Occupy protesters gathered outside parliament. Photo: Morgan Elder
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Why are Occupy Democracy protesters staging another occupation in London?

Braving the damp weather, Occupy protesters have occupied a square in front of the Supreme Court, calling for a movement for representative and participative democracy.

In spite of the wet weather and icy winds, Occupy Democracy protesters gathered in Parliament Square last night to call for a movement for truly representative democracy. However, plans to occupy Parliament Square were immediately thwarted as the square had been fenced off, with dozens of police encircling its perimeter and Scotland Yard warning that an “appropriate and proportionate police plan” was in place. After a short-lived stand-off with the police, 150 protesters moved into the road to form a blockade, drowning out the beeps of angry Whitehall motorists. Managing to narrowly avoid kettling and arrests, protesters marched towards parliament to occupy the square in front of the Supreme Court. Having not moved, they plan to be there until Sunday evening, with a range of workshops and speeches planned.

Huddled in a sprawling circle, occupiers listened to speeches and poems from speakers who were all united in their disregard for the current state of British democracy. Part of the global Occupy movement, Occupy Democracy campaigns against corporate corruption, austerity and privatisation. The occupation drew a diverse crowd, including a number of “Occupy virgins”, students and of course the usual die-hard activist folk. Asad Khan, a women's wear fashion-designer was not your usual suspect. Incensed by what he saw as the police brutality of last month’s Occupy protest, Khan was at home when he came across a YouTube video of the occupation. “I saw a video of the police dragging people off parliament square for simply sitting down, I thought it was absurd and grotesque so I came down to see what was going on straight away”. Now joining Occupy Democracy for this weekend’s latest protest, Khan gestures at the crowds around him: “Look at these people nobody here wants to fight or deface anything, they simply want to come together to discuss how they can make the world a better place”.

Steve Robson, a 24-year-old from East London who works in customer service says that this is the first Occupy protest he has been too. Drawing links between London and Hong Kong he says: “I think its weird that in Hong Kong they're allowed to protest outside their parliament but we’re not even allowed on Parliament Square. We’re meant to be living in a democratic society but at the last occupation we had our sleeping bags and tarpaulin confiscated”.

Donnachadh McCarthy, the former deputy chair of the Liberal Democrats also joined occupiers. Since being forced out of the party for whistleblowing on corporate lobbying corruption in 2004, McCarthy has become increasingly involved in the Occupy movement. “I’m here because I believe our political system really is corrupt. I’ve experienced it first hand and from the inside you can see the lack of party democracy and the lobbyists in action”.

Last month’s ten day long occupation on Parliament Square was heavily policed, with over 40 arrests for trivial matters. The 2011 Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act now means that the police can forcibly remove protesters which set up camp in Parliament Square and confiscate items which are considered to be sleeping equipment or a structure. At last month’s occupation, pizza boxes were confiscated on the grounds that they were being used as pillows and umbrellas on account that they were used as structures.

An organiser, George Barda, who has been involved in the Occupy movement since its original occupation in St Pauls in 2011 has high hopes for the weekend. “We hope this weekend will increase the pressure on an anti-democratic system which seems determined to squash inconvenient voices. The more we come back to Parliament Square, the more we can expose the contempt for democracy by those in power”. In the hope that Occupy Democracy can extend beyond the green square they are occupying, protesters hope to stay where they are until Sunday, taking part in discussions on everything from the NHS to the climate, the economy and our democratic system as a whole.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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