This article appeared in the December issue of Total Politics
What have you been doing today?
I’ve been in court. My friend was charged with assaulting a police officer at a demonstration against David Willetts at SOAS, and I was charged with obstructing the officer during the arrest. Maximum sentence is a fine. Fortunately, we had a video that contradicted the testimony of six police officers, so there could be a nice little compensation claim in there.
Explain your role in Occupy LSX. It seems quite a fluid campaign.
I spent the first four nights there. There’s a media working group, an outreach working group, and a direct action working group. There’s a book by Joss Hands that talks about digitally-mediated activism, which he calls QARNs (quasi-autonomous recognition networks). He talks about the anti-war movement in this country being a huge catch-all, and that such movements tend to be more oppositional than propositional. QARNs help people come in and out very easily. There aren’t any particular spokespersons, fixed roles or competencies.
How do you get your key messages across?
This is going to become very big, because it’s part of a much bigger trend – a move away from representative politics and democracy. And we bring in people from last year’s anti-[tuition] fees movement through highly specified campaigns like the London Living Wage, green campaigns etc.
How much has the drama of St Paul’s overshadowed any messages you’re trying to get across?
It’s difficult to say if the whole St Paul’s thing has been a hindrance or a catalyst. We’ll know in six months or a year, but it’s got a debate going. They’re going to apply for an injunction and they’ll get a particular type of order in the next 48 hours, but that doesn’t mean very much. It’ll then take 10 months to implement
Who do you see as your opposition?
For UK Uncut, the shared enemy would be systemic tax avoiders and corporate tax avoiders. There’s a shared identity with Occupy LSX, and there’s so much support, it’s unbelievable. I’ve never seen such dissonance between the front pages of national newspapers and what I’m hearing on the ground.
You are doing a PhD in social movements, but day-to-day, what do you do campaigns-wise?
A lot of work towards the student demo. I’m up at 9am, in uni at 11am. Two hours’ reading, then a few hours’ leafleting at an FE college, then send out emails.
Do you try to engage with politicians?
I used to be a member of the Labour Party… Who would you recommend to engage with? Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, they’re both on side. Caroline Lucas, fine… the usual suspects, but who else? Nobody cares. We’re not the ‘expected package’ – not lobbying, or a think tank report.
You describe what’s currently happening as a social movement. Could you see it becoming a political movement?
I don’t think so – we wouldn’t seek to reproduce power at a Westminster level. Maybe at a local level.
What do you make of London Citizens or Movement for Change?
London Citizens is good, but doesn’t encourage its workers to strike over pay and conditions. Some cleaners at Guildhall were owed several thousand pounds between them. They went out on a wildcat strike, and next day got the money. London Citizens wouldn’t sanction that sort of thing.
How should people get involved if they’re interested?
If you want to know the facts – warts and all – about Occupy LSX or UK Uncut, you can’t get anything better than Twitter; it has a reasonably asymmetrical distribution of news, which you don’t get in the right-wing press. Research as much as you can – good websites like liberalconspiracy.org. Someone described Occupy LSX as a giant offline Wiki for political ideas, and that’s broadly true.
Aaron Peters is a student activist and writer
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What we drank
French 75 Gin, lemon juice and sugar topped with Veuve Joubert Champagne.
Polish Martini Bison Grass vodka shaken with Krupnik honey liqueur and apple juice.
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