As it possibly draws to an end, no one can refute the fact that College Green looks a mess or that a lot of the constructions are an eyesore. Many feel robbed of what is a celebrated city centre resting and picnic spot.
This temporary damage to the Green pales into insignificance however when compared to the destructive behaviour of financial institutions worldwide.
We all know the background. The financial meltdown of 2008 has continued to worsen while modern economics centralises wealth with the top 1%. This model of expediential growth continues to favour exploitation and ecocide over basic values of protecting human rights and our environment for future generations.
The WWF now estimate that at our current rate of consumption we will need two planets to survive within 50 years. Everything – from the water we drink to the air we breathe – will become toxic or extinct.
In this light, I find the destruction that continues in the name of economic progress (local examples being the privatisation of the NHS and universities) far more disgusting than the temporary and easily remedied damage to College Green.
Since ‘Occupy Bristol’ first set-up their tents in October 2011, Cllr Green and I understood they planned to be there for a while; you can’t save the world overnight. In the first assembled meeting we called for porta-loos and access to fresh drinking water. From the start the Council refused to offer these basic conditions. Twenty-four hour toilets were not a luxury but a basic need, one that would have kept the Green and Cathedral grounds spotless for all to enjoy.
This attitude continued into classic fence sitting. The official line became: “We support your cause; but just not where we can see you, please.”
The officer brought in for negotiations specialised in traveller sites. This meant the wrong aspects were assessed from the beginning. This led to a great amount of wasted time where real issues could have been effectively dealt with.
The blame is not all on Bristol City Council. Obviously a non-hierarchical group such as Occupy doesn’t always sing from the same hymn-sheet and this led to a lot of confusion when dealing with ‘the establishment’. Their continued deliberate spirit of protest continued to ruffle some more sensitive feathers.
More controversially however is BCC’s recent decision to serve an eviction notice. From my conversations with some of the core protestors, it is clear that many are keen to pack up soon and move on to ‘stage two’. They have people’s attention and now wish to progress. For others though, an eviction notice is a big red flag. Further incitement will achieve nothing, but this looks like the route BCC have chosen.
The worst aspect is the sheer lack of accountability and democracy within BCC during the dialogue with Occupy. Their concerns regarding democracy were pantomimed in front of them. Not once was Full Council allowed to truly debate our new and closest neighbours. When discussions did happen, they were in private and consisted only of party leaders and officers. Considering that everyone in Bristol had an opinion on Occupy surely an informed debate by the city’s councillors should have taken place?
The final decision to start the eviction process was taken in secret. We all learnt about it at the same time as everyone else did – from the general press release.
This is certainly a ‘Marmite’ protest. Love or hate it, everyone has spoken about them. With other Occupy camps across the country and the world they have certainly lead the debate and captured many imaginations.
Here in Bristol they’re forming a ‘People’s Vision for 2050’, written by you – with their first meeting on Saturday 21st Jan from 2-4pm in Trinity Arts Centre. They are now successfully working with the many other groups who share a similar wish for social and environmental justice. Other groups have found inspiration or been re-energised and, forgive me for being optimistic, but I am feeling good about the future.