Last Wednesday, December the 14th, Occupy Lancaster celebrated its second week in Dalton Square with a live music session in our steamy mess tent and kitchen. The people gathered at camp that night were, as usual, a wide ranging group of folk from all ages and walks of life. Beyond the food and music, what we shared in common was our common indignation at the attacks to our communities now facing us all.
The camp emerged from the largest strike action in Lancaster’s history on November 30th. It wasn’t certain, to begin with, if the camp would last the night. However, over a fortnight later, the camp has grown: there is a reinforced gazebo; a fully-functioning kitchen marquee which serves nutritious food and hosts various meetings; and a number of tents which have provided temporary homes and shelter to hardy souls. We have grown in size, spirit and public support. We would not have endured without donations of time, energy, food, clothes, bedding, etc, from members of the public. The government tries to divide workers from one another, to turn private sector against public, to turn employed against unemployed, those with houses against those without. At Occupy Lancaster, we are a microcosm of society. We are an eclectic community of students and workers, the retired and the unemployed. Not all of us are fortunate enough to have homes. We range in age from preschoolers to pensioners. That we have endured against the rain, hail, cold and freezing conditions – and our community has grown - is testimony to the commitment of people who believe that coming together in good faith is the only way we can overcome these divisions to defend the future of our communities.
As Occupiers we acknowledge that the corporate-sponsored political parties and the corporate-owned media are both defining the limits of our society without our democratic consent. The financial crisis only worsens, while more and more public money is demanded by the banks to recoup their gambling losses in the global financial system. We the people are expected to pay for this criminal mismanagement by the financial elite. We must suffer debilitating cuts and a deterioration in our working conditions. Our poorer communities are being cut off from higher education. Our disabled are being accused of greed. Our world-renowned Health Service is being carved up for the highest profit-driven bidders. It will become a two-tier system, and we will see yet more segregation by money within our communities. Every day the corrupt political parties prioritise the need of the 1% over the majority of its public. In recent days they have watered down reform of the banking system after intense lobbying by banking corporations. Everywhere you turn, it is profit before people and nature.
Governments should protect the people against corporations, not corporations from the people: ordinary hardworking folk are being forced to pay for the mistakes of the financial sector; in turn the financial elite shows no contrition but instead demands that we pay even more through the severest measures of austerity. The government tells us ‘we are all in it together’ and that ‘there is no alternative’. Simply put, there are reasonable commonsense alternatives to these austerity measures, but the government blindly ignores increasing poverty and willingly robs from hardworking citizens to further line the pockets of elite financiers. We demand a democracy which is transparent and which is representative of all.
In Lancaster, the closure of the Market Hall, the colonisation of public spaces such as the square at the heart of Marketgate and the commercial seizure of Freemans Wood, represent the corporate takeover of public spaces. By creating an Occupy camp in the town, and in the spirit of national and international Occupy camps around the world, our hope has been to open up a public space free from corporate influences where we can engage and debate with each other as a community on these issues facing us all. The system has, for too long, encouraged us to think as individuals: to measure our success as human beings by our accumulation of consumable goods. Only by coming together in good faith can we overcome these differences imposed upon us by those pursuing profit and nothing more.
At camp we hold daily General Assemblies, in which all participants have a voice and a say in the running of our small camp. It’s been a truly heartening experience for all of us involved. Before we came together we were largely strangers to each other. Now we are a vibrant community.
In common with other Occupy camps around the world, the energies of the hardcore of occupiers sleeping out at night have been partly spent on giving what aid they can to the homeless who come to the camp for respite, shelter and company. We hold a no alcohol and no drugs policy on camp. Our numbers are relatively small enough that at nights over a short space of time the homelessness problems of Lancaster have become ever visible. Perhaps we should have turned away all these people at the onset. In the beginning we were unable to bring ourselves to do that. We strongly think that was the correct decision. To these people we say many thanks for sharing your time with Occupy Lancaster. We learnt a lot from talking with you about the issues of social exclusion and stigma. We will not forget you in future actions undertaken under the Occupy campaign. We are all part of the 99%.
Those permanently on camp are now exhausted and desperately in need of relief by fresh occupiers before the holiday season is upon us. Without a sudden influx of new and reliable volunteers, and in greater numbers than before, we do not in good conscience feel that it is any longer sensible to continue the current presence of the camp in Dalton Square under these conditions. We have therefore decided to remove our camp from Dalton Square on Xmas Eve, meaning that the camp will have lasted for 24 days.
Whatever occurs, we will continue to meet regularly and hold days of action. We may move indoors for the worst of the weather to come. And hopefully with spring and milder temperatures we will see a surge in our numbers once again. It has been a wonderful experience so far. The efforts of many local people have made this happen and many new friendships have been made. We thank Lancaster City Council, the Fire Service and the Lancaster Constabulary for their help and, in particular, for their excellent approach to our right of protest.
Thank you to everyone for your fantastic support!
Best wishes to you all.