Sunday, 30 October 2011

Cut cut copy shop @ Occupy LSX

Cut cut copy shop - for a new wor(l)d order...

Sunday 6 November @ Tent City University, St Paul's

Delaina Haslam and Vyvian Raoul encourage word fans to come down and take part in this conceptual writing experiment, in the inspirational environs of Tent City University, St Paul's.

Conceptual writing is the art of taking that which has been written before - whether a paragraph, a sentence or a word - and, out of it, creating something new. We're swiping sections from various tracts that have hitherto tried to describe or determine society - from Dawkins to Deuteronomy, Marx to Milton Friedman. Nothing is sacred, everything is up for grabs.

When a choice passage is spotted, it will be typed up on the Olivetti, cut out and added to the drawing board. Here we'll rearrange, reconfigure and reframe; collectively create a new tract, which will be our story of society.

Collaboration is joy; better wor(l)ds are possible…

Conceptual writing definition

Kenneth Goldsmith interview

Time: 12pm-6pm

Place: Tent City University, St Paul's.

Bring: a text of your choice connected in some way to OccupyLSX or the larger occupy movement.

Words wishlist:

Milton Friedman's 1969 nobel prize for economics lecture

The Road to Serfdom, FA Hayek

Various Marx

Any Orwell

Religious texts and philosophy

A hymn sheet from St Paul's

FTSE 500 company literature (e.g. Goldman Sachs' corporate responsibility report)

Newspaper reports, of all political persuasions, about Occupy LSX

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Student solidarity with squatters...

Student solidarity with squatters, in the face of Conservative plans to outlaw occupations, featuring:

Shiv Malik - Guardian journalist and author of Jilted Generation: How Britain has Bankrupted its Youth

Reuben Taylor - SQUASH campaigner and squat-activist

Michael Chessum - NUS National Executive Council

And you! Hear the arguments, take part in the debate and, importantly, find out what you can do to help.

"Conservative plans to criminalise trespass have wider repercussions than outlawing squatting. Whether it’s an unintended side-effect or a deliberate fringe benefit, imagine the future of student protest without occupations..."

See for more info, or get in touch with

Sunday, 23 October 2011

We must conclude that they do not understand Socialism...

"Owen saw that in the world a small class of people were possessed of great abundance and superfluity of the things produced by work. He saw also that a very great number - in fact, the majority of the people - lived on the verge of want; and that a smaller but still very large number lived lives of semi-starvation from the cradle to the grave; while a yet smaller but still very great number actually died of hunger, or, maddened by hunger and privation, killed themselves and their children in order to put a period to their misery. And strangest of all - in his opinion - he saw that the people who enjoyed abundance of the things that are made by work, were the people who did Nothing: and that the others, who lived in want or died of hunger, were the people who had worked. And seeing all this he thought that it was wrong, that the system that had produced such results was rotten and should be altered."

"Not only are the majority of people opposed to Socialism, but a very brief conversation with an average anti-socialist is sufficient to show that he does not know what Socialism means. The same is true of all the anti-socialist writers and the 'great statesmen' who make anti-socialist speeches: unless we believe that they are all deliberate liars and impostors, who to service their own interests labour to mislead other people, we must conclude that they do not understand Socialism. There is no other possible explanation of the extraordinary things they write and say. The thing they cry out against is not Socialism but phantom of their own imaginings..."

Robert Tressell - The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

Monday, 17 October 2011

First 24hours at St. Paul's: even the priests give their blessing…

Not being allowed into Paternoster Square, home of the London Stock Exchange, was no less disappointing for it's being predictable. But the iconic symbol of blitz spirit is once again uniting the people, as protesters bedded down for the peaceful occupation of St. Paul's...

By the time I stepped off the tube at St. Paul's, Paternoster Square had long been barricaded by the police, and the occupation moved to the closest open space big enough for a few thousand protesters: St. Paul's cathedral and the square in front of it.

Police also surrounded the occupiers in the square but were letting people in, one by one, at various points, with a warning that they would not be allowed to leave again; not leaving being largely the point meant the crowd swelled to between 4000 and 5000 at its peak.

The day was spent debating the various merits and demerits of consensus decision making - to jazz hand or not - and the people's microphone, and putting them to use in various assemblies and working groups. Julian Assange received a mixed welcome, some protesters bemoaning celebrity activists speaking on their behalf. But the gathered crowd was united when he cracked the old Life of Brian joke, through the people's mic, and had a couple of thousand people shout back at him: "we are all individuals!" It's a cliche to describe an atmosphere as festival-like, but between the tents, the toilets and a sense of a moment to be remembered, it did feel that way.

The police that encircled the square had been creeping forward by increments, and by late afternoon were beyond the statue of Queen Anne to the right and had cut off the last open coffee shop to the left (and with it the last open toilets). As the left flank advanced, I witnessed Jody McIntyre put on the brakes of his wheelchair in front of it, only to be hoiked out of it by three surly cops. I asked an officer whether he didn't remember the reports from earlier this year, when they did exactly the same thing. His response was, 'he's not even disabled' - so I guess not.

Black and red flags were notable by their absence, and the only other bit of nastiness came when a line of tactical support group officers advanced, unannounced, through the crowd. Lots of people had been sitting down in front of them, linking arms, but many that were in their way (myself included) received boots, knees and back hands about the head (after I remonstrated with one officer, who was kicking my leg, he snarled and said: "dry your eyes, mate.")

Once they'd got through the crowd and formed a line across the top of St. Paul's, they let it be known that they were acting under orders to protect the cathedral, its pillars and doors, from the potential for criminal damage. It seemed spurious: there was no appetite for attacking anything at all, and especially not a place of worship. The attitude of the protesters to the intrusion was best summed up by this exchange between an activist with a loudhailer and the crowd: Is anyone here to damage the church? No! Is anyone here to stop people worshipping? No! Is anyone here to have a peaceful protest? Yes!!

Everyone calmed down, and the rest of the night passed without incident. The cordon was opened and police and protesters gathered supplies from local shops; numbers dwindled into the night on both sides, and the hardcore that was left chatted happily under the floodlights for most, if not all, in some cases, of the night.

I awoke to the peeling bells of St. Paul's and bright sunshine. The camp seemed to have grown; the kitchen, established the previous evening, was about three times the size. There was a buzz in the air, tired smiles on peoples faces - the news on everyone's lips of the priests not only giving us their blessing but also assuring the police that their attendance would no longer be necessary. As a sign of a gratitude, the decision was made - collectively, of course- to create a giant thank you card, which everyone could sign.

We spent today in various working groups and general assemblies; the question that everything came back to seemed to be: why are we here? There was a unanimous consensus that we supported the message coming from New York, as well as Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein an various other occupations around the world. As for Occupy LSX, when I left on Sunday afternoon, I'd heard reasons for attendance as varied as 98 of the FTSE 100 companies - listed on the London Stock Exchange - paying no tax in the UK and 'I'm on the road to happiness'.

But far from the usual perception of the movement lacking a voice, merely being anti and having no for, the protesters occupying London are constantly and vociferously articulating what they want. Everyone will have their own reasons for being there, and it may take a long time - because real democracy isn't afraid to take its time - for the group to articulate its demands. But, that what they want is myriad merely shows how much is needed the one thing everyone agreed there must be: change, and lots of it…

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Tariq Ali & The Obama Syndrome

The front cover of Tariq Ali's new book, The Obama Syndrome (Surrender at Home, Defeat Abroad) has four passport-style photos of Barack Obama. His face is gradually scratched off before the last reveals - holy shit - it's George Bush underneath. Which may actually be unfair to Dubya: he was only mired in a brace of middle eastern misadventures; with Libya, Obama's got his hat-trick. In conversation with playwright and novelist Bonnie Greer at the Bishopgate Institute, Tariq will likely explore such questions as: why did a bloodier leader than Bush get awarded the Nobel peace prize? When are you closing Guantanamo Bay, again? And, most importantly: how did 'yes we can' become 'no we can't'?

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Dial 999 for stupidity...

I spent Sunday with Simon on the Bridge.

After four and a half hours of bridge blocking, most people had gone home; we got on our bicycles and shouted farewell at each other's backs as we rode off in opposite directions. Once we'd parted, though, I thought better of going home, and returned to the bridge; I had my polaroid camera with me but hadn't taken any pictures all day.

As the police advanced in a line towards the 20 or so people who were still 'dying' on Westminster bridge, I took a shot of one of them with the clock in the background, and handed it to him with the words: "This is so you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day the NHS died. Don't forgot it when you can't afford to take your kids to hospital anymore."

That would have been a nice moment, but sadly my polaroid camera is so old and has been kept in such weird, damp places over the past couple of years that the image didn't develop properly. The officer laughed at me and said, 'your camera's broken, mate, it doesn't work'. I told him this was not a day for laughter, but a day for sadness. He didn't seem to understand...

Why would you say something like that?

News needs to be two things: new and true. In terms of the latter, most of what gets reported about squatting misses the mark somewhat. And, to an extent, it’s understandable: squatters aren’t exactly queuing up to give interviews to the mainstream media, so misconceptions and murkiness, stereotype and sensationalism, abound.

But no other area of investigative journalism would tolerate such a slap dash approach to fact gathering: we get more reports from inside Burma than from inside squats. The question is: how much of the myth is carried on deliberately?

The most shocking squat case to be splashed across the pages of our daily newspapers recently was the invasion of a property owned by Dr Cockerell and his pregnant wife; the Standard ran with the headline: ‘you're putting my unborn baby at risk, mother-to-be tells squatters’. But although the good doctor was indeed a homeowner, this was not yet his home: it was only the third to last paragraph that made mention of the fact that they had not yet moved in. The implication up until that point being: if the average homeowner leaves the house to go to the shops, squatters will be in before you can say, ‘pint of semi-skimmed, please’.

Indeed, our more sensationalist media outlets constantly conflate the words house, home and homeowner. It creates a climate of fear, which makes it easier to push through legislation that protects the propertied and demonises the impoverished. Never is mentioned that the Criminal Law Act 1977provides ample protection for a residential occupier, and squatting other people's homes is a criminal offence. Or that a protected intended occupier (PIO) or displaced residential occupier (DRO) has recourse to an interim possession order (IPO) - a fast track eviction process that means squatters must leave within 24hours or be arrested.

When invoking accidental usurpers like these to paint a picture of the squat community, they knowingly take an isolated case and conflate it with the common place. Why would anyone occupy an already occupied building, only for the newly tanned owners to return from holiday - all straw donkeys and sombreros - to make them homeless again? It’s the situation squatters will do anything to avoid. And it defies sense, particularly when there are approaching three quarters of a million genuine empties in the UK currently.

It’s not just our press: our politicians also blunder on, willingly blinkered. 160 property lawyers signed a letter in the Guardian recently, accusing Grant Shapps MP of deliberately misleading the public. He knows perfectly well, they said, that the law is more than adequate to protect homeowners in those rare cases where someone is stupid, finkish or unlucky enough to attempt to squat a house that's already occupied. If he doesn't know that these cases are not squatting at all but areas already covered by criminal legislation, then he really has no business being a minister - much less the housing minister.

You may have seen Mr. Shapps on Question Time recently, being quizzed on the woeful lack of social housing. No one thought to ask him about the criminalisation of trespass, but some apt questions might have included: how does criminalising squatting help with a housing crisis? Why do you refuse to make the rules for landlords more rigorous despite 86, 628 complaints against rogue rent collectors last year? Can't we do better than a situation where 1.7million families are on council housing waiting lists, when homelessness is up 17%, while 737, 491 properties lie empty and abandoned? Until these questions are answered, there can be no honest debate.

Mike Weatherly, another conservative member of parliament pointlessly championing the rights of homeowners, rushed to Grant's defence in a response letter, which was also printed in the Guardian. In it he pointed out that lawyers have a vested interest in property disputes remaining a civil matter: it puts food on their table, Porsches in their garages. But while it's completely fair to say that they have a vested interest in the status quo, who wants to maintain the status quo?

Criminalising squatting misses the point entirely: why not criminalise the act of abandoning property? In fact, the law is set up to make it more appealing to own second homes and leave them empty. Yet, if it was illegal to waste property in this way, it would a, have exactly the same effect as criminalising squatting (contrary to popular belief, no empty properties pretty much equals no squatters) and b, may go some way to alleviate the twin evils of economic inequality and rampant homelessness we’re now facing.

This seems a reasonable course of action, which almost everyone - squatters and squires alike - could support; I doubt, somehow, that this solution would be acceptable to the uber-rich, who take up ‘the quiet enjoyment of property’ from the south of France and various other tax havens, leaving the British public to deal with the consequences.

If we're discussing vested interests, it’s probably fair to ask if Mike Weatherly represents merely the views of the propertied people of his constituency – those that are likely to vote for him – or whether he also represents the best interests of the homeless and disenfranchised of his ward…

Soho, hobo or boho?

"Any good mixer of convivial habits considers he has a right to be called a Bohemian. But that is not a valid claim. There are two elements, at least, that are essential to Bohemianism. The first is devotion or addiction to one or more of the Seven Arts; the other is poverty. Other factors suggest themselves: for instance, I like to think of my Bohemians as young, as radical in their outlook on art and life; as unconventional, and, though this is debatable, as dwellers in a city large enough to have the somewhat cruel atmosphere of all great cities..."

George Sterling – 1904

Friday, 7 October 2011

Student solidarity with…squatters?

Conservative plans to criminalise trespass have wider repercussions than outlawing squatting. Whether it's an unintended side-effect or a deliberate fringe benefit, imagine the future of protest without occupations…

By now, you may have seen the Conservative housing minister, Grant Shapps MP, on Question Time, talking about social housing. No-one asked him for his thoughts on trespass, but some apt questions might have included: how does criminalising squatting help with a housing crisis? Are the 160 property lawyers who signed a letter accusing you of deliberately misleading the public telling fibs, or are you? Can't we do better than a situation where 1.7million families are on council housing waiting lists, when homelessness is up 17%, while 737, 491 properties lie empty and abandoned?

What you may not have heard about are some of the more pernicious effects that the criminalisation of trespass will have; unless you've been looking closely, you may not have seen mention of the t-word at all. Headlines about squatters - unwashed, beer-swilling cuckoos in the nest - invading the homes of the Hampstead good and great abound. But, regardless of whether these salacious, home-invasion horror-stories hold any weight, it's not squatting per se that's being outlawed: it's the act of occupation.

Historically, occupations have been the cornerstone of student activism, and over the past 12 months there has been a huge, resurgent wave against the cuts to education funding and the rise in fees. If the government succeeds in criminalising trespass, the act of occupying would become an illegal one. Rather than a civil matter, to be dealt with by the university and the courts, the police could be given powers to enter an occupation and arrest the newly criminalised protesters. Indeed, if occupations were criminalised, they'd be compelled to.

It was one of those rare moments where the mask slips and we get a glance at what’s really going on underneath when Conservative councilor for Hammersmith and Fulham, Harry Phibbs, appeared on a Guardian podcast to discuss the issues. While the presenter talking with another guest about the lack of thought being put into the proposed changes to the law, and what appears to be an almost accidental criminalisation of student occupations, he broke in - all bluff and bluster - with this:

“It sounds to me like a thoroughly, thoroughly, good idea…the idea that students should be allowed to occupy buildings and cause disruption of that kind, using property that doesn’t belong to them, is completely unreasonable.”

Presumably Mr. Phibbs is perfectly happy with sending in the TSG, cracking heads and breaking up occupations. The question is: are you?

Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) is leading the fight-back against the government's plans, and will be hosting a meeting at ULU in the coming weeks to mobilise London's students. If you’re a student outside of London, get in touch with SQUASH at to find out what can be done in your area.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The boat freaks: Fran and Roelofje....

Vyvian Raoul chats to aerial-performing boater Fran Hyde of Collectif and then…, who can frequently be seen leaping through the air above her home and performance space

Fran Hyde and Roelofje are the penultimate boat-boater combination in our series; every boater we’ve interviewed so far has asked us: ‘Have you spoken to the aerial performers, yet?’. Well, now we have — one of them at least: Fran is the boat owner and her performance partner Lucie N’Duhirahe joins her in the air for shows.

Fran’s boat allows her the freedom to perform wherever she stops on the canal — Roelofje is a highly mobile, to say nothing of highly unique, stage. It also allows her freedom from the constant bombardment of exhortations to buy that confront the average capital commuter — a little mental breathing space.

We caught up with her — hungover and out of gas, but happy — outside of the Constitution in Camden…

Name: Fran Hyde
Age: 27
Place of birth: Blackpool
Occupation: Aerial performer

Name: Roelofje (pro. roo-le-fi)
Age: 108 (started life transporting sand around Holland in 1903)
Length: 13m (42.65ft)
Place of birth: Holland
Top speed: “Don’t be silly…”

Lots of people have considered living on a boat: what sets you apart from lots of people?It’s a real romantic idea. But I think people realise that the reality of it is that it’s not as easy as living in a house. You don’t have a washing machine, and you’ve got to light a fire, and sometimes you run out of gas when it’s cold. And it just depends if you care about that or not, or what your priorities are. Also, lots of people talk and don’t do anything.

What are your boating bounds?Every spot has its good points and bad points, I tend to fall in love with every place once I’m there. It’s really nice outside the Constitution, but generally I prefer east London. I roam between Kensal Rise and Tottenham Hale, usually

What does your act look like and where can we see it?We’ve got a rig set up on the boat: two ropes hanging in a U-shape and two people. Lucie is usually the catcher and I am usually the flyer, though sometimes we swop roles. Playing on the towpath is amazing because people don’t expect it and are generally already in a good mood. I love doing street shows and passing the hat. People can be quite generous and it’s great to meet them after the show and see people’s initial reactions.

What do you make of British Waterways proposed plans to put a curb on cruising in its current form?British Waterways are wrong to say that it was never the intent that cruisers should have jobs and families. People have lived on the canals for over 100 years. In Defra’s report on the future of the waterways, people living on the waterways were not mentioned once. There’s got to be something wrong about that.

Is there a difference between continuous cruisers and those that moor?The sense of community between cruisers is stronger; people always need help, life can be hard and there’s a mutual understanding. Although living on a mooring is more comfortable, it’s less community-focused. I lived on a mooring when I first got a boat and it was a bit like living in a car park. Plus cruisers get to move our boats all the time, which is loads of fun!

Why is living on water in London so attractive?It’s an escape, like a piece of countryside in the city. The amount of advertising we have in cities is dangerous and affects us so deeply without us ever really realising how much of it we face every day. It’s so good to have a free space, a space to breathe, and I hope that doesn’t change. I heard rumours of Barclays ‘sponsoring the canal’. I hope this doesn’t provide advertising opportunities for them — although, I can’t see why else they would do it?

Have a look at Fran and Lucie’s truly amazing aquatic aerial show...