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Students' Role at Occupy the London Stock Exchange


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Dusk was settling over the silhouetted tents camped outside the steps of St Pauls Cathedral last night as I made my way over to the infamous occupation that has spawned from activism in New York and Madrid and now, to the financial district of London. 

St Pauls OccupationI was interested to find out what the people at Occupy the London Stock Exchange stood for, how they wanted to achieve their goals, and what their reasoning was by occupying the area outside the cathedral.

As I approached the occupation, I was amazed at the logistics of the protesters’ operation. There was a medi-tent, a make-shift kitchen, an area to charge phones, a press tent, and a litter collection point with full bin-liners neatly lined up in front of a sign asking passersby if they would like to take a bag.

Making my way toward the ‘press tent’, a petite lady holding a piece of cardboard with ‘MEDIA’ scrawled on in bold felt-tip waved at me. She was 33 year-old Lucy Davies, a self-employed contracted teacher who runs educative creative work shops in schools.

She told me a bit more about the occupation. Lucy firstly said that contrary to many beliefs the movement is not mostly comprised of students. ‘We have students here, and support from students is growing, but this is a global outbreak of people from many different demographics’, she explained.

‘What we do have here is a considerable amount of graduates that don’t have jobs – that much is very very clear.’

Lucy gave me a bit of a background on how the idea for Occupy the London Stock Exchange originated. Campaigners first started voicing the idea earlier this month at UK Uncut’s occupation of Westminster Bridge, in protest against the new Health Bill that was debated in the House of Lords on October 12th.

After the occupation, roughly 1000 protesters met to discuss and plan the next action they feel they should take.  They planned another meeting a few days after, where volunteers from all different movements came together to plan the occupation.

Lucy explained, ‘Usually it’s really hard to get different groups and protest movements to come together, but in this case it worked so well – everyone was in agreement.

The same happened when we started planning and promoting the event online on places like Facebook; everyone just said yes, which never happens. It just all fell in to place.’

The event may have fallen into place, but there was nothing haphazard in the way the occupation is running. The teacher added, ‘there’s a lot of work to ensure everything logistically works. We’ve got people volunteering to do different jobs. There’s guys in the software tent making sure there’s wi-fi running smoothly, we’ve also got an emotional support tent and a logistic team – they’re the real unsung heroes, keeping the place clean and tidy, helping keep the tents up.’

When asked about what the occupation stands for, and what she hopes it will achieve, Lucy responds, ‘people are here with different ideas; some want reform, some want structural change, some want to just bring attention to the causes and problems of capitalism.

‘It’s too early to say what the impact will be. We’re not a pressure group but a democratic assembly. We’re moving quite slowly, trying to achieve consensus.

‘For the first time though, we have real engagement from the media; we’ve had positive coverage for a change – I hope they stay with us, they play such a key role in communicating to the public.

‘We’ve also had people from the City come down and talk to us – they’re interested and curious to see what we’re doing.’

Workers from London’s financial district were indeed engaging with those involved in the occupation; two who were walking past told me that they thought it is ‘impressive’ and ‘very good’, although they did say that nobody in their office had really talked about it.

Police have been engaging with activists too. One officer said with a small smile, ‘it’s been nice talking to people. It can be a distraction but there’s been no problems.’ I later saw his colleagues settling down for a quick takeaway pizza, no doubt after a long shift.

Keen to see what students at the occupation are doing, I then spoke to Laurie Cannell and his friend Hannah. They’re both first-year students at UCL.

For English and German student Laurie, it is the only way he feels he can affect change in the country: ‘I’m very excited because for only the second time in my life I feel that I have power.

‘The first time was before the election last year, but after being betrayed by the Liberal Democrats’ promise [of not lifting the cap on fees] and with no renewed hope of electoral reform, I felt let down and demoralised.

‘I feel I can do something here.’

History student Hannah feels the same. She urged students to make their way up to London, or organise similar occupations across the country.

‘We are the embryo of a society based on human need’, she said. ‘We need to do this for the next generation’.

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