Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Capitalists 1, Hippies 0.

OCTOBER 15, 2011 was a remarkable day in the long and noble history of peaceful protest.

Angered by a global economic crisis triggered by risky banking and frivolous governments, a group of entirely well-intentioned campaigners decided to occupy the London Stock Exchange to force a change and highlight how the rich are causing the poor to suffer.

All good stuff, except the stock exchange was closed. And it's private property, so anyone sitting down in it who's not supposed to be there gets turfed out pretty quick.

So instead the protesters went and sat down outside St Paul's Cathedral, where it would be more difficult to remove them, there was a handy Starbucks for charging up their Macbooks and from whence they were yesterday finally removed by bailiffs after a series of civil court hearings.

Now, lots of stuff which the protest movement, during the past few decades, has promoted is stuff that many of us agree with - war is bad, nuclear weapons aren't nice, sexual equality is a good thing, freedom of choice, the right to vote and so on. The 99% of people who don't have all the money think the financial system needs to be sorted out. Yet for some reason people that campaign consistently for those things always seem to get it wrong. Why is this?

Well, the one thing hippies have never managed is decent PR. They tend to think their message will speak for itself, without realising they need an interpreter.

I said at the time, and I'll keep on saying it until people pay attention, but if you're going to campaign you need to have targets you can hit. Newspapers usually launch campaigns only when they have a reasonable chance of success, because then you can have a big WE WIN headline on the front page rather than a 'sorry, we lost' news-in-brief on page 35. A failed campaign is not news.

So if you're going to protest against the global economic system, you need to piss off the people in charge of it. The fact fairly lowly bankers have to walk past your tent on the way to their shiny office might irk them but irking never won any wars. You need to annoy the boss of Goldman Sachs and some world leaders, or else not bother at all.

You also need to get the public on-side. They already hate bankers, so that should be easy, but the Occupy lot nallsed that up too by deciding to stage a sit-in at a church. The public generally like churches. They certainly like pretty ones designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and they have a very soft spot for iconic ones which survived the Blitz and Lady Di got married in. It's basically the nation's church, and if you park your dirty tents outside it they won't like it.

And you need a clear message everyone can understand. Instead the hippies gave us a wonderfully aimless manifesto which I saw them debating and voting on during one of my visits to the Occupy camp, which at points had more journalists in it than demonstrators:

1. The current system is unsustainable. It is undemocratic and unjust. We need alternatives; this is where we work towards them.
Who wrote this, Neil off The Young Ones? Do you mean 'The System' or 'The Man'? You ought to be demanding changes to global financial regulations and international debt trading, shurely?
2. We are of all ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, generations, sexualities dis/abilities and faiths. We stand together with occupations all over the world.
If I ever see a slash added into the word 'disabilities' ever again as long as I live I'll come and occupy you, sunshine.
3. We refuse to pay for the banks’ crisis.
Well, that's dandy if you're a tax exile, unemployed or otherwise not adding to the pot. The rest of us have already paid for it, we're still paying for it, and we're paying for Greece and Iceland and everywhere else too. You may as well refuse to breathe anything but FairTrade oxygen.
4. We do not accept the cuts as either necessary or inevitable. We demand an end to global tax injustice and our democracy representing corporations instead of the people.
Well you've got three things in a mess here. There's arguments to be had around the cuts but how are you going to end tax injustice in Ghana or corporate power-grabbing by having a sit down in London?
5. We want regulators to be genuinely independent of the industries they regulate.
What does this have to do with tents?
6. We support the strike on the 30th November and the student action on the 9th November, and actions to defend our health services, welfare, education and employment, and to stop wars and arms dealing.
Marvellous. Well done. Lots of people do. Did you really want to waste a manifesto point on 'solidarity, brothers'?
7. We want structural change towards authentic global equality. The world’s resources must go towards caring for people and the planet, not the military, corporate profits or the rich.
Riiiiiiiight. You've watched a lot of Star Trek, haven't you?
8. We stand in solidarity with the global oppressed and we call for an end to the actions of our government and others in causing this oppression.
I'm being oppressed just reading this tut. Are you likening organised rape in the Congo or famine in Niger to the problem of first-time buyers who can't get a mortgage?
9. This is what democracy looks like. Come and join us!
You smell. No.
So after four months in the cold and wet the Occupy St Paul's protesters achieved not a single one of their aims. They didn't even raise awareness of the movement, really, because we already had strikes and marches and riots and all they educated us about was civil trespass laws and that even churchmen get arsey if you crap in the apse.

And therein lay the protest's major flaw - that despite initially being supported by plenty of decent, ordinary, working people it had a message so woolly and aimless that it attracted every crusty vagrant in a 10-mile radius. People who are on the streets with mental health or drug problems pitched up, bringing with them dealers, graffiti, hygiene issues and troublemakers, thereby neatly killing off any remaining public support.

There will be people who say the nasty old media did for this demo, by relentlessly pointing out facts and other inconvenient truths. But if the hippies had anyone with so much as a week's experience as a hack on their team they'd have had the benefit of some clear and simple advice about what not to get in the papers for - no drink, no drugs, no empty tents, no unwashed hair, no using a cathedral as a toilet and tear up your LGBT equal arsewipe multimedia manifesto.

I can't help thinking that just one day actually sat in the stock exchange would have caused 'the system' more problems, and had more public support, than the four months they've spent fannying about in a churchyard.

But don't mind me. Camping's not really my thing.

The Fox wants a power shower.

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