“George Osborne, the chancellor, likes to boast he is at the head of the pack; and so he is, almost, in terms of dire results… The best one can say about the UK economy is that it is what Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, calls ‘flat lining.’ In other words output is stagnating.”
Damning indeed, especially coming from the leading business daily’s chief correspondent (a former pupil of Milton Friedman). There is one bright spot though according to Brittan: “the large corporate profit surpluses” which however, “remain uninvested”.
When Naomi Klein spoke to Occupy Wall Street she called for a global movement of movements. Alas, we are far from her vision; each occupation is rather a movement for a movement. The protests are making the case for political activism (that's what the 99% stuff is about - nothing more, I think) and they are creating something for people to join.
Whatever one thinks of this project (and I am sympathetic as opposed to merely “inspired” - the standard expression by which to damn it with faint praise) its minimalist goals make the prospect of early defeat particularly galling. If OLSX does become a movement it must last and it must develop. There are clear threats to the first condition; it is harder to assess the second. On Friday the Dean of St Paul's asked the protesters to leave on grounds of health and safety. Unless he can be persuaded to change his mind or the camp moves soon the occupation will fail: few will side with the activists in an outright confrontation with the cathedral administration. My own participation in the occupation will from now on be focused on this issue.
I don't see how one can gain much more than an impression of the occupation's political development; what follows is mine as I attended last night's General Assembly. The point of the GAs are to keep everyone informed of what the various working groups are doing, what they want others to do, and to make sure everyone is okay with the proposals. Sometimes obviously controversial issues are raised but these cannot be too many as its very hard to debate among such a large group. Yet last night at least, fairly trivial issues were contested in a long and confused discussion (and by ‘trivial’ I do not mean ‘practical’). Yesterday's topic was communication with the new Finsbury Square encampment - at one point we were holding a meeting about a meeting (about a meeting) which less than a tenth of those present would attend.
I had participated in the meeting which brought these issues before the assembly. And both despite and because of this fact I found my attention drifting. I chatted to people around me who had stumbled upon the occupation and watched a little boy who had found a tent peg and was alternating between using it to conduct an invisible orchestra and signal his assent to a number of the proposals - the latter with an enthusiasm which they surely did not deserve.
Perhaps the issue of camp communications stalled the assembly because it touches on an underlying fear which seems to dog the movement: that decisions might be being taken somewhere without one's knowledge or involvement. This is not the individualism in opposition to collective action that some have worried pervades the Wall Street Occupation. Rather, it seems to me that people want to act together (self-expression doesn't require consensus) but are reluctant to delegate decisions to people whom they do not trust yet. There is also a more worrying current that seems to suppose that such trust can never be achieved so that democracy requires a kind of mutual micromanagement. Yet if the latter idea becomes dominant it will not be because it has any great political appeal so much as because the rest of us have failed to provide a counterexample.
Of course when we are on our feet we do trust each other, and make decisions quickly and creatively. Yet that cooperative spirit need not be mirrored by one which allows for effective debate and negotiation - even concerning the less serious questions. After a month, Occupy Wall Street has demands but not a strategy which would give these the proper status of demands as opposed to a list of things which everyone agrees should happen. Its offspring in London lacks even this kind of document.
The GA didn’t end with us finally reaching consensus about points of process; individual speakers lined up to address the assembly. A youngish member of the cathedral congregation and occasional bellringer (beautifully dressed in a bowtied three-piece suit and holding a proper umbrella on his arm) offered his support to really joyous applause. There was a proposal to set up a union liaison group. Notice was given of the upcoming student march. And representatives of Brazil's Landless Worker's Movement and the Chilean students brought messages of solidarity. I was reminded - perhaps others didn't need to be - that though this proto-movement may have to build everything almost entirely from scratch it is not inventing the idea of a movement nor determining whether or not such things can be built. What has been achieved so far is significant and we know things can go further.
Robert McLaren is an undergraduate student at King’s College London, reading Philosophy.
 Because the only other GA I have attended was the first one it is hard for me to say how representative Saturday's assembly was of the others. (The minutes of three other general assemblies have been posted online; 18/10/2011 at 1pm and at 7pm, and 20/10/2011 at 7pm. The first two read as though they were productive, the second sounds much more difficult than Saturday’s assembly but it should be noted that the post-GA proposals suggest that this one was not typical).
 For instance, Doug Henwood has spoken of a need for OWS to move beyond personal self-expression.
 OLSX has only an initial statement. It is not billed as a list of demands though point 4 is quite a concrete one and points 5 And 7 could be read as demands.
"In any country, there's some group that has the real power. It's not a big secret where power is in the United States. It basically lies in the hands of the people who determine investment decisions -- what's produced, what's distributed. They staff the government, by and large, choose the planners, and set the general conditions for the doctrinal system.
One of the things they want is a passive, quiescent population. So one of the things that you can do to make life uncomfortable for them is not be passive and quiescent. There are lots of ways of doing that. Even just asking questions can have an important effect.
Demonstrations, writing letters and voting can all be meaningful -- it depends on the situation. But the main point is -- it's got to be sustained and organized.
If you go to one demonstration and then go home, that's something, but the people in power can live with that. What they can't live with is sustained pressure that keeps building, organizations that keep doing things, people that keep learning lessons from the last time and doing it better the next time." (h/t Jonathan Schwarz)
The occupations are "remarkable" and "extremely important", he [i.e. Chomsky] said, not least because of prominent youth involvement. But they nonetheless suffer from significant limitations, limitations that radical media ought to make it a priority to help them transcend. Reading from the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Boston demands, as well as from the 'Occupied Wall Street Journal' produced by the former, he split the contents into two camps: moderate, even mainstream, demands; and demands that are so unrealistic and far off in the future that they pose no threat to any currently-existing forces. This helps explain the unusual level of mainstream support for the occupations, he argued.
The task of a radical media is to conceive of the occupations as beginning of a long-term process of popular education, struggle and development of alternative institutions, and to highlight specific issues where popular energy should be focused. If media with radical priorities fails to fill this gap, there is a danger that the movements will set themselves up for disillusionment and decline (as happened with the surge in popular activism in the early 1970s, for instance).
His advice to Occupy London, scheduled for next week, is to recognise that "you're not going to win tomorrow". The aim should be to launch a long-term process to develop the alternative structures that, over time, can make radical goals obtainable.
It hit the headlines yesterday that a deal to swap 1000 Palestinian political prisoners for the Israeli tank operative captured by armed Palestinian factions five years ago had been reached. Such a deal between Hamas and Israel has been mooted multiple times since the soldier was captured during Israeli hostilities against the Gaza Strip in 2006, which included the infamous Beach party massacre of the Ghalia family.
At the time of writing, there are contradictory reports on whether or not high-profile Palestinian leaders such as Fateh’s Marwan Barghouti and the PFLP’s Ahmed Saadat will be included or not. This is a developing story, but what is clear is that if such a deal does go through, even though it will be a victory for Palestinian resistance, thousands of Palestinian prisoners will remain in Israeli detention.
According to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem (and based on Israeli prison service figures) over 5200 Palestinians prisoners were in Israeli captivity as of August. 176 of these are children – often detained for things like throwing a stone at an armoured Israeli jeep or participating in peaceful demonstrations against Israel’s apartheid wall. And 272 are “administrative detainees”, which means they are held without charge, so often don’t even know what they are alleged to have done.
2) Ending the ban on college education for prisoners
3) Ending the policy of collective punishment, including the denial of visits, and imposing financial penalties on prisoners
4) Ending the policy of provocative incursions and invasions of prisoners’ cells
5) Stopping the policy of shackling the hands and legs of prisoners during visits by family members and lawyers
6) Improving the health conditions of hundreds of sick and injured prisoners and providing them with the needed treatments
7) Allowing books, newspapers and clothes to enter prisons
8) Allowing the broadcast of satellite TV channels that have been banned by Israeli Prison Service (IPS)
9) Ending the policy of restricting visits to 30 minutes every month, and the arbitrary denial of visits
If you want to read more about the conditions of the Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails, I recommend the book 'Threat' from Pluto Press (you can read my review of it here). A key essay in the book is the one by Alon Harel (a Hebrew University law professor) on pp. 37-46. There, he explains the “security prisoner” category that most Palestinian prisoners fall under, and how it includes not only captured Palestinian fighters, but purely political activists convicted of “crimes” like organising non-violent demonstrations against the Israeli occupation.
Unsurprisingly, the Israeli press very much under-reported and downplayed the hunger strikes. But thanks to the energy of young Palestinian activists, helped by the internet, a global movement of solidarity with the hunger strikers has taken off. Palestinian solidarity activists around the world have been using the #HS4Palestine tag to tweet that they would be joining in the hunger strike today, Wednesday the 12th, in a symbolic act of solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners and their demands.
At midnight this morning I joined in and will continue until midnight tonight. Please join in if you can.
This Saturday - October 15 - is an international day of occupation in solidarity with the Occupy movement in the US. Occupy London Stock Exchange had their first general assembly yesterday. Check out some footage:
The first Rebellious Media Conference ended this afternoon with a rousing call to action by American activist and radical media publisher Michael Albert. The old slogan "seize the time" is rarely applicable, he said – but now might be an exception. As he spoke activists a few miles away on Westminster Bridge, not to mention those occupying public spaces across the U.S., were illustrating why.
Developing radical media has always presented something of a chicken-and-egg problem, in that a successful radical mass media must draw upon an active popular political culture, which in turn presupposes the distribution of critical information and analysis that radical media provides. There is, as Albert observed to me, no easy way around this difficulty: you just have to do what you can. There are however ways to maximise one's influence and chances of success. Most important among these, as many pointed out, is for activists and alternative media to work together and link their efforts productively. Noam Chomsky, who gave the opening keynote, pointed out that one of the biggest services his talks often provide is simply that they get many people and groups, each of whom are doing their own thing ignorant of everyone else's efforts, into the same room and talking to each other. The Rebellious Media Conference – the original name, 'Radical Media Conference', had to be dropped after a company claimed it infringed copyright – was certainly a success in this respect. News from Nowhere, Corporate Watch, PPS-UK, Peace News, visionOntv, Footprint Workers Co-op, UK Feminista... one left the conference realising how many people are out there doing fantastic stuff. Clearly we should all be co-operating much more than we do.
I spent today roving around the building trying to snare people for interviews along with a few other NLP eds, but I did manage to catch a few talks. Saturday's big opener was a talk by Chomsky, introduced by Albert. You know you're surrounded by lefty media geeks when Noam Chomsky shuffling on to the stage has the impact of a Hulk Hogan entrance. I was a bit worried that he would stick to the Chomsky playlist – doesn't he know I watch his every speech on YouTube? So how dare he repeat anything? – but in fact he concentrated on the occupy movement currently spreading across the U.S.
The occupations are "remarkable" and "extremely important", he said, not least because of prominent youth involvement. But they nonetheless suffer from significant limitations, limitations that radical media ought to make it a priority to help them transcend. Reading from the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Boston demands, as well as from the 'Occupied Wall Street Journal' produced by the former, he split the contents into two camps: moderate, even mainstream, demands; and demands that are so unrealistic and far off in the future that they pose no threat to any currently-existing forces. This helps explain the unusual level of mainstream support for the occupations, he argued. The task of a radical media is to conceive of the occupations as beginning of a long-term process of popular education, struggle and development of alternative institutions, and to highlight specific issues where popular energy should be focused. If media with radical priorities fails to fill this gap, there is a danger that the movements will set themselves up for disillusionment and decline (as happened with the surge in popular activism in the early 1970s, for instance). His advice to Occupy London, scheduled for next week, is to recognise that "you're not going to win tomorrow". The aim should be to launch a long-term process to develop the alternative structures that, over time, can make radical goals obtainable.
(It was outside the Chomsky talk that I obtained my favourite bit of conference tat:
They were being hawked by a man with a beard (why do they always have a beard?) shouting about there being 'TWO CHOMSKYS'. I think the image is supposed to suggest that Chomsky is in fact a clever DisguiseBot 3000 constructed by the CIA to conceal the doomsday device. These issues will be discussed in greater depth in the NLP review.)
The organisers' decision not to include Chomsky on every panel was a risky one, but it paid off. Jessica Azulay, former editor of the now defunct The New Standard, gave a great talk about the benefits and challenges of running a newspaper on an egalitarian collective basis. Michael Albert argued strongly that just as racist institutions and institutions with private owners can't be expected to tell the truth about racism and private ownership, so alternative media institutions that are structured hierarchically and in which work is not fairly distributed cannot be expected to give as compelling and accurate a picture of social hierarchy and inequality as we need them to. Both Azulay and Albert agreed (somewhat counter-intuitively) that it was particularly difficult to run non-hierarchical collective media organisations on a small scale, not least because if there are only five of you, working in a single room, a falling-out between two members can poison everything. Here at New Left Project we've always taken this to heart and endeavour to avoid being in the same country as each other unless absolutely necessary.
The session with John Pilger, Mark Curtis and Greg Philo on how the media covers war was also enjoyable, mainly because it quickly degenerated into a joyous slagging off of the BBC in general and Andrew Marr in particular. Curtis cracked a winner – "Let me tell you a joke: Andrew Marr's 'A History of Modern Britain' – and Pilger followed up with a stern "I don't want to personalise this, but..." before pronouncing Marr the personification of the everything that's wrong with everything. Things got a bit out of hand when Curtis started comparing Marr's book to Hello, but Pilger heroically defended the magazine's honour.
Overall, it was hugely encouraging to see how much energy people have to experiment with new forms of media organisation. Hackgate created much needed space for critical discussion of media institutions, and it's vital to both keep that space open and to broaden the debate beyond considerations of regulation and ownership. The conference demonstrated that there is a clear desire for media founded neither on the market nor public service elitism, but on genuine democratic participation. Proposals for how such media might be structured exist – time now, perhaps, to take them forward.
For those who couldn't make it, New Left Project and Red Pepper are collaborating to produce an audio program based on the conference. We've interviewed loads of great people – Michael Albert, Zahera Harb, David Miller, Dan Hind, Ruth Potts, James Curran and more – so watch out for it in the coming days.
Finally, if you're bummed you missed out, particularly on the sessions featuring NLP co-editors Kate Belgrave and Ed Lewis, buy a copy or three of the conference DVD. Quite apart from anything else, the organisers need to sell copies to make the sums work.