As some of you will know, I recently went to the Occupy the London Stock Exchange protest in London. This was after a lot of healthy debate with Adam about the legitimacy of protest and whether it has the potential to change anything.
At the first General Assembly of the Occupy Exeter movement I introduced myself as a converted cynic, whose eyes had been opened by the many occupations occurring around the world. This is true, I do think that occupation as a form of social protest is a good one. It disrupts the status quo, and keeps the protestors visible and audible. I like the fact that the various Occupy groups have become self-sustaining democratic bodies. I also think that the reach of the movement is phenomenal and shows that we're not all apathetic.
However, I'm not afraid to say that I'm often still uneasy about the ideas and the motives of all of those involved in the protest.
We in Exeter were quick to establish that the main ethos of the movement must be as supporters of the current movements, and an expression of our belief in the inequality caused by an unregulated banking system. Any other specific views or positions either of the individual or of groups involved must be explicitly stated as such when communicating with others so as to avoid media misrepresentation (as much as possible).
This is an outline I'm pleased we established, yet the uneasiness remains...
We are here to protest about financial inequality, and there are many people from all walks of life involved in this. However, what I have seen is that for the most part these protests are led by the young and by the educated.
Now it can be argued (as Adam rightly points out) that they (we) have a lot to lose if the system is allowed to carry on as it is. However, I can't help feeling that we are speaking for a lot of people who aren't there. People who are working to support their families, and I'm uneasy about complaining about problems which have a far greater impact on others, than they do on me.
I know this is something that all protests have to come to terms with, but I passionately believe that people should be able to express their views, no matter who they are and I don't like the idea of (for want of a better expression) the educated middle class claiming to understand the suffering of the poor.
It is good to be someone who thinks about the plight of others, and I'm not using this as a reason not to be involved, but more expressing the conflicts involved in being a good protestor.
I think one of the most important things I've learned about myself in the last few weeks is that I despise extreme socialists and extreme liberals almost as much as I despise extreme conservatives.
To take an example, while at the Occupy LSX protest, I was browsing some of the stalls that had been set up, including one by a group of socialists. As I spoke to the woman on the stall, I realised that I wasn't actually being spoken to, but spoken at. They wanted me to buy their workers newspaper that told me all about the plights of workers all over the world (probably legitimate issues). She didn't want a discussion, she wanted to preach to me.
Believing in anything to the extent that you won't make an effort to find out why other people believe what they believe, or (even better) to understand it, makes you a bigot.
It also makes your life a lot easier. Lining things up in black and white means you can happily categorise anyone you disagree with, without challenging yourself to be tolerant. I live in an almost perpetual state of frustration at a world painted in a variety of shades of grey.
To clarify, I do still support Occupy Exeter, but I would like to see a wider variety of people (not just students) coming to find out what it's all about, and coming to tell us their concerns. If you are interested, come meet on Saturday at 12 noon on Exeter High Street. Let's make this group representative.
Sunday, 6 November 2011