Alex Hern details the ridiculous arguments used against Occupy London by people on the right seeking to discredit them.
The protestors currently occupying St Paul’s church yard and Finsbury Square have, predictably, come under fire.
Unlike previous protests, however, the normal targets are conspicuous by their absence: the protests have been overwhelmingly non-violent, barring heavy-handed policing on the first night, the black bloc have steered clear, and there’s even a paucity of bongos on site.
Without their traditional scapegoats, the right-wing press, which is so eager to discredit the movement, has had to stretch rather too far.
So Left Foot Forward proudly presents the top five reasons why you can’t protest (according to the right).
1. You drink coffee from Starbucks
Louise Mensch, on Have I Got News For You, attempted to claim that the fact that protestors were drinking coffee from Starbucks and using iPhones meant that they didn’t have the right to complain about the effects of capitalism.
Ian Hislop and Paul Merton did a fantastic job tearing apart that claim, which you can watch in the clip below:
If a protestor cannot use an iPhone because it is made by a capitalist corporation, then an ardent small-government conservative like Louise Mensch should be just as against them; after all, nearly every technology that makes it possible was created due to state funded research by universities, the military, and even NASA – does she think Apple used an iRocket to put GPS satellites in space?
The fact is, we live in a mixed economy, where state and business interact, and where it is impossible to survive without interacting with both. Admirable as self-sufficient hermits may be, for the vast majority of us, there is no opt-out from this economy. Using the products of capitalism does not disqualify you from criticising its effects.
2. You accept the London Fire Brigade’s advice on safety
In an attempt to calm the police on the first night, the canon of St Pauls, Giles Fraser, intially welcomed the protestors, saying:
“I’ve seen what is going on and it seems to be that there doesn’t need police force in the numbers that there have been, so I have asked them to move and they have done. All is well and there is a very calm atmosphere”.
A couple of days later, however, he was overruled by the Dean and Chapter of the church, who released a statement saying:
With a heavy heart I have to tell you that St Paul’s Cathedral has to be closed today until further notice, because of the legal requirements placed upon us by fire, health and safety issues.
The occupiers were left rather confused by this request, since they’d been told they were safe:
This afternoon we have been told, in a telephone call, by the fire brigade, that they have not issued any new requirements above and beyond those already communicated directly to the camp. Therefore, there are no outstanding fire safety issues. […]
We have been advised by Health and Safety Manager Rachel Sambal that the City of London’s Health and Safety Team have had no contact with St Paul’s Cathedral regarding health and safety issues at the site.
So apparently camps set up by protestors must be safer than the standards required by the fire brigade and professional health and safety managers, or they should pack up and go home. It appears the Nazis pursued the wrong tactic. Rather than wasting money on bombs, they should have just set up some tents outside the cathedral.
3. You aren’t in bed by 11:12 pm
The Times and Telegraph ran stories yesterday claiming that nine in ten tents were empty at occupy London. By the time they went to press for today’s papers, that claim would no longer fly; not only can you not tell if a tent is occupied with an IR camera, their only source was rapidly recanting his words:
A local councillor quoted in the reports said he had been told about the thermal camera by a City of London officer [City of London police denied being the source to Left Foot Forward] on Monday, but admitted he had not been able to verify the “second-hand” information.
Despite their evidence disappearing into thin air, the Times clearly felt that they had a story on their hands, leading them to run with this front page:
Apparently if you aren’t in bed by 11, you are basically not living where you say you are. Not only does this image not actually show that the other tents are empty – rather, it shows that one tent is being heated – it wouldn’t be surprising if they were. It may be news to the Times, but people are often out and about at 11:12pm.
4. You have a job
The criticism the Mail made when repeating the claim that tents are unoccupied was that many people involved are “part-time protestors”; people who pop along for an hour or so after work, then go home for a wash and a sleep in the evening. Quite why this renders their protest insincere is unclear, but only marginally less unclear than their final criticism.
5. You don’t have a job
No matter what your employment status is, it will be used against you.
If you are unemployed, you are clearly a “professional protestor”, only interested in making trouble, and so your concerns should be ignored because you aren’t capable of having a “grown-up” political conversation. If you are employed, you are a “part time protestor”, and your heart isn’t really in it; because you leave the camp occasionally, you are not really “occupying” anywhere, and should be ignored.
Maybe it is time to stop attacking the protesters for silly side-issues, and start dealing with their concerns. Hundreds of people are camping in London to express legitimate grievances with the state of global capitalism today; maybe it is time we started listening to them.
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• Are “Occupy Threadneedle Street” protests on the way? – Shamik Das, September 19th 2011
• Anti-cuts networks are more flexible and effective than big organisations – Aaron Peters, November 30th 2010