A good friend of mine pointed out that life is like a game of Monopoly. Very soon after you get into it you realise that someone’s got the upper hand, got all their hotels on Mayfair, and they’re totally set to win.

In 2011 the Occupy movement began to object to the rules of the particular game called capitalism, and started to set up tents all over the board. There were occupations in 1,000 cities by bonfire night when Sheffield’s turn arrived, and we’ve seen how things have played out since then.

Peace News said the Occupy movement was ‘taking the world by storm’. In contrast it was interesting how, right from the start, the mainstream local press chose to focus on ‘warnings’ and ‘worries’ about the camp, subtly framing the debate as one which might lead to trouble. They gave much less weight to the many supportive messages like one from Sheffield’s Green Party, dismissed in one sentence by The Star as ‘admitting the movement is unclear about what it is demanding as an alternative’. This was a real misrepresentation of the Green Party statement, which is shown on the Occupy website. It says they ‘understandably have not reached a polished consensus for their demands’. What The Star failed to explain is that a new form of participatory democracy called consensus decision making is being used in these camps. This isn’t just voting and going with the majority, it’s far more complex and powerful than that. With the wide range of views and speakers who want to be heard, it goes beyond mere decision making. It becomes a learning process; and when a decision is arrived at, it is solid, unanimous. It is an action about to happen.

This is self-organisation, and in Sheffield it worked well from the start, with co-operation all round. Quite soon there was a reception and information point, kitchen, library, shift systems to share work, ‘camp ambassadors’ and ‘night tranquillity patrols’. Artists, musicians, poets and speakers began to pack the agenda between the twice daily general assemblies where everyone had their say.

A wide range of people entering the Occupy camps arrive alone without knowing anyone there, perhaps involved for the first time in a protest. The excitement of this is that it’s not just ‘the usual suspects’. Sure, you can expect the TV cameras, with their own form of cultural racism, to focus on the dreadlocks and mohicans, but in fact there are loads of ‘ordinary’ mums and dads, grandparents, and young people who don’t choose to dress to impress. As well as ‘non-political’ people there are many who kept to values of community ownership, even when the Labour Party became embarrassed to use the word socialist. And there are anarchists, who like the idea of a ‘process’ rather than a ‘programme’. Altogether they are saying they don’t want to play this game anymore. Not simply changing the rules, but ripping up the whole board. As one Sheffield camper, Fred said, there’s a huge mixture of different people and views working together in a ‘free place of association’ – a real forum in the democratic tradition where everyone can listen and speak.

Naturally there are critics who think life’s getting better because they have more toys, but for how long? What’s the meaning of ‘growth’ when our jobs disappear, and our homes and health service become unaffordable? The banker’s hoarding all the money, not just in Mayfair, he’s got our railway stations, utilities, the lot. Even the prisons are privatised.

It really doesn’t matter that this is a protest ‘against’ rather than ‘for’. It’s OK for a protest to be just that – a howl of protest. Surrounded by Sheffield branches of multinational banks, and the Cutlers’ Hall representing big, bullying, polluting industry, people can say what they don’t like. It doesn’t always matter that we haven’t yet got an alternative lined up, no single demand to be granted or rejected, no ‘programme’ for everyone to get behind, because it would be suspicious if one was offered. That’s the whole point, society is a big, complex system, and the big, complex wisdom of crowds is needed to work towards agreeable ways forward. How could we know what everyone wants? Everyone hasn’t had chance to say, until now.

Suddenly it’s OK to use the word capitalism as a criticism. To point to poverty, and blame what writer and activist Starhawk calls ‘the demons of greed’. In a memorable slogan from the London occupation, quoted by a protester called Dave on the Sheffield Telegraph website: ‘I’m not anti-capitalist … capitalism is anti-us’. The media just haven’t caught up, they are still using ‘anti-capitalist’ as a shock label for people who don’t fit in with society. There are alternatives to capitalism as we know it. It’s not the only game in town. Ask the people with no hotels on Mayfair. They want fair play, and I have a strong feeling that we are entering the endgame, at least for big corporate, war-dealing, survival-of-the-fittest capitalism. We the people want a kinder, safer, more equal life, without threats like economic collapse, nuclear war, killer climate change, starvation. Are we dreamers? Can 99% of the population be dreaming? Maybe, but it looks as though we’ve just woken up.

occupysheffield.org.uk
sheffield.indymedia.org.uk/2011/11/488057.html
facebook.com/occupysheffield
twitter.com/#!/occupysheffield
occupywiki.org.uk/Sheffield
email-lists.org/mailman/listinfo/occupysheffield

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