Today, on the one year anniversary of the indignados movement in Spain, people from around the world representing the global Occupy movement went onto the streets to say ENOUGH to the corrupt capitalist economic system that has lead the world into a global financial crisis, making the lives of the majority of the world’s citizens every day more precarious. I myself, a dual American and Spanish citizen, have witnessed the effects of the crisis in the United States, Spain, Serbia and now the United Kingdom, and was lucky enough to participate in the day’s demonstrations in London where a large crowd with a diverse array of smiles and messages filled the streets with their demands for a more just society.
I arrived in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral at around 12.30 pm, a half an hour before the day’s activities were planned to kick off, and was immediately startled by the disproportionate number of police deployed. Down a small side street behind St. Paul’s where I locked up my bicycle, I spotted at least 5 squad cars. Sure, the crowd was large, but the majority of the day’s participants were peaceful protesters waving flags and signs, yelling slogans in favour of the 99% and dancing to the beat of music in the street. These smiling faces, people of all ages with dogs and babies, could hardly constitute a threat that would justify the financial expenditure necessary to deploy such a highly visible police presence.
I approached a police officer to enquire after the best place to lock up my bike. The officer eyed me up and down, and noticing my polite demeanour calmly asked me where I was heading. “Here”, I stated without flinching, nodding towards the plaza in front of St. Paul’s. “Your staying here?” replied the policeman, his face falling in dismay as he realized he was talking to one of “them”. “Well you’d better lock it up far from here”, he warned me, “because if we have to do anything it might be removed”. I walked away wondering what the officer had meant by “do anything”. The police present were visibly nervous and had obviously been briefed so that if anyone so much as blinked in the wrong direction police force would be deployed.
Despite the initial surprise at the nervous aggression with which the officers paced around the plaza eyeing up everyone from anarchists in Anonymous masks to grandmothers sitting in the sun with a sign calling for “Real Democracy Now”, I realized that it wasn’t the participants that made the police so nervous but the message. As one of the afternoon’s speakers so aptly noted, the police are here to protect the status quo, and what every single person in front of St.Paul`s on the 12th of May 2012 was asking for was Change. Fundamental, real, visible, immediate change so that they can go on living their lives without the constant fear of losing their jobs, their benefits, their homes, and even their lives.
The day’s speakers were diverse and passionate and demonstrated the many faces of the precarity we are all experiencing to greater or lesser degrees. From the disabled woman who ironically addressed the crowd screaming,” I apologize to all of you, because it was me, me and my disabled peers, we caused the financial crisis by claiming benefits”, and who explained how the benefits keeping her safe and alive are about to be cut due to the government’s austerity measures, to the university student who pointed out that no one had planned for a system to be formed in which the mistake of one individual in a corporation could affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of others, everyone had a different story, a new example of how the system is failing us all.
The day kicked off with a member of the New Economics Institute www.neweconomicsinstitute.org who explained how the financial crisis had begun and the effects the economic policies of the 1% are having on the lives of real people in the United Kingdom, Greece, around Europe and around the world. The second speaker, a G.P (general practitioner) from the U.K´s National Health Service (NHS) explained how the financial crisis is leading the government in the United Kingdom to push to privatize the healthcare system and emulate the inhumane and exclusionary health system upheld in the United States. Other speakers included lawyers, university professors, members of the Spanish indignados movement, people calling for the protection of common space and even a representative of the Occupy Leyton Marshes http://www.saveleytonmarsh.wordpress.com movement that demonstrated how the current financial crisis and the government greed in light of the pending Olympic Games has lead to corporate land grabs of green spaces at the local level. What all these people had in common was their determination to continue the struggle, to build up a mass movement and to fight for social justice, for equality and security.
What the world witnessed today in London, and in cities and towns around the world, is that these people aren’t a threat requiring police with batons that aim to protect everyone’s god given right to private property. The Occupy movement is made up of people from every walk of life, the employed, the unemployed, students, mothers, fathers and neighbours. The face of the 99% are the mothers who demand safe green public places for their children to grow up in, the people born with disabilities who are unable to work and need financial support in order to live a healthy safe life, the under 25 who doesn’t want to have to choose between going into debt and having a future, the university professor who is watching the economic system of his country crumble and the suicide rates skyrocket, the doctor who doesn’t want to turn someone away for treatment because they couldn’t afford to pay for insurance.
The 99% are all of us, because evolution has created a world in which not all of us are equal, and every one of us is different and unique. Any one of us could end up in a position in which we need to ask for help from the community around us, where we may need a social security net in place in order to make it safely through the night. All of us hope that we will never end up in this sort of position, but if one day some of us do end up in a situation in which we are unable to fend for ourselves, it will be better not to wonder why we didn’t fight earlier for a system that ensures the wellbeing of each and every member of society, no matter who we are or what we need. In the current system, however, it doesn’t matter how hard you work, study or plan for the future, the future is never certain.
Society exists so that we can work together to take care of each other, so we can ensure the survival of our species and our planet. The global Occupy movement is important, world altering and getting more media attention than any other social movement in decades because it is demanding something tangible that all of us want and need. It is demanding that a security net be put firmly in place because the future is for all of us, and all of our children, no matter who they are or what their situation. We may not be the same, but we all equally deserve a future without fear and without precarity. On May 12th 2012, one year after the Indignados movement sparked a wave of global protest, the Occupy movement has shown the world it is here to stay, that we will continue to struggle, to go into the streets and to demand justice. Why? Because the world is for more than just the 1%, the world is for all of us. We all deserve a fair chance and a life without fear, and we will Occupy until we get it!