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'Occupy' is a response to economic permafrost

October 16, 2011 6:56 PM

keep calm• [Oct 16] Paul Mason* writes: I WENT down to Paternoster Square to observe the first few hours of the London protest. The police sealed off the square, which is private property, so the protesters squatted the steps of St Paul's Cathedral. They had a big, sit-down general assembly and then broke into small circles, cross-legged, then got back together and decided to stay the night. At that point there were around 2,000 people.

Who were they? . . Not a single mainstream British politician attempted to appear at the protest; not a single MP, not a single famous author or film-maker . . Most people involved in such protests have switched off from mainstream politics: they believe it's a rich-person's club and totally impenetrable to reason or pressure . . In fact they revel in their diversity - if you ask 50 people why they're here and what they want you will get 50 answers.

But these protests are a powerful signal worldwide. Their mere existence shows that people are determined to "think globally" about routes out of this crisis - at a time when economics is driving politicians down the route of national solutions . . The impulse, I believe, is being driven by two things: . . Second, because this communal, negotiated, networked life already exists in people's heads as a result of the rapid adoption of social networks and networked lifestyles. As Manuel Castells, one of the first sociologists of the internet, said: the more autonomous and rebellious a person's attitudes are, the more they use the internet; the more they use the internet, the more autonomous their lifestyle becomes.

Something has been going on between the left earphone and the right earphone of this generation that represents a profound change in attitude. I am still struggling to get my own head around it (I'm trying to write a book about it but the events keep happening too fast).

What is absolutely clear however, is what they are determined to do: it's much bigger than any single-issue campaign or cause. They mean to limit the power of finance capital and build a more equal society, while rejecting the hierarchical methods of the parties that once claimed to do so. In this sense the movement is a kind of replacement social democracy; a mirror image of the besuited young people who populate the think tanks of Labour, the SPD, the US Democrats etc.

Occupy Everywhere, then, is the kind of movement you get when people start to believe mainstream politicians have lost their principles, or are trapped by vested interests, or are all crooked . . why now? Basically we are in danger of a global stagnation . . It poses the question "who pays for the banking crisis" very acutely. And large numbers of people are now realising it is going to be them, and more painfully, their children . . for every protester camped in the freezing dawn there may be many more quietly fuming in their living rooms who feel the same way.

* Economics editor, Newsnight

• 'Occupy' is a response to economic permafrost [Paul Mason, BBC Newsnght]

• Occupy London

The two challenges that could make or break #occupyLondon [Sunny Hundal and Anthony Barnett, OurKingdom Oct 16]