The happiest few hours I have spent in many days. An amazing assembly that taught me so much. A couple thousand people on Westminster Bridge, most there to protest NHS cuts. Hard-core serial protesters, many of them, but with an air of hope.
We have learned from our mistakes and we want to get it right this time, one of the hard-core protesters said at the beginning. Amusing to me the ravaged veterans were under 30. And interesting to find out that Seattle '99 WTO protests are considered the gold standard of protests.
I didn't expect this (a decade in this country and I still am so American in my thinking) but many of the people on the bridge were not all that interested in Occupy Wall Street but were fixed on October 15 in solidarity with the rest of the EU in a movement referenced as 15m for the 15th of May which I haven't even heard about until the General Assembly. The world is transforming. What an outpouring of passion that is the best flowering of humanity. I felt that the people I spoke to looked me truly in the eye, were insightful and kind, were fascinating. Caveat: the people from Occupy Manchester looked a little scary to me - like you wouldn't want to mess with them scary. Many from Anonymous, looking good in business suits and the Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta. There were loads of cops, of course, who didn't stop you from entering the bridge. Interestingly, if you asked them if you could walk past them onto the bridge, they told you no, you should find another bridge. They didn't stop the protesters from walking past them either way, but they did actually pretty effectively isolate them from the tourists by diverting traffic.
The 99% are beginning to gather - people forced to admit that the system has failed, that it is corrupt, that it is, in the end, immoral. The way goods and services are distributed among the people of the earth is immoral and in need of correction. It was an astounding thing to hear this spoken - to hear the language of ethics and morality - in the most tenuous of ad hoc communities, without a single reference to any god. But of course they are right. We have an economic and political system that is so corrupt, so riven with cronyism, that it is manifestly and on many levels failing. But besides this enormous economic failing, this bust perhaps inevitable in a boom and bust cycle, we have even bigger fish to fry: we have a system that is corrupted by money, by consumerism. In the United States it is PACs and political parties, in the UK it is that cosy unregulated relationship between Treasury, Bank of England and investment banks so that no matter what banks want, the government is their faithful handmaiden. Governments should not be handmaidens to multinational corporations. Governments should be handmaidens to the people, to the 99%. We all want a sustainable relationship with the earth. We all want the economy to improve. No one really wants consumerism to become the most powerful force on the planet. (Well, no one except the Kardashians.)
Here is the speech I wrote on the train. I didn't give it, I completely could have, it was an open event and megaphones were available to everyone, but somehow the moment did not present itself:
My generation spent the last fifteen years discussing house prices. That kept us so busy we didn't notice that government privatisation had made the elite rich, that the explosion of derivative financial products was scraping wealth away from the middle class and working class and into the hands of an elite few. We didn't have time to complain that Network Rail had its obscene bonuses and yet the trains were more expensive and less efficient. We planned out holidays and did not have time to point out the rampant corruption in the police department. We let our identities be led by consumerism, what we bought, what we wore, the unreflective conviction that our jobs were SO IMPORTANT. We ignored the parts of our identities that cared for others, that craved justice, that longed to belong to a species not burdening the earth and poisoning it. But we were really dedicated to the housing market. That is the shame of my generation. Our spirits have been smothered by a continual buying in, buying in, buying in, going shopping.
And look how we have made the world. We stopped paying attention and the government has been completely co-opted by private interests. So much so that it is apparently just a lark to be a government official: invite your friends and fiddle your expenses, and do whatever the banks tell you. The U.S. and the UK governments have become this.
The power of a government is only justly derived from the consent of the people. I have become part of the Occupation because I do not consent. I do not consent to a government that serves banks instead of people. I do not consent to a government that is bloated and corrupt. I do not consent to a government where the culture of politics has blinded them to the reality of their sacred undertaking: democracy.
The power of the government is not derived from the consent of the Bank of England.
The power of the government is not derived from the consent of Barclays.
The power of the government is not derived from the consent of James Murdoch.
For this government to have power, it requires the consent of the governed.
I do not consent to a government so choked in cronyism and inefficiency that it tolerates multinationals not paying taxes.
I do not consent to derivative trades being untaxed but food and holidays for families being taxed exorbitantly.
I do not - to expand - consent to a government that taxes the middle class and cuts health benefits before even considering a minor tax on the billions of pounds (notional value) of derivative trades that generate multi-million pound banker bonuses.
I do not consent practices that are destroying the earth being legal. I don't know what those practices are, but I think everyone wants safe air and food and water for all.
I do not consent to a government that is homogenous Oxbridge, with its terribly polite way of turning a blind eye at the failures of itself. A task admirably covered by Private Eye, but not to great enough effect.
I do not consent to a government that is so paralyzed by fear of offending the rich that they cannot consider just and fair property taxes.
There are plenty of ways to create jobs and economic growth in Britain but none of these ways will ever by pursued by the government while that government is enslaved by monopolists and bankers and multinationals. You only have to think about the Digital Economy Bill to know that I am right on that one. We are talking wimpy little handmaiden of corporate interests.
If they are going to be anybody's wimpy little handmaidens, then they should be ours - they should be the handmaiden of the people, of justice, of integrity. They should be moral. Phenomenal to me that I am using that word. The way they have cast aside the rule of law really is nothing else other than immoral. Funny that it was mostly godless grubby anarchists that clued me into that. But really, I can draw no other conclusion.
I see so much hope and possibility in this movement. I hear the sound at the end of Jez Butterworth's play, Jerusalem. I hear the sound (spoiler) at the end of Jez Butterworth's play, Jerusalem - the sound of the giants gathering to defend their England. I feel hope.
I have a facebook page for Occupy Half Term - a chance for parents to get involved in the Occupation. I am thinking of going to London one of the days of half term with my kids to express all this solidarity, outrage and hope. Please join me.