Occupy's legacy? The tents are gone, but a new spirit of protest lives on
A year since the bold movement swept into the City, the effects are still playing out
It started almost by mistake. A group of demonstrators heading for the courtyard outside the London Stock Exchange were stopped short by police and instead put up a few tents in the nearby churchyard of St Paul's Cathedral. Today, the camp may be long gone, but the occupiers are not.
No longer encamped on the front steps of one of the world's most famous landmarks, many have instead taken the fight they started a year ago this Monday back to their home towns, while others are using the skills they learned at St Paul's to teach other activists.
The Occupy movement faced criticism almost from day one. It was accused of being sure of what it was against but less sure of what it was for. Later, as the police and bailiffs closed in on the camps that had sprung up in London and around the country, it had to adopt new methods just to survive.
One former Occupier, Samuel Carlisle, has taken his activism online. He runs lessons in online activism as part of the global Cryptoparty movement, which began in Australia and which aims to put activists in the same room as technology experts to help improve their understanding of how to stay safe online.
Another, Matt Varnham, 23, who took on the role of a legal adviser to the St Paul's protest, is working on a manual for peaceful protesters and offers advice to squatters.
Meanwhile The Occupied Times, the newspaper created by the demonstrators, is still going strong. Em Weirdigan, 42, is still involved in producing it, and said its circulation – usually around 2,000 per issue – was higher than when the camps were in place. She expects sales to be boosted by the anniversary and the upcoming Trades Union Congress march.
Ms Weirdigan said: "The newspaper is not as focused on London as it once was. It is covering stories from across the country – and abroad. People from Occupy London have taken what they learned there on with them."
John Cooper, QC, who represented the demonstrators in court, said he believed that "imaginative and legal approaches" to peaceful protest would spring from the Occupy movement.
Yet its model would need to be "radically changed", he said
"One of the major problems in representing Occupy London was getting a decision and cogent instructions out of them," he recalled. "That said, it was soon realised that we needed to adjust that and a number of people started taking responsibility."
It is not just the occupiers who have learned from the process that began a year ago. The authorities that would oppose any repeat protest – local authorities and police forces – have been through the legal process of evicting Occupy once, and would probably manage to do so much more quickly next time.
"It would not be possible now to sustain an occupation in the way it was. A tented protest is going to be impossible to maintain," Mr Varnham said.
Yet he has not given up on Occupy's ideals, and is working on an online network to give people a forum to discuss local issues and contact activist groups which may be able to help – a kind of virtual St Paul's camp, with its library, tent university and campfire debates.
This, as its first birthday approaches, is perhaps Occupy's legacy. It did not radically change global capitalism, but it did leave a band of activists willing to carry on trying. It was perhaps, as Ms Weirdigan put it, "the biggest activist training camp ever".
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