appears as if Occupy Democracy organizers have learned a few key lessons from their predecessors. If protesters in London can manage to inject as much excitement into the banner as their counterparts in Hong Kong, a smarter, stronger Occupy may not be out of the question.
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