Preoccupations and Reoccupations

A weekend spent in Glasgow is always guaranteed to provide a story or two and this one was no different. I was up visiting for my boyfriend’s birthday and managed to combine partying, pizza, and politics, all in less than 3 days! That’s what the city is about, I think: combining different types of experience in new and stimulating ways. A sort of real life “mash up”. 🙂

Taking inspiration from the Occupy Together movement (currently represented by 20 UK protests and 1300+ globally) a group of – what would you call them? Activists? Protestors? Politically minded citizens? – decided to make their points of view peacefully heard outside the Glasgow City Council offices on George Square. It definitely seemed worth going to hear what they had to say and to see how they were organising the event. In broad terms, their point of view is this: that they are deeply unhappy with the policies/attitudes of Scottish and British politicians and with the way the banking and financial systems are structured, administered, and treated as elites, worldwide. In the face of rising unemployment and public sector cuts it seems to a lot of people that the banks and the government special advisors are deemed ever-so-slightly more worthy of consideration than the electorate. So nevermind that libraries and hospitals and other public services will suffer. They don’t make enough money anyway and their values are out-of-date. That’s what the protesters in Glasgow seemed keen to express objections to. They want a brighter future and more say in it.

In Political Science and Economics, these problems can be seen to stem from corrupt forms of Corporatism, or even as aspects of a Corporatist/Neocorporatist Democracy: i.e. “a political relationship between the state and specialized associations involving the defense of their interests in return for moderating demands and controlling their membership”.  This results in inegalitarianism and has historically been associated with Fascism. So it’s interesting to read that once upon a time Corporatist was less of a dirty word because it could also include the recognition “that problems such as working conditions and health and safety could be dealt with by specially established organizations or boards” without undue interference from the State. Still, as the Oxford Dictionary of Politics notes:

Many, although not all, of the writers on corporatism were either openly or covertly sympathetic to its use as a means of providing a ‘middle way’ that would satisfy the legitimate aspirations of organized labour whilst maintaining a capitalist mode of production.

Corporatist political systems may be one type of representative democracy, not least when they have been sanctioned, legitimised and instrumentalised. After all, they represent someone, right? But it’s not exactly what the “average Joe” imagines if he hears the word democracy, and it’s certainly not very participative.

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In 2011, a social network and some online promotional tools are of course as vital to the hoped-for formation of a critical mass of protestors as are hand-drawn or painted placards, loudspeakers, and banners. So: the 50-100 people who turned out on Sunday are variously blogging, blogged about, shown in and filming YouTube videos, and keeping track of Twitter feeds and Facebook walls. Most of this was being orchestrated from a “mobile communications hub” (that’s what I’m calling it) inside a marquee in the middle of George Square. At the front the usual brochures, pamphlets and petitions draw in the curious minded. I noticed a brochure published by the Carnegie Foundation, themselves a corporation, and of course, a part of the legacy of Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

New media far from replaces old media for those in Glasgow and elsewhere. There have been suggestions (which I think emanated from the Occupy Wall Street protest) that supporters say hello and register their feelings by sending postcards to the occupiers who camp out overnight in tents. These postcards would be visible in the public space of the non-virtual world which is vitally important: signs and symbols of participation and collaboration even from those who aren’t there. Online tools are used largely for the purpose of logistics, administration, and what we might call “PR” (or, to be more Marxist about it, “consciousness raising”). Social Networking sites and services (SNSs) allow the word to be spread quicker; co-ordination with other groups and within one group to be achieved more simply; ideas about which tactics seem to work and which don’t can be shared on a global scale; and of course, they allow better (and possibly safer) communication channels with both the press and the public.

There are a lot of similarities to how corporations, companies, and institutions, make use of New Media in this regard. What is different is that the end result is about getting people to think as well as to act, to formulate their political views more clearly, and to begin making them heard – rather than to buy a product or help a brand spread viral seeds. The Occupy Glasgow website reminds people there is no manifesto but that if they join “the cause” they must do so nicely. You can also take part in an “Online Assembly” which aims to generate ideas on strategies and “how to help out”.

Before directing you to their “Intro to Direct Democracy and Facilitation Training“, Occupy Together make their central point in terms of community and solidarity:

We hope to provide people with information about events that are organizing, ongoing, and building across the U.S. as we, the 99%, take action against the greed and corruption of the 1%.

We will only grow stronger in our solidarity and we will be heard, not just in New York, but in echoes across the world.

Whether or not the “Occupiers” are right that this is all part of a “paradigm shift”, it’s clear that is what they are hoping for, inspired by The Arab Spring and cultural memories of more local historic resistance. To bring again to the surface the very sort of political debate that stirred the philosophers and writers of previous centuries; the generations of protestors and demonstrators who have always (for example) made Glasgow’s reputation a “Red” one; and the millions who came together in the 1960s to try to identify a common cause against the perceived injustices of governments seemingly intent on distancing themselves further and further from the concerns of those allowing them to be elected. What will be the legacy of this “movement” and what if anything will it achieve? We all have a stake in the outcome, whatever our own political perspective.

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2 responses to “Preoccupations and Reoccupations”

  1. Geoff says :

    I’m finding it a bit hard to tell from the media generally, but I get the sense these protests are mostly growing. Did you hear what happened in front of the Reichstag in Berlin? Police dismantled tents and confiscated sleeping bags, apparently. That’ll make them popular!

    I’m really interested to see how all of this develops… I’m going to try to revisit George Square on the way home one day this week, see how they’re getting on.

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