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Occupy London: Why the protest?

To reflect upon the protest in the City of London, and ask the students what they think about such protests.

by Claire Rose

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5

Aims

To reflect upon the protest in the City of London, and ask the students what they think about such protests.

Preparation and materials

  • Download some photos of the protests across the world (see the Occupy website, or Wikipedia).
  • Your (local) city may also have an Occupy camp – check before delivering the assembly.
  • You may need to update this assembly: check the Occupy website.
  • See the Amnesty International website for more information about the Arab Spring and a guide showing what you can do to help.
  • For further information about the Occupy movement, see Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupy_movement

Assembly

  1. Since mid-October 2011, a mini-city of tents has sprung up before the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of London. The encampment consists of a group of protesters that calls itself Occupy London.

    The accommodation is pretty basic: tents, sleeping bags, tarpaulin and camping supplies. But it has its own food centre, library, rubbish and recycling system, and even a lecture series.

    Why are people choosing to live outside in tents through cold winter nights, and what do they hope to achieve?
  2. The protest in the City of London is just one outpost of a worldwide movement, loosely called Occupy, organized by the anti-capitalist magazine Adbusters.

    This movement started in Kuala Lumpur in mid-2011 with a single encampment, and soon moved to New York (Occupy Wall Street) and San Francisco, before coming to London and other UK cities in October 2011.

    By late 2011, it was estimated that Occupy protests or camps were taking place in 2,464 towns and cities worldwide.
  3. The Occupy movement has raised strong emotions both for and against the protesters.

    The protest in New York has faced eviction by the city police. Protesters argue that eviction impinges on their right to freedom of speech.

    In London, two organizations have threatened legal action: the City of London Corporation – the governing body for the area – and the Church of England. These two organizations are co-owners of the land that the protest has settled on. David Cameron and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, have both spoken out against allowing the protesters to stay in this spot for a long period, claiming that the camp is causing disruption in a busy area of London.

    It is difficult to know how to feel about a small group of people who could be causing problems for many others going about their daily lives – not to mention all the visitors and tourists to the area.
  4. Protests like this arise out of a common sense of frustration felt by a large group of people. Together these people form a ‘movement’. Their frustration spills over on to the streets, often organized through social media and Internet communication.

    Protests can take many forms, from local groups meeting to argue against the proposed closure of a library or other amenity, to huge political rallies – such as the protests in the ‘Arab Spring’ of early 2011 – which can take over substantial parts of cities.

    The Arab Spring movements called for democracy and had the ambitious aim of changing the way their countries were run. In Tunisia and Egypt, these movements succeeded in bringing down their governments. (You might like to comment here about the ongoing situation in Egypt.)

    Similar protests are continuing in other Middle Eastern countries. For standing up for what they believe in, protesters in Syria face the daily risk of being injured or even killed by their own government.
  5. Back in London, the Occupy protests are calling for justice and equality in the face of bank bailouts, government cuts and rising unemployment. This is a broad list of demands, and some critics have suggested that Occupy London is unfocused and unrealistic, and won’t achieve anything.

    But perhaps this is a different type of protest from the local or political campaigns described in section 4. As the lecture series and library at the Occupy London camp show, alongside demonstrating against the current way of doing things, this protest gives us a space to think about solutions and alternatives.

    In order to communicate their message, the Occupy protesters have been gaining publicity in the press, as well as speaking to people passing by their camp. They aim to draw public attention to the issues they are frustrated about. They hope that we will stop for a moment and think about these demands, whether we’re walking past the camp or see a report about it in the news. So although their list of demands is less focused than those in the Arab Spring protests, they are meeting their aims in other ways.
  6. Protests are an important part of a healthy society, whether they are focused on a particular issue, or are less precise, and aim to make us stop and think.

    They draw attention to an issue or a group of issues that often wouldn’t otherwise get much attention.

    They can change the course of government policy, or even change governments.

    Peaceful protests give us, as citizens, a means to express our feelings about the issues we care about without fear of reprisal.

    Further thought and discussion

    What is so important to you that you would protest about it to make others pay attention?

    Why is it so important that people should be able to protest freely, even when we disagree with their point of view?

Time for reflection

Take some time to be grateful for the freedoms that we enjoy in this country.

Give thanks for all those who, down through the centuries, have worked so that we could enjoy those freedoms.

Music

‘Blowing in the wind’ by Bob Dylan, or any other ‘protest’ song

Publication date: February 2012   (Vol.14 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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