A non-partisan journal of the left.

Light and fluid warriors

Thu 29th Dec 2011

'As soon as we meet, Ollie, 23, proudly shows me his brand new DC motor for a bike generator. He’s excited about making his own energy and eager to start the Legoview experiment. I met Ollie the first time the Occupy movement had taken the streets in London, on October 15th. He was enthusiastic then and so he is today. Since his job contract ended, he is now free to occupy full time and contribute and support the movement.

I show him the Lego bricks and he immediately starts building even before I ask him to do so. “I am building a house” he says. And he starts assembling the bricks. “It’s about homelessness” he tells me while making his model, “there are around 600,000 empty houses [1] in the UK that are habitable, which are not falling down or abandoned and there’s so many people who are homeless…. They've been trying to make squatting illegal for years now… and that’s how you have people sleeping in the rain every night and houses which are completely empty… it’s just stupid…” He comments while playing with the bricks. When he finishes, I start asking him about some pieces which seems peculiar. I am attracted by the windmill.

When I ask Ollie about it, first he smiles puzzled and then becomes more serious: “We need to seriously, seriously start thinking a lot more about using renewable energies… We should think more about how we get energy, how we use energy”. And then I turn his attention to the ladder next to the windmill. “…it’s slightly out of reach” he shows me, turning the model towards me “it goes all the way to the top, and it’s meant to show that the methods to get energy, like wind, solar, geothermal are naturally in the environment but inaccessible to normal people… They had a solar power tariff… up until about 2 weeks ago the government was subsidising solar power by saying ‘If you power your house with solar, you can sell the energy back’, so you could sell the energy you’ve made but haven’t used. For years the government was encouraging this, saying we have to be the greenest government ever, we need to stop using fossil fuels. But because the scheme was so successful, now they’ve stopped it saying ‘No, no, no, too many people are doing this … we are losing too much money!’, so they’ve
cut the scheme tariffs in half, which means that they have ripped the heart out of the solar panel industry, because they are going to lose their jobs and money…” [2]. He then start talking about the government going back on its promises: “Before the last general election the Conservatives were saying they were going to be the greenest government and that we should use renewable energy resources and yet we have scheduled to build a new nuclear power station in 2018.’’ [3]

After the warm up model, it’s time to ask him the big question on my mind: What is the Occupy movement? What is all this about? I ask him not to answer, but to build a model of it. “It can take sometime…” he says while staring at the bricks. He divides the grey bricks, builds a house-like shape with a human figure having problems holding a long brick. As soon as the human and the brick are balanced, he proudly says he is done.

The model is divided into 3 areas: “What I wanted to do was make a representation of the financial collapse and the opportunity given to me and the Occupy movement to rebuild something completely new, bright and colourful… it’s not every time in your life that you get such opportunity … This is of representative of our physically constructing something new” – he explains while showing me the human figure he has been struggling with before – “and it’s of course not about building new buildings but it’s kind of learning from the lessons that caused that” he says looking at the bunch of grey bricks. The grey and black bricks are behind the human shape: “This rubble is reminiscent of how an unregulated financial system has just imploded on itself and caused tens of millions of people to lose their homes, their jobs and their life savings … it’s complete, absolute chaos. And I believe what the Occupy movement is trying to do it’s to propose a way for the good parts of that system to be taken out and the bad parts to be just rubbished, and then we’ll try to build something which is more suited to human beings, more driven by human needs.”

He has lots to say, he simply looks at the bricks and continues: “The business model that we have at the moment is just there to accumulate wealth and get bigger and bigger every year. And it’s not really sustainable and when you let it go for so many years stuff like that happens, things just simply collapse and hurt so many people… So for me the occupy movement is about getting people together, getting people from every background together to sort out how to make things a little bit fairer but also not to take away the rights of people …”

Building the future

“And this is the new house…” he shows me with eyes full of hope, “That’s why I have made the old one all grey and black and miserable looking and I’ve made the new house, the new place, bright and colourful to represent that we can make it as colourful and as amazing as we want… because an economic collapse is gonna be horrible, it’s gonna be ridiculously harsh and when it potentially will happen, it’ll give us some clean layer to rebuild and learn from our mistakes and to make whatever we want out of it…”.

Ollie’s words remind me of 危机 the Chinese ideogram for ‘crisis’ which combines the words ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. Ollie sees both the danger of the imminent collapse of the system and the opportunities stemming from it. He shows me the colourful bricks next to the human figure: they are the building blocks of the new world. There’s a black brick there: “Things which on the surface may seem completely negative” – Ollie explains – “things against humanity, in a new world might be used in better ways. You can probably reuse a lot of stuff from it… it’s about recycling: use stuff in a different way to better humans”. The black brick “is the parts of the financial system which were good and we are gonna save part of the old way of doing things… It’s not capitalism as such but the aspects of the previous financial capitalistic system …” He becomes serious: “People believe that when you are criticising capitalism you have some kind of Communist beliefs, like everyone should have the same glass of milk and the same slice of bread at the end of the day … nothing like that. I firmly believe that if people work hard they should be able to get more than other people …. “

Then he talks about the other bricks: “they represent all the stuff which is positive, and they’ve been pulled from the leftovers of the economic and financial system we have at the moment that caused the crash in 2008… I believe we need to take from there, take from the leftovers and leave the rest behind … we need to leave unregulated investments behind, such as the arms trade, drugs and people trafficking”.

I keep looking at Ollie’s model and ask him about the transparent brick on top of the new house. I want to learn about the world Occupy is building: “The bricks on the top are solar panels… we have the capacity to be able to completely use all of our energy from renewable sources like geothermal, solar, wind and hydroelectric… we have the capacity to run everything in the world on renewable energy and obviously with a sustainable energy system like that, it’d be great because energy would be a much less expensive and we wouldn’t have those huge money operations which cause ridiculous amounts of death and injury to people working in mines. And we wouldn’t have giant oil spills like we had a few years ago in the gulf of Mexico.”

While he talks with passion about the environment, my attention is caught by a pink flower. “It’s about a really cool project I have been told about by someone who went to the occupation in Oakland, USA” he says, “it’s called guerilla gardening…”[4] He talks about it with enthusiasm: “It’s basically to have a good use of space. I just can’t see how can we justify flying or shipping [fruits and vegetables] from another country when we’ve got so much empty space here… Between Devon and Plymouth you drive past farm after farm, abandoned, and all the fields are empty and there’s nothing growing and it’s all really good land to grow stuff on… but because it’s cheaper to fly it or ship it from another country, they can’t compete anymore.. so they close their farms…”.

Ollie is proud to be part of the Occupy movement, he is happy to work hard,
to get his hands dirty and to be part of something which is trying to achieve something laudable: “I think the Occupy movement does contain aspects of environmentalism. Even though it’s primarily an economic movement, it’s also a political movement, an environmental movement, a humanitarian movement and an anti-racist movement … it’s a huge range of stuff and it’s really hard to define it in one sentence. As soon as one person walks in and joins the movement, the scope changes because they come with their own opinions and they come with all the things they want to change… ”

I keep looking at the new world Ollie is building with Lego – this colourful, environmentally-friendly new place. But then I notice that the house has no base underneath. “Why does it have no base?” I ask.

Ollie gets excited, like he were waiting for such a question. “There’s no base, not because it’s unstable, but because it’s fluid… When you have a base like that”, he says pointing to the black base in the bunch of grey bricks representing the financial crisis, “it’s always gonna be there, it’s always gonna be the same place, it’s always gonna be the same size, it’s always gonna be the same shape. When you have something that’s fluid, it’s different and it’s fluid because new people come up and you get new opinions all the time… A lot of rules of society are extremely old… I mean I know they are amended but a lot of our systems are quite archaic. So I think that if you have a completely set base, which sets standards for how things are meant to look and how things are meant to be, you can never fit in the way things are in the present moment. When you are stuck doing things in a certain way, you can’t react to new situations. So I think not having a base is important because it doesn’t limit the way you can grow. “

I challenge him once more: “But don’t you think that the lack of a base would make the new world unstable in the long term?” He looks at the model and pointing at the black base among the grey bricks, says: “That’s sounds stable to you? It had a base!” He smiles cheeky and goes on: “I believe that fluidity of not having a base is more important than the stability, because we’ve seen, tried and tested situations that had a very strong base, had a lot of regulations, had a lot of clear rules … you can lay down the basic rules but it doesn’t mean that people will abide by them. So if you allow the freedom of fluidity, you allow people to create and do what they want. I am not an expert in the financial sector and that can be a loose statement, but I think the definition of stability is a faulty one because people see stability as being rigid, as knowing what you have to do and what’s going to happen. I think reacting to the present situation is more important than sticking to the rules that we used to set down. Things change day to day but when you can’t react to them, you’re stuck”.

When Ollie finishes, I look at this 23 years old guy sitting in front of me, with his bike generator motor and the will to be there, to build the new world from scratch and get his hands dirty. While he leaves I can only think of Carlos Castaneda’s words: “Feeling important makes one heavy, clumsy and vain. To be a warrior one needs to be light and fluid.”. And that is what Ollie is. And that what the Occupiers are: light, fluid warriors.'

[1]
www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/houseprices/8969627/Number-of-empty-houses-rises-by-12000.html

[2]
http://www.hastingsobserver.co.uk/news/local-news/solar_panel_plans_scrapped_after_energy_tariffs_cut_1_3360440

[3]
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jul/29/hinkley-c-nuclear-power-station

[4] http://www.guerrillagardening.org/ggtroopdigs.html
You must be logged in to post comments on the site or you can use Facebook above.