Occupy London: radical or conservative?

For almost two months now, the Occupy London camp has remained firmly entrenched outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, having been banned from the private grounds of Paternoster Square, where the London Stock Exchange is located. After winning its philosophical “huddled masses” tête à tête with the St Paul’s authorities, the movement is preparing itself to tackle its next challenge: eviction proceedings being brought to bear by the City of London Corporation. The formal hearing is scheduled to take place from 19th December.

It certainly feels that despite its raison d’être being as self-evident as ever, Occupy London is on the cusp of an existential crisis. In the coming weeks and months, the camp will need to fight for the right to maintain its most visible presence in the British capital, one of the world’s international finance hubs. The storm of publicity attracted during the movement’s disagreement with the St. Paul’s hierarchy has died away, and with it, many of its most effective tendrils of engagement with the general public. Amidst all the background noise of day-to-day news and political developments, the debate is slowly and steadily shifting away from the question “are the international Occupy movements right about modern capitalism?” and towards the question “is it time to finally get rid of all those tents outside of St Paul’s?” We all know how hungry the 24×7 news cycle beast can be; it would very much like another dramatic (and hopefully violent!) Dale Farm style confrontation between the authorities and people who purportedly shouldn’t be where they are.

In short, it is difficult to see what the next step for local branches of the global “Occupy” movement should be. Turn radical, and they stand to grab some more publicity and potentially reinvigorate their campaigns for economic justice – but they also stand to turn large swathes of the law-abiding general public off their arguments. The current tack, at least in the London context, seems to be rather more conservative; just last week Occupy London published an “Initial Statement of the Corporations Working Group”, effectively a press release. It sure sounds high-falutin’, but it’s all a tad banal frankly: here are the three key points:

We must abolish tax havens and complex tax avoidance schemes, and ensure corporations pay tax that accurately reflects their real profits.

Legislation to ensure full and public transparency of all corporate lobbying activities must be put in place. This should be overseen by a credible and independent body, directly accountable to the people.

Those directly involved in the decision-making process must be held personally liable for their role in the misdeeds of their corporations and duly charged for all criminal behaviour.

Laudable sentiments, yes, but hardly visionary ones, and my, what a vague and middling way in which to express them! If the purpose of the Occupy movement was to establish an amateurish tent city of students, interested passers-by and disenfranchised Liberal Democrats, firing occasional uncontroversial missives into the offices of news organisations across the country – they have succeeded. But it’s clearly not the right path.

Occupy London needs to find a new, creative way of continuing to express its message, or risk fading inconsequentially into the background static.

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