Ordinary People, Ordinary Ideas
Why the big protest may be more than the sum of its parts.
Connor is not an anarchist. He’s not on benefits. He does not belong to a left wing think tank, any political party or have a particular ideology to impart to those around him. Connor is like many others sleeping out (yes they actually do readers, no matter what certain reputable broad sheets might tell you), he’s an ordinary, out of work bloke, wanting to join in something that might, just might, raise awareness of people like him.
We meet Connor in a small marquee, where free tea and biscuits are doled out to anyone who happens to drop in. This evening the crowd consists of casual passers by, a few local homeless men, a handful of conspiracy theorists and Connor. He identifies us as seeming to be normal and falls quickly into conversation.
“I’m not on benefits, I’m not claiming the dole, I’m struggling to make my rent and I’m out of work. Just like a bunch of people here. We just want to show that we exist.”
And they do. Normal, working class and middle class people, with no jobs and little sense that there is one around the corner have come here to join in. They don’t have a grand message to pass on. Their political allegiances are not well developed. They are the mass of the protest, the bulk of the occupiers and, despite their lack of ideological impetus, they are staying put.
The mainstream press always picks up the organisers or the atypical occupants in attempts to either justify or debunk the presence of two hundred plus tents outside St. Paul’s and such people are here, but so are dozens of others who simply want to be part of something that gets message across. And what is that message?
“I don’t really know that there is one message. It’s a lot of people who recognize that things are not quite right you know. That there are problems and we need to be seen to be here saying that.”
Connor may not articulate in the way that some of the more vocal members of the camp do, but the core of it is no different from the key elements of what Occupy or any of the smaller anti-capitalism groups tagging along for the ride. They are all pointing out that something is wrong. They are all doing it in their own way and they all have their own specific agendas, but here is the surprising thing. Just for once, people are beginning to pay attention.
As the camp sails through its fourth week and no one shows any real inclination to move it on, the message ‘something is rotten in the state of capitalism’ is becoming less of a conspiracists’ watch word and more of a pub table discussion point. The problem of massive pay rises in the city, unnecessary austerity in the face of growing profits and politicians’ complicity with commercial benefactors is as likely to be discussed over a pint of import strength lager in the King’s Arms as it is over organic Pinot Noir at North London dinner parties.
Connor may not have a particular message, but his presence alone is being felt. Even if he’s not sure what he wants to happen next.