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.