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Occupy London

A bit of nothing about something

by Sean O’Toole / 07.11.2011

“How was Rome?” I ask.
“Cool! We got to see white people rioting,” she replies.
“Which is kinda different, no?”
“Yeah, it’s more like…” she pauses, “a party.”
People drink and mostly do nothing, she says: “Although I did see a burnt out car.”
“Sometimes whitey gets angry too,” I say.
“In a weird way,” she laughs.

So, recently I dropped in at St Paul’s Cathedral. Big place in the middle of London. Close to the stock exchange. Famous landmark. Seat of the Bishop of London. Looks like a Cape Union Mart expo at the moment. You’re online, Google “Occupy the London Stock Exchange”.

Occupy London

It’s Sunday. Autumn. A powerful spotlight illuminates everything, including the banner strung across the square in front of the cathedral. “CAPITALISM IS CRISIS” reads the pink lettering on transparent green. I take a photo of the banner. So does someone else. And another someone else. There are lots of people taking photos. Some use cameras, like me, although most prefer those clever phones with the capacity to amplify the mundane in a much quicker way. “What’s on your mind?” they answer the eternal prompt, bodies jack-knifed on the stairs, faces illuminated by the radiance of handheld connections to someplace else.

Occupy London

I poke my head in at Freedom University. Date established: yesterday. Curriculum: some magazines (Red Pepper, The Humanist,  New Scientist) and a mishmash of books (novels by Dan Brown, Bill Bryson, Herman Hesse and George Orwell, also a big selection of non-fiction titles from Verso Books, the left publishing house). The bookish turn in this part of the tented encampment is not out of keeping with the general tone of this beat-less party.

Occupy London

Across the square, Queen Victoria, orb and sceptre at hand, is surrounded by words. Attached the black ironwork separating the regent from her public are countless scripted thought bubbles. “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance.” “We can’t feed the poor but we can fund wars?” (The question mark, I guess, is rhetorical.) “We are the 99%.” Stone age poetry by those who believe in this sort of entitled numeracy. But don’t get me wrong. “Grrr,” reads the lettering above a scrunched up smiley face. “Jail the Bankers.” Hell yeah!

I dawdle across to another island of language. The information point, like the university also one day old, is already speaking the language of bureaucratic necessity. “Kitchen Needs: storage for food, bottled water, vegan food, whipable tables…” Ergo: we’re here for the long haul. Another sign adumbrates 99 percenter speak. A quick tutorial.

Occupy London

Both hands flailing in the air, fingers spread open wide: I agree, or silent clapping.

Index finger pointing to God, Allah or those Easyjet daytrippers returning from Iceland: I have a point.

Index finger pointing to the heavens, thumb showing the way to Buckingham Palace: language issue.

Index finger retracted, thumb enclosed by the rest of the fingers: I believe in Richard Dawkins (or a veto sign, for use during decision making).

Middle finger: Where’s the party? (Not really.)

Heading back to the car, my party spirit waning, I overhear this guy with university elocution and a nice jersey talking to his girlfriend. “Hey, this looks cool,” he says. “I don’t have anything to do for seven weeks, maybe I should go home and fetch my tent.” I don’t hear what his girlfriend says, my attention having shifted to the newly arrived campers setting up their tent. The trio are doing an impromptu Marx Brothers routine. “This way.” “No this way.” “Wait.” “Here.” “No here.” The trio are trying to work out where the tent-poles go. They haven’t even got to the gaffer tape yet, which on this concrete island functions the way tent pegs do roundabout this part of the world.

Occupy London

The next day I decide to go back. Call it curiosity, a partisan spirit, the desire to see what 1968 looked like, a need to take better photos, whatever. Hey ho! The party is finally on. Singer-songwriter types are lining up to softly kill me with their songs. During the transition from Bob Dylan to Rodriguez, or at least their 99% approximations, the MC, a guy with a beanie, a beard and accent east of Dover, points his index finger at the daytrippers headed to Iceland. “Don’t do too much of nothing, because you might pull a muscle or something,” he rhymes. “Do a smooth transition from nothing to nothing.”

Occupy London

Occupy London

Occupy London

*All images © Sean O’Toole

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Hmmm. Sean do you actually have anything to *say* about this, or did you just go check it out, take a few pretty photos and then attach them to some low level grumbling about the hipster/middle class/white folk involved? Shit you know, even people who went to university and have nice jerseys have the capacity to get pissed off every now and then. Personally I would been far more convinced by this piece if you’d bothered to talk to anyone involved or attempted to engage with the issues. I’m not suggesting you should agree, but this is just vacuous cultural tourism that doesn’t add anything to the conversation.

    Sometimes, Mahala, your determination to be world-weary and cynical about the sorts of people that most of you are but don’t want to be gets in the way of what you might be trying to say. Everyone has a discourse; perhaps you should interrogate yours?

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  2. Dyler Turden says:

    Here’s a cultural tour worth taking – Immortal Technique’s take on the crisis. Whole album is available for free download: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRTifRH4hRY

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  3. Sean says:

    Listening is as much a form of talking, and what I heard across the two days didn’t add up to much more than disparate noise. When a contractor arrived with a payload of barrier fences, to basically ringfence the newly arrived protestors, it became an earnest talking point. Wave arms if you agree, and so on. The contractor eventually left with the barrier fences. Later into evening, a series of speakers wrapped a bunch of rote cliches with British politeness and offered them to the public. Wave arms if you agree, and so on. Unsatisfied, I headed for the info point where I was handed a bunch of pamphlets referring me to somewhere online. Yes voyeur tourism was a motivation, but the truth is in being there, up close. Looking and listening, as much as talking. On which, I chatted to a legal observer in an orange bib, who whenever a policeman engaged a member of the public would take furious notes. Like a court stenographer, or some such. The next day there were no speakers, just middling singers. It was underwhelming. I wrote as much.

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  4. Po says:

    Jesus this site has some of the creepiest negative lurkers hiding behind the message boards.

    Sean, I dug the tone, your personal perspective the first person reportage, kind of like watching No Comment TV on Euro News… you just kind of took us there without banging a drum (frequently banged by the likes of Edmonds, Dawson and that new kid from Grahamstown). We’ve read the local take on the Occupy movement, it was nice to get a snapshot of the London protest. So thanks for that.

    And don’t worry about anonymous douchebags who think Mahala has a brief on the wall that says “be cynical”

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  5. Hard Rain says:

    I don’t think their duck-tape tents will be able to stand up against the icy Siberian wind that sweeps through London in December.

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  6. christopher steenkamp says:

    i’d rather hear an honest response than a trumped up attempt at pushing the agenda, saying that gives a little room for laziness but authenticity is key

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  7. Prince Altop says:

    Great explanation. I prefer to see clearly IMDB

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  8. Azil says:

    Captain Awesome March 27, 2011 Shan, I can understand what you are sainyg, but from my point of view, surely you don’t build up hype to a launch if things aren’t ready? I agree that it takes some time to get things going, but that should have been done behind the scenes before the launch date. Simple things like you make sure the website is ready and that you can book flights!? I am not just focusing on them as an airline, this is just one isolated incident that I came across and as someone with a strong business focus, I was annoyed that they were not more prepared at launch. I look forward to seeing how they grow though.

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