Protest Movement or tourist attraction?

January 13, 2012 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

The Occupy movement started last summer on Wall Street in the USA. However, the concept of a mass protest movement had already been pioneered in Spain earlier that year, under the 15-M banner.

In Spain, pictures were flashed around the world of mass occupations of plazas in Madrid and Barcelona. Whilst the former was largely peaceful, there were accusations, and indeed evidence, of secret police infiltrating the crowds in Barcelona and fermenting violent confrontations.

The 15-M movement, which took its initials from the date of Spanish municipal and regional government elections (May 15), was protesting on account of the financial crisis, mass unemployment and widespread political corruption in Spain.

Whilst 15-M still exists it has been joined by other mass movements, one of which deals with the plight of those who have lost their homes through repossessions. The story invariably begins with victims losing their jobs and so unable to keep up the mortgage payments. The bank or mortgage lender then has them evicted leaving them without a salary or home. The property is sold off cheaply and the former householder finds that they still owe the difference between their mortgage and the forced sale price. Hence, not only have they no job and no home, but they also owe the bank money that can be in excess of 100,000 euros.

What both the 15-M movement and other action groups have in common is that they are an integral part of the local community. So whilst the world watched events in Madrid and Barcelona, I signed the 15-M petition in Ronda, which has around 35,000 residents, before marching in Jerez, the bankrupt Sherry city, with the unions and local protestors. The people, young, middle-aged and old, the unemployed, those in work and on pensions, children in arms and in prams, all classes, were to be found in the streets marching against the injustice that surrounds them all.

Which brings me back to my native London? At the end of November I was back in town and it was suggested I go visit the Occupation outside St Pauls. Given my experiences with the 15-M in Spain, I needed little persuasion.

In the ‘Fabian Review’ Tom Hampson reveals a new poll carried out by the society and the TUC. In his opening paragraph he writes: “Quietly and without much fuss the British mainstream has shifted. Across the nation, worn out political territory has been vacated and tents have been pitched on the new centre-ground, and middle England has unfurled polite and new placards and banners that read ‘people before profit’, ‘narrow the gap between rich and poor’ and ‘protect the workers’. Tea has been brewed and hardier souls are even sleeping out overnight. Only the new radical fringe – mostly Tory voters – have stayed away from the party.”

The 15-M and other Spanish movements would certainly endorse those sentiments but what I found outside St Paul’s was sterile in the extreme. In Spain, we marched and the mainstream political parties took note largely because elections were in the offing and they tried the clothes of the protestors on for size. The far left Izquierda Unida found they fitted best but socialist PSOE and the centre-right Partido Popular looked like scarecrows as both parties are part of the problem not the solution.

As I sat on the steps of St Paul’s and listened to one of the speeches, I was immediately aware that the audience was composed largely of young foreign tourists – next stop the Tower of London and Madame Tassauds. The woman protestor addressing the crowd even had to appeal for help with her tasks as she was doing the work supposedly assigned to others. I saw nobody rush forward and volunteer to help her.

So here I was in the centre of the City of London, to one side the empty tents of the protestors, to the other tourists taking in the sights, yet nowhere to be seen where the people of Britain displaying their anger over the injustices meted out by the greedy Capital of Capitalism.

When I say the people of Britain, I don’t mean those in the tents or those who wrap scarves around their faces to destroy property during riots. I mean the angry “young, middle-aged and old, children in arms and in prams, all classes, the unemployed, those in work and on pensions, marching against the injustice that surrounds us” – the same people I stood amongst in Spain.

It is an empty protest outside St Paul’s. It received a nod from the clerics inside the cathedral and from some of the politicos, and they gained the recognition of the public. Yet they have failed to capture the mass support of the British public, and until or unless they do so, the Occupy outside St Paul’s will be nothing more than a passing tourist attraction.


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This post was written by David Eade

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