THE NEWS: LOCAL RESIDENTS AND PEOPLE FROM OCCUPYLONDON HAVE HALTED UNNECESSARY BUILDING ON GREENBELT IN LEYTON
I have never been part of such an easy or downright enjoyable direct action. In the sunshine of Leyton Marshes (behind the Lea valley ice rink) a call went up that a truck was coming. A motley crew of us- dog walkers, cyclists, folk from occupylondon- sauntered, then jogged, then sauntered again, towards an lorry carrying some sort of building materials, trying to get to the proposed site of a basketball training court. The truck saw us and slowed. Some of us sat down in the road. The truck stopped. The driver turned the engine off. After a while a harem of Waltham forest cops showed up- not the rabid dogs of the hackney force but the county constables- polite, almost apologetic, certainly not up for confrontation. We chatted a while, then the truck driver started up his engine, reversed out, and we went back to toasting turkish bread on the barbecue and listening to Immortal Technique on the amp. Beautiful in it's simplicity.
By christmas- after 3 months at the Finsbury square site of OccupyLondon (see earlier posts)- I was banging on about how occupy needed to get out into the communities, to get involved in local projects with local people, to do things we were good at doing, and help other people do what they were good at doing. And so when Alida came back from foraging on Walthamstow Marshes and told me that people from FS had walked the 5 miles to the marshes on the request of the local 'Save Leyton Marshes' campaign I had to check it out.
It turns out that the previous site for a basketball training court for the olympic teams- a school hall somewhere- was not 'secure' enough (and perhaps not pretty enough) so at the last minute the Olympic authorities had requested permission from Waltham forest council to build on one of the few remaining fields of Leyton Marshes- a piece of 'common land' that way back when was a space for 'commoners' to graze their sheep, and was then given to the people in perpetuity for their 'recreation and relaxation'. Its location and size has made many developers drool over the possibilities for profit and over the years locals have managed to fight off various attempts to build on it.
Perhaps, then, the cash strapped council see the 'special circumstances' of the olympics as a perfect foot in the door to get the concrete in and the soil out. They say it the structure will be taken down after the olympics but all the evidence points to this being a very spurious promise. For starters, there are plenty of other places to build on (including a brownfield site literally 300 metres away). Secondly, various people who know about building have looked at the materials being used and said that they would never be chosen unless the building was a permanent one. Thirdly, it is unclear whether the council even have the authority to enforce any promises they make about bringing the site back to its former glory after the olympics. It all smells of a grand stitch up, and too many people have seen this too many times to believe the apologists in county hall.
So people are getting together to stop it, and the local Save Leyton Marsh Group http://saveleytonmarsh.wordpress.com/ , after stopping some trucks themselves, asked Occupy to come along and weigh in with their unique ability to sit around in a place indefinitely, scare the shiz out of the authorities and chat friendly nonsense who anyone who passes by.
On the face of it this all seems wonderful, and the proof of the pudding is that no trucks (and therefore no building materials) have been able to get in site since Friday, and today and yesterday the workers haven't even shown up for work! IT IS WORKING. This, in itself, is amazing, and everyone is well chuffed.
The most fascinating part of this for me is how the occupiers (i vaguely include myself in this) work with the local community. It is clear that the invitation to come to occupy was not supported by everyone in the local campaign group. Indeed, some locals have disassociated with the campaign as a result (which is really a bollocks thing to do). But most- some of whom are veterans of Greenham Common, Newbury Bypass etc- get what we are doing, get that we are not perfect, and understand this is a give and take process. It was great to watch supressed eyebrow raising at their weekly meeting when one of the occupy delegation suggested bringing 50 of his mates with caravans on to the site (for the record, this isn't going to happen) . Less great to watch as another got steadily more pissed, louder, more aggressive, slowing down the meeting and setting everyone on edge. But still, at the end of the meeting, we all knew each other a little better and each morning and evening people from the campaign and occupy chat, share chips and stories, and i look with a rising heart.
Since the beginning of this calender year- after a new years eve in leeds when i got really high and really low both at the same time- i feel like i am changing fast. I haven't written about it yet because i am still in a period of flux, but when i do things i used to do, like going to campaign meetings, the change in my thought processes and behaviours is put into more stark relief. I feel like I am more on the outside of what i is going on- which makes me less passionate but gives me more perspective. I am basically seeing that in order to make the world better and fight the developers/1%/demons within ourselves we have to
listen not just to the words of others but to their meaning(s)
communicate with others thoughtfully, succinctly and with as little ego as possible
take people for what they are and that change takes TIME, but will happen (if someone has read the daily mail every day for 10 years, it takes 10 years of good conversations to change their minds)
for example, the guy who was loud and obnoxious and obstructive: Before i would have got really angry with him and tried to find ways to make him go away. Now, yes my gut reaction is to be angry with him, but know that all he is is the product of all the things he has done and had done to him, and so (because i know he is is a proper nice guy beneath the layers of defence and the pickling nature of all the alcohol he drinks) i can only accept that he is like this now, accept that he is here and that i can't make him go away, and either a)get on with it anyway or b)walk away from the situation.
But honesty can be as convoluted as dishonesty. For example, a few people complain that we are leaving rubbish on site. It is true that sometimes there is rubbish on site (it is, after all, a place where people live). When I see it, I have a choice to either pick it up, or leave it. I cannot pick up all of it. Nor can I stop people abusing site workers, or bankers. We can decide in a general assembly that we agree not to do it, but if I said to some people on the camp 'your behaviour is causing more damage than good' and that a GA says they shouldn't do what they are doing, they would tell me to stop being a righteous little twat and to fuck off. Or they would agree with me, but not do anything about it. This is one of the fundamental problems of occupy, and we are yet to solve it. It is extremely difficult for some people to get out of their own heads and see the consequences of what they do. After 3 months of metaphorically and literally picking up other peoples rubbish in Finsbury Square I realised I was no longer being useful to the movement and stopped showing up. Others are still there, doing it, and I have only respect and awe for them.
And so it will be fascinating to see how the coalition pans out on the marshes. Of course the local group are not naive when it comes to these challenges and are sufficiently happy that we are there 24/7 to bring us food and be gentle in their suggestions (but robust enough to suggest nonetheless). I hope, I pray to the god of road protests, that it will work. If it does, it will show the rest of OccupyLondon (and beyond)- in this time where lots of people are questioning lots of thing- that we CAN win battles and that the war is still on.
My fellow east londoners- the sun is shining. go check out leyton marshes!