I wandered down with Rupert Read who’d persuaded me to join him at a Progressive Alliance meeting that morning at TUC headquarters.
The Occupy camp had been high on the agenda with two active members of the camp, Tess Carota and Jonathan (? sorry didn’t get your surname) there to speak about it.
Both were eloquent and personable but neither pretended to have any answers to the numerous questions fired at them. Chief amongst these were how long the camp should remain and how it could draw in the 99% it claims to represent into the process they’ve started.
What Jonathan and Tess did explain was that they see Occupy as part of, perhaps a catalyst for, a conversation – a conversation that our society has to have.
I walked down Holborn to St Paul’s with Tess. She’s from Philadelphia, the meeting place of the revolutionary Continental Congress, the city where Tom Paine penned Common Sense, where Washington, Adams, Jefferson and their contemporaries declared independence and drew up the Constitution of the United States.
If the Progressive Alliance was a modern congress, the Occupy camp was Valley Forge. The tents are our pickets and trenches.
I met up with Rupert who was giving a (very good) talk at the University tent on The Spirit Level. The whole scene reminded me of the free festival circuit of the 1980s. On display were the fruits of endeavour and creativity and free thinking – posters, discussions, food, music… Rupert and I joined in a guerrilla singing session and belted out ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ and ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’. He’s got a good voice. The police looking on were clearly non-plussed.
What I found most affecting however was the presence of quite a number of people who I presumed were either homeless or marginal. Tess mentioned on the way down that some can, occasionally, be problematic and that people in this highly-democratic space didn’t feel they had the right to ‘police’ them.
I don’t entirely agree. Any society has the right to agree certain boundaries to protect the safety and dignity of all. The key thing is that rules be non discriminatory and applied evenly.
However what I saw were people who’d had no place finding a place and making an effort to contribute. It spoke volumes to me. However much we’re encouraged to crave stuff what we really crave is purpose and belonging. We’re social creatures and we’re happiest in society. I’m sure Occupy is far from perfect. I know some of those there find the process of reaching consensus difficult. However the experiment they’re carrying out matters. It may turn out just as it turned out for The Diggers on St George’s Hill but whatever happens it serves to remind us that there are other, possibly better, ways of working and being and I doubt anyone who has been a part of it will ever forget it.