Taking to the Streets – my day with Occupy City of London

I woke unready to alarm. I wanted to sleep more but did not listen. Stuck to the programme. Shower, coffee, fried egg. Grim weather and I’m not quite feeling topless… I wear decorative tights instead.

I arrive on site with a friend, but the atmosphere is less than inviting and she quickly leaves. Messy, chaotic and as a man I talk to describes it – this is the front line of Occupy. It’s rather a masculine territory and somewhat uncouth. The ground is just that – muddy ground. The sofa is muddy too. An open tent we find where people are making breakfast has the appearance of a homeless shelter because that is what it is. People who Occupy are living outdoors, camping in a public place. Some of them were rough sleepers before and bring that to the camp. It’s probably more of a home to them than previous arrangements, certainly there is community, and purpose if you care about that. Unfortunately they do not all have allegiance to a common mission to ‘be the 99% taking on the 1%’. This causes tensions and as I wait for Steve an eviction is slowly manifesting not without a struggle.

3 hours after I arrived movement is occurring; we are celebrating St George’s Day, and some of the guys dressed in improvised tunics and beholding makeshift swords are set to slay the mythical dragon. That is the several statues of dragons placed strategically around the city of London. We have leaflets to hand the public regarding the cause.

There is an awkward start to the dragon tour as one of us is a little pissed and inadvertently manages to knock down a passer-by in his enthusiasm. The others are very unimpressed particularly as police are within view. It turns out however that the man who was knocked off balance is probably more pissed than his unwitting assailant.

A few times on this trip I am unsure of my company; some are rowdy, unruly, shouting with little forethought… yet they also have a fighting spirit necessary for the front line. They are positive, jovial; they spread a message of change for the common good; connect with people, and when on form they get public support. They are active in wishing to improve their and others’ lot. This is a beautiful thing and I feel a sense of camaraderie with them.

The night before I consider they may imagine me an imposter – ‘an infiltrator’ as there are many it seems. Any significant movement challenging the bedrock of an elite’s hold on society may expect to be spied on. It is when reading about the lengths authorities have gone to to suppress and divert the Hollie Greig (Scottish woman with Downs Syndrome sexually abused as a child by men in family plus paedophile ring including key pillars of community – some pretty high up; http://www.holliedemandsjustice.org/) case in Scotland and now England that this occurs to me. Unless one is actually sleeping alongside the Occupiers in a tent, I guess there may be suspicion towards you, but I have faith this is not insurmountable.

My connection with Occupy London began last week when I walked into their site requesting to be photographed topless with ‘Reclaim Your Love’ painted on my front (http://spiritedbodies.com/2012/04/15/reclaim-your-love/). They liked my drift and collaboration seemed appropriate.

St George’s Day however is drizzly, cold and with much waiting around I am resolved there will be no semi-nude action today which I have earmarked for hanging out with these guys instead. I want to get to know them and get a feel for my place amongst them if any, if I am to expose myself with them meaningfully and even help them to gain publicity. It’s a personal act which comes from within, so the weather really consolidates a need to get to grips with the whole scenario (before baring myself), which happens to include seeing it in all its murkiness.

I can tell Steve is anxious I may be put off but I respond that it’s as well to be familiar, and I understand we all have tricky days. I’d rather get to know them than wade in less aware.

St Georges slaying the dragon on Embankment

I am curious to meet the womenfolk of Occupy. One who has been there throughout the Winter and moved from St Pauls to the site in Finsbury Square tells me when she has left she will write up her experience. I would like to read that.

We traverse the City from The Royal Courts of Justice where we temporarily join up with Hollie Greig supporters and those wishing to transform the justice system, to Guildhall, Temple Church and London Bridge. I am pleased to see this day through with all its grey areas and learning curves. I have spent some time which fed my soul for being with fellow citizens to demand a fairer future for all. I stuck through ugly moments to see the brighter side of those I could have judged. Afterwards I made my way to a job and the difference in quality of energy was palpable – to be back within the mainstream (of corruption?) somehow (Moving Picture Company – a major animation studio). Not a bad job, just well, not as enlivening to be standing still to be sculpted, than actively reaching out with higher purpose.

Talking to different Occupiers it is obvious that as well as shared principles, they each have personal reasons for being there, as I have mine. I look forward to the right and good spontaneous action to come.

One more thing about the difference between Occupiers who live on Occupy territory, and those who actually control the financial side of Occupy but from the comfort of solid homes… I must admit my own ignorance here. I understand there are tensions between these 2. I happen to have met with these front-line tent-site dwellers (first). They have my heart-felt support. When I first visited the St Paul’s site in Autumn I was moved by their presence and dedication. Amidst chaotic elements signs of organised intelligence were strongly apparent too. I would not so far choose to have that lifestyle myself though knew I wanted to support them in ways appropriate to me. It made me feel so glad that they gave enough of a shit to be there; it brings something very human and real to London (or anywhere). It feels like they are reclaiming the soul of our city and that makes my heart sing!

As for internal or site/off-site politics we shall see. What strikes me now is the continuing optimism of these hardcore camping Occupiers; a feeling to hold on to and nourish.

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Reclaim Your Love!

It’s that in-between stage. Considering options for upcoming events, where to put our Spirited Bodies Energy. It starts to feel bureaucratic – paperwork to become a charity, applying for funding… learning how to make the correct spiel, and watching out in case some of our messages might be offensive… Hold On! What the fuck is happening? I am passionate about what I do; it’s the only reason I do it. Because it can affect people deeply in a way that I think really matters.

At our meeting Lucy brings a copy of The Sunday Times Magazine with a picture of a Femen activist on the front cover. The meeting goes well, plans are discussed but the next day what I can’t stop thinking about is radical feminist activism. I am bored, and I want to feel excited again; feel the electrical itch of anticipation when you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen next, but you just have to be there every breath, on edge, on fire.

These Ukrainian women kick ass. They get arrested, they are funded by donation and they are hot. Sex tourism is so rife where they are with so few opportunities, topless protest just makes sense. They scream and they are righteous. I would be too. They remind me of me, or of a younger me rich with vitality, only in my youth I think I lacked such purposeful direction.

I research them, check out flights to Kiev and ponder what I’d do with them. I write to them, but I know they must be inundated. What they do is theirs. What I want from them is some of their raw urgent style. I can’t think of anyone around me who would likely join me on such a quest. This may be my own, and I am bound. That my boyfriend is recovering from an operation and unable to make love with me may be the best thing to happen to me, to my drive to push me, remind me how dissatisfied I am with my situation, and with the world!

Then Friday comes and I have arranged a trip into London with my sister – we are taking Mum to St Paul’s Cathedral, it is one of her favourite places in London. The night before I wake up early with an idea. Black paint and my overcoat. I can feel the tingles! It’s like being a teenager or falling in love all over again! Yes! Life!

I am early to meet Mum and Rebecca, and decide to call in at the Finsbury Square Occupy camp in Moorgate where I reveal myself; it's my first visit to that Occupation. Willing and bemused residents aid me.

I spot an auspicious sign by the pavement. Dee, my boyfriend's dog, is great for extra fond-inducing smiles, though I am trying to be serious here. A lovely French protester takes the shot.

Steve Moore from the Occupy camp accompanies me to St Paul's to visit his old home. It's his first time back since eviction; nostalgic memories. He knows the place inside out and is well suited to finding good shots.

I adopt classic Femen pose, without their traditional flowers and ribbons (symbol of unmarried women?) but with the addition of a beagle! (I am on walking duty this week.) Also my slogan is not a negative. I live in Britain and my prospects aren’t so glum. The council helps with my rent and the Arts Council may help with my feminist arts cause to help others. Besides I’ve read spiritual books which say embracing the positive is far more powerful than complaining or stressing what is wrong, which may encourage more of the same.Females of the family

Steve takes us to the best view of the dome; a roof terrace of a shopping centre. He has many stories from his St Paul's experience; he was a bailiff before he joined Occupy and his expertise proved pretty canny during proceedings: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/paul-davey/the-faces-of-occupy-steph_b_1412524.html?ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false#sb=2912968,b=facebook

I pose inside a sculpture

On the way to the bridge

On the Millenium Bridge

Looking through the images I think I may have forgotten the ‘shameless exhibitionist’ tag, I definitely got a buzz from this! In fact Rebecca who took a lot of the pictures sent me so many, I shall do another post. We had a positive response from public unsurprisingly, and even the security guard at the shopping centre who had to invent an excuse about the dog to get rid of us was fairly polite. The family day-of-action was a success!