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Picture credit: Sophia Loukaides/Frontline Club
Can the Occupy LSX movements in London and around the world be linked to the uprisings during the Arab Spring?
This was just one of the issues that divided both the panel and the audience at last night’s “#Occupy – What do they want?” discussion, which was chaired by Kevin Marsh, director of OffspinMedia and former editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“It is utterly offensive to equate Occupy LSX’ big-state rich kids and crusties with freedom fighters of the Arab Spring,” argued journalist and author Daniel Ben-Ami, who went on to criticise the protesters in the US who “have been occupying Wall Street since September and it’s still not clear what they want.”
WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange argued that what the protesters want is “clear and simple”: “They want equality, justice and equality in front of the law. How do they get? That’s the hard part.”
Accountant and economist Richard Murphy responded that while it’s true the movement’s claims are still unclear and “messy” he argued that it was because it reflected “reality”.
“We’ve had materialism running wild to left and liberalism doing the same in the opposite direction. They both created a geography of dissent; we are now looking for real alternatives,” he said, “you ask me if I agree with what’s happening at St. Paul’s? Yes I do. Those people have put forward the choice we are being denied.”
Assange supported Murphy’s views and criticised the media for failing to create the conditions for debate and expression of ideas that social media had facilitated:
“We are all affected, not only the 99 per cent. And this is also thanks to the incredible improvement of technology in media,” he said. “Why didn’t this happen five years ago? Because only now there is a mechanism to react, to create an ‘external communication’ able to match against the ‘internal’ one of Goldman Sachs and financial markets.”
Assange added: “Corruption is global. Money taken from Kenya ends up in London’s banks. There’s not a single piece of corruption that doesn’t end up in the western world.”
Political journalist and media commentator Harry Cole was dismissive of the protesters and criticised their tactics: “If you have 99 per cent on your side, then stand for election. They’re great attention seekers but make vacuous statements.”
Following a question from the audience, the debate then discussed the Occupy LSX protest in St Paul’s and the disproportionate media attention it was getting as a result of the row with the Cathedral authorities and the Corporation of London.
“I agree we wouldn’t get the same attention if we weren’t in London,” said Occupy LSX supporter Naomi Colvin. “But I believe this is because we represent the 99%’s needs and expectations.”
“This protest is exactly in right in the place: in the heart of City of London,” Murphy said, “and what’s happening there it’s just incredible. People are passionately talking to each other, discussing their ideas and disagreements and they’re doing it publicly. This breaks the secrecy at the base of financial markets.”
Colvin said that she was pleased with the media coverage of the protests overall: “Some has been negative, some positive; but for instance the BBC has stopped calling us ‘anti-capitalist’, which is great.’
In his final thought Murphy said:
“In September 2009 I was asked to speak at the World Bank and the managing director of the bank spoke after me and said ‘when we have a mass movement that is demanding the end of banking secrecy, the end of tax havens and all things that go with that. When there are people outside banks in the cities demanding change to the financial system then we will really worry’. I think thats happening and they are beginning to get really worried.”