Occupy London Is 50 Days Old – Now It's Time to Occupy Everywhere
We're undeterred by recent criticism, and determined to rise to the challenge of accountability – unlike the banks
Occupy London is 50 days old on Monday and it's time to take stock. Unlike those occupations across the world that started off small and were able to expand gradually, our occupation was born in the full glare of the media on 15 October, a "big bang" launch that meant we had to hit the ground running. Since then we have expanded to three sites across three London boroughs, each of which is a hive of activity. We currently have 39 working groups based at St Paul's alone, operating across topic areas as diverse as direct democracy, outreach and sanitation.
As a non-hierarchical movement, Occupy is inextricably a joint endeavour. Everyone who joins us – even for an evening – holds equal decision-making weight. At the same time, for those of us who are fully immersed in the process, Occupy is a challenging full-time job that is often combined with other commitments. Seeing the sacrifices people make to keep this project going has been humbling.
Over the last week or so, there have been a variety of news stories – some better intentioned than others – challenging us to aspire to even higher levels of efficiency, transparency and accountability. We take it as a compliment that, after only seven weeks, we are regarded as significant enough to warrant the kind of tough questioning that much more powerful organisations find hard to respond to. Unlike them, we intend to rise to the challenge.
Contrary to reports, there has been no expenses scandal at St Paul's. It is true that our finance team has stepped down, but certainly not due to any kind of impropriety. One of the lessons of horizontal decision-making is that everyone in the community needs to take responsibility for the occasional hiccups in our system. Members of the old finance team are very involved in discussions about what the new system should look like; they're also helping to make sure that donations are handled responsibly in the interim period.
Proposals for our reconfigured finance team are being debated. Ideas on the table include asking working groups to become more responsible for raising and allocating funds, and increasing participation in the finance team to ensure that more of the on site population understands what it is they do, and to ensure that our accounts are published regularly.
We have made this journey over just seven weeks with limited resources. Is the financial industry also up to the challenge of transparency and openness? We already know about the position of the City of London Corporation: they've had the last thousand years to publish their accounts, but refuse to publicly discuss the issue.
If a week is a long time in politics, then seven weeks is an age in terms of the news cycle. It's natural that the mainstream media focus on moments of perceived conflict and drama – but when people ask us if we haven't already made our point, we see the result these emphases have on people's expectations. Unfortunately, as even George Osborne has admitted this week, the financial crisis is not going away. The need not only to highlight problems but to identify new ways forward, could not be clearer. We need to build new civic institutions to shield us from the excesses of government policy and to defend us from the ravages of the market. Our work is not nearly done.
Occupy London has an incredible headquarters at St Paul's, but our movement is bigger than any one site. We know it's away from central London that the impact of the recession is being felt hardest. Moving forward, we intend to prove ourselves with acts of community outreach like our "public repossession" "bank of ideas" in Hackney, to create a truly "big" society. Local groups that have lost their funding are already reconvening in our corridors as we help them in carrying out their vital work.
All over the world, the public is waking up to the fact that the crises of unregulated finance, broken democracy and corrupt institutions will not be solved by those who caused them. Occupy London invites those who feel similarly to take the movement into their own communities: it's time to Occupy Everywhere.
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2011