Occupy Democracy: Exposing the weakness of our value system

Matthew Rees from the Centre for Policy Studies has just written an article claiming that the people at the Occupy Democracy site in Parliament square bemoaning the infringement of their civil liberties for having tarpaulins taken off them, are doing civil liberties a disservice by trivialising what he deems are “genuine attacks” on civil liberties, such as the illegal tapping of journalists phones.

Freedom is the freedom

Founded by Sir Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher in 1974, it would at this point be easy to comment on the right-wing think tank a apart for its political alignment, but then that would make me no better than them. Instead I would rather concentrate on the crux of the argument about whether one form of infringement on civil liberties is worse than another or if it is all the same? I have heard this referred to previously as the “least worst offence.”

To quote Matthew Rees he states: “Eye-witness accounts of police heavy-handedness have been widely reported in the news this week, and rightly so. A number of arrests have been made so far but many appear to be for relatively minor offences..” but tempers this with another quote later on stating: “The health of true civil liberties in this country is a cause for concern. The introduction of ‘secret trials’ and closed material procedures by the Justice and Security Act 2013, which prohibits the disclosure of ‘sensitive’ legal material to the public and defendant, is undoubtedly a cause for concern. In addition, recently exercised police powers to search the confidential phone records of journalists, the spate of surveillance and anti-terror measures enacted in the last decade, and diminished access to justice are all real threats to civil liberties.

I would agree that the very existence of secret trials, the pressure applied to the Guardian’s Greenwald over the Snowden files and the numerous bills, acts and bylaws passed in parliament over the last 15 years are all gross attempts at curtailing our civil liberties but, crucially, that does not make these any more or less important than the breaches of civil liberties and the right to protest found by the people at the Occupy Democracy camp, or rather the noticeable lack of one. Rees makes reference to the Hong Kong protestors and the claim by journalist Donnachadh McCarthy that we are now less democratic than China, to some extent that much is true with tents pitched on highways, structures and tarpaulin clear and present. Here, in the UK, a simple piece of string attached to a sign and a bag to stop it flying into the road was deemed to be an illegal structure by the private security firm apparently marshalling our MET police officers. Rees describes this as ‘camp rhetoric’ but it could not be further from the truth. It is the same argument and debate. The severity of the perceived scale of injustice is not what counts but the fact that an injustice has occurred in the first instance, this is all that matters. Martin Luther King said that an injustice anywhere was an injustice everywhere, to accept the disproportionate treatment of humans at an occupy democracy protest by police because it is the ‘least worst’ case is unacceptable and is rightly challenged and called out.

At this point I could quote the famous pastor Niemoller’s ‘First They Came‘ poem or another quote from Malcolm X or Martin Luther King about freedom and liberty but think that the most relevant thing to say would be to compare the views expressed by Rees and that of the philosophy of the boiling frog; if you put a frog into boiling water, it jumps straight out. If you put it into a pot of cold water and turn the heat up gradually it will boil alive. That is the reality of the views expressed by Matthews Rees, exposing the weakness of our value system in putting greater value on one set of freedoms over that of others we risk losing them all and why we must challenge it at every turn.





Occupy: The philosophy of we won’t go home

Philosophy of occupy
Noam Chomsky on pressure and protest

“The philosophy of Occupy scares them (the government) the philosophy of we will not go home!” The Artist Taxi Driver at the last nights assembly at Parliament Square where a group of humans have been occupying land in a visceral demonstration of how democracy isn’t working in the UK.

This week we have seen the UK position itself just to the right of China, with its rules, regulations and byelaws that are impeding people’s rights to protest and hold corporate state to account. At Occupy Democracy (now dubbed the #TarpaulinRevolution as police ripped up the groundsheets people were sat on in the rain from under them earlier this week) the private enforcement group of ‘Red Caps’ have even found a bylaw which prevents someone from playing an acoustic guitar which was not the  Live Music Act 2012 and made their feelings known as those playing renditions of hallelujah receiving some hard words being served notices.No acoustic guitars allowed

Police Privatisation

Watching Boris Johnson’s private security firms give orders to the police we pay to protect us was a very sobering site. A piece of string attached to a sign and a bag to stop it blowing away was deemed to be a structure and so the red caps ordered its removal for believing it to be against the law, holding lengthy discussions with the MET Police about removing it. A woman was disturbed by the corporate mouth pieces for looking as though she was sleeping in a position of comfort under a tree, another law broken. One child no older than 3 started kicking a ball which hit a police officer by the fence which has been erected around both Winston Churchill and Parliament Square, I wondered whether there was a bylaw for this too and warned him so as I scooted passed on my way home.

We now live in a county that claims to have great freedoms of speech, expression and beliefs and yet a country with as chequered a history as China for those very things is seemingly more tolerant of the sight of sleeping bags on their streets or a tarpaulin to keep the rain off your head. They have even allowed tents.

Protestors have the luxury of a tent 'structure'
Protestors have the luxury of a tent ‘structure’

The size of the problem can be reflected in the comparative coverage in our news. Every day for the past few weeks the Occupy Hong Kong story has featured countless times online and in print news, yet a demonstration of equal importance in our own backyard has gone mainly unnoticed by our media as the image below shows.  The upside is that there are people there on the ground covering events as they unfold in real-time. There used to be a time when the mainstream media was accessed to verify news on the social media, today it is very much the other way.

Disparity UK
Disparity UK

Each day at Occupy Democracy has had a different theme and a selection of fine speakers, not least Russell Brand and Ken Loach as well as Vivienne Westwood and Caroline Lucas MP to date. If you are passing through the smoke before Sunday you would do worse than to stop by and catch a flavour of what is being discussed; it is peaceful, colourful and educational. Even if you were not planning to head to London, make the exception and catch the final day on Sunday.

You can visit the Occupy Democracy website for daily themes, schedules and updates and if you want to see what Russell Brand had to say about the right to protest you can see him on last nights Newsnight https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqsFp0J22Hc