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Sunday, 6 November 2011

Why Activism Makes Me Uneasy...

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.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks, Kate.

    I admire the honesty of your blog. I too have had my doubts and still feel uneasy at times, but would wish to make a few points, just to add to the (internal and wider) debate.

    My sister, years ago, lived in South Africa for a while. She berated me for having an opinion on the apartheid regime because I hadn’t lived there. She actually believed that I had no right to campaign against apartheid because I was not a black person without a vote!

    I talk every day to a dear friend, whose closer involvement than mine at Occupy LSX has included the dangerous and extremely challenging Nightwatch. We are of a similar age. He made a very valid point today which was that circumstances play a part too. Our children are grown up; neither of us is in a relationship; therefore we have the time. Most of those who are starving or struggling to keep a family going simply don’t have the time to join in more actively. I couldn’t have been an Occupier during my own days as an impoverished single parent.

    As for the person who hacked you off in London... this would have been the Socialist Worker Party stall which I also noted when I was there – and ignored. Most SWP members don’t engage and don’t listen; they hector and shout; they lack compassion.

    You’ll perhaps be pleased to note that their stall has left St Paul’s. Time and the movement have moved on. It is their problem if they don’t understand and have failed to hijack the London camp.

    I am blogging regularly about Occupy. A few short articles can be found here and on related link: http://marcusmoore.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/occupying-the-mind-5/

    Best wishes,
    Marcus

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  2. Hi Kate,

    Lovely to read about your uneasiness.

    You're quite right to feel this way. It's an inbuilt mechanism that ensures that you stay true to what you feel. Maybe if the SWP rep was uneasy she might have been able to communicate with you better.

    I've been an activist for about 35 years on various issues. And after all that time all kinds of unease remains . . . whether I've done enough research, whether I am being influential, whether it's all going to make a difference, whether I have got the balance right.

    During the 80s I was a campaigner for disabled rights. I was privileged in being able bodied, and it gave me an understanding about how difficult it is to be a disabled person and an activist at the same time. So I helped out. But there were times that I felt a bit of a fraud when I was asked what my disability was.

    So keep feeling uneasy, Kate.

    BTW Re: the title of your blog, you might like one of my favourite quotations...
    "All our knowledge - past, present and future - is nothing compared to what we will never know" .... Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.

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  3. Thank you both for your kind comments! It's nice that people are starting to read this relatively new blog. And I'm glad for the support, as it is something which causes me a lot of inner turmoil. Equally, I want to support this movement because we can see how this issue of unregulated banking is impacting us all now, as we struggle with the cuts to public services.

    This post was inspired by watching the film 'Reds' which is absolutely brilliant but raises similar questions of the right to express. Also considering being an artist against being a revolutionary and whether the two can be compatible. It's a great film, so I'd watch it if I were you.

    Mozz, yes, your quote is great! I definitely believe there is much that is unknowable, but striving towards your own personal truth is a journey I relish.

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