Achievements of Occupy London’s Working Groups

This article is re-posted from Occupied Times, London.

So long as the headlines of mainstream and corporate media remain the dominant billboards adorning the motorway of our media landscape, the prospects and achievements of Occupy London will remain stories untold to all than those who were here – venturing off-road. Rarely comprehended – and not often discussed – by red tops, broadsheets and broadcasters, are the movement’s many working groups hammering away on keyboards and crafts, plans and discussions. Beneath the bells of St. Pauls and through the wires of e-mail groups and message boards, dozens of working groups are continuing to pursue their respective goals towards social, economic and environmental justice. ?Here is a glimpse at some of their achievements to date.

Initial statement working group

From the first peoples’ assemblies on October 15th, people were being asked to articulate “why are we here?” There were several assemblies on this, usually using break out groups. All in all, I estimate 3,500 different people had their voices involved in this process over two days, all ages, all nationalities, all backgrounds, all abilities etc.

On October 16th, at around 4pm, the assembly asked for the spokespeople from each of the working groups to have a separate meeting to draft the statement based on all that had been said. A dozen of us sat in a circle outside Blacks tent shop and met for two hours, drafting the statement. It was a well facilitated meeting and had a wide span of voices represented. By the end, we had an eight point statement. Then, someone suggested a last point which received crazed jazz hands from all: “This is what democracy looks like, come and join us!” Because, at the time, we knew that we were all practising a form of democracy that felt and still feels, revolutionary.

We appointed five people to be the wordsmiths and then met half an hour later. Satisfied that the wordsmiths had done a good job, we took the statement to assembly and found full and cheering consensus. – Jamie Kelsey-Fry

Economics working group

The overriding focus of the Economics Working Group has been to consider and propose the changes that need to be made within our current economic system to better the lives of the majority. This is the common denominator of all discussions within the group. It is both about the reform of existing structures and the adoption of new economic paradigms. It is not about ‘isms’, it is about ideas.

The beauty of the Occupy movement is that it has brought together people from all walks of life and backgrounds, where a shared motive is to better the lives of people beyond ourselves. We have considered views and ideas from across the ideological and political spectrum.  Without changes in banking, the majority will be one day at the mercy of a financial meltdown the likes of which has not been seen.  We have looked at changes to taxation, regressive taxes, Land Value Tax.  And of course we are looking at the ecosystem of money; how it is created, distributed and what is the true ‘cost’ of money.  Without changes in these and other areas we will see a widening of the chasm of economic inequality, which will destroy the society of which we are all a part.  – Tom Moriarty

City of London Corporation working group

This group was hurriedly put together, in the very early days of the camp at St Paul’s. The process of working groups was still being shaped at that time but the group had to form as a reaction to a statement from the camp regarding the COLC which had been released without consensus from the assembly. That statement and ensuing coverage had definitely kicked us off with some excellent coverage but people were devastated that it had seemed to come in the name of the camp even though the camp hadn’t been able to engage with and endorse the statement first through assembly.

In that fact alone, something else was being shaped: the importance of the assembly being responsible for whatever the camp says as a whole.

The group met around five times, with around ten people on average meeting each time. The variety of expertise was intoxicating; from a young man who had just left a local COLC secondary school, to a man who had lost his house in the crash of 2008 and had connections with COLC, as well as the author of the first ‘unofficial’ statement and an Imam. That was back in the days when Ye Olde London was packed with working groups downstairs. We eventually drafted the first statement of the COLC working group that could go to assembly for consensus. By then, it had grown in importance as COLC had made their demands on the camp – so our statement became Occupy LSX’s counter demands. The statement passed in one hearing at assembly, after the 75 people had the time to scrutinise and amend. – Jamie Kelsey-Fry

The corporations working group

This was one of the first groups set up with the specific focus on creating an initial statement to voice the camp’s position on a given issue. The first meeting was in Ye Olde London Pub with only five people present. The group rapidly grew to being a regular fifteen at a time. Again, the mixture of voices was intoxicating; from a Norwegian student to a London care worker, an ex-fireman to an expert on Deleuze.

From then, the process for working groups was more set. Regular shout outs for the meetings were made at assemblies, continually underlining that this was not a call out for middle class people with degrees but to all people who want to have their voice heard about corporate behaviour. Minutes were taken regularly and, as with all groups, meetings were facilitated tightly to ensure all voices heard equally. We met around eight times until we drafted an initial statement. We had the proposal put up online thanks to John Bywater, four days before the assembly, and printed 200 copies of the proposed statement, leaving a stack in the Info tent, distributing on the days leading up to it and having fifty kept back for the assembly itself.

When we went to the assembly for the first reading, there were around 200 people on the steps – as this was the weekend when the first national conference was being held at London. We were very excited indeed. Only days before, the legendary Bear had brought through a new process that meant that if there was a continual block on a proposal brought to assembly, then the blockers had to go with the working group to see if they could rewrite in a way that the blocker feels represented too. This had been brought in to ensure that people who were blocking for the hell of it would have to be responsible for their choice and follow it up with the group. It was a brilliant idea of Bear’s, in my opinion.

So- we ended up being the guinea pig for this new aspect process. The meeting was at least an hour. To begin with, people were really happy about the proposal – but were coming up to the mic to make minor amendments, while there were two people who were persistently blocking. This was the first time that ‘revolutionaries’ rather than ‘reformists’ were clashing. Eventually, one blocker stood aside but the other remained firm and the statement didn’t go through.

At first this was depressing as we had put so much work into the document. However, the next day, the group met with the blockers. We had an eight hour meeting but still hadn’t found consensus in the group. Two days later, we met again and had a four and a half hour meeting and this time, came up with a statement that made the reformists and the revolutionaries happy. In my opinion, this was a massive improvement on the original document (it starts with stating that corporations can be defined as being psychopathic!) and profound testament to the real democracy that the peoples’ assembly represents.

A week later, this statement was passed: It was covered by the Guardian and influential economic websites Forbes and Motley Fool. – Jamie Kelsey-Fry



Categories: Activism, Economics, UK, Working Groups


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2 Comments on “Achievements of Occupy London’s Working Groups”

  1. February 12, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    Wow, what hugely powerful learning points for all camps – reformist as well as revolutionary. Starting with the humble number of 5, attracting another 10 and then working tirelessly for 8 hrs and then 5 hrs in a row on a joint statement that got blocked twice.
    This shows determination and is a testimony to the power of real democracy and consensus.
    A huge thank you to both the ‘irritating’ blockers and the persevering and determined working group participants to be able to use creative tension and create something that included and transcended both revolutionary and reformist positions.
    It shows how the alliance of reformist and revolutionaries are important. If it was all reformist no one outside the reformist circles would have heard it. If it was only revolutionary, no one outside their circles would have heard it or know about it.
    Allowing time and energy to engage with the creative tension instead of fighting it made the statement so powerful that main media channels picked it up.
    Less haste, more patience and quality attention by seemingly opposed parties can really speed up evolution. I enjoyed feeling part of this learning journey.

  2. February 12, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    Anna wrote: “It shows how the alliance of reformist and revolutionaries are important. If it was all reformist no one outside the reformist circles would have heard it. If it was only revolutionary, no one outside their circles would have heard it or know about it.”

    Yes, indeed, and what happened in the Corporations Working Group of Occupy London reflects also the power of alliance between the “reformist” and “revolutionary” wings of the whole movement. We know that an airplane or a bird needs two wings to fly, but this story is about more than that.

    Birds and airplanes don’t go through structural changes within their life time. Social movements do. If the extremists of any wing would get the upper hand within their fraction, then seeking to establish or strengthen their own power base, sooner or latter they would split the movement if they can’t dominate it. If the moderates of both wings remain more influential, then without “giving in” to the other wing, they would engage in emphatic listening and exploring how and why they really need the other to make their own strategy successful.

    There’s plenty of room for such exploration in Occupy!

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