Saturday, October 15, 2011

Occupying London, Anarchy and Making it all up as we go along

Just back from the London stock exchange occupation, and it was a much more refreshing experience than i had anticipated it to be. My initial motivation for going was protesting army brutality in Egypt on Sunday. Armed with 'whose afraid of the arab revolutions?!' ; 'Who's behind funding murderous military ' and a very secret and internal 'egypt is not london and london isn't egypt' , i hoped to create an egyptian corner. Thankfully no one was really interested and friends i met before felt it wiser to connect all causes together, so we went with the first two slogans as well as others such like 'we the 99% from Cairo to London'.

What was refreshing however is that it almost felt like home. The random conversations struck up with different people you have nothing in common with, and suddenly so much more. Discussions of all we feared, and the anxiety of not knowing alternatives.

A man came to ask 'Is this an anti-capitalist demonstration' and a woman next to me felt she needed to be honest and that she hadn't decided she was anti capitalist yet. "I would be..." she explained, "but i wouldn't know what to do without all...well...these 'things'..." and she pulled out random items from her bag "i want choice". Another person went on critiquing the alternative 'communism'. And the argument between prospects and policies associated with all 'ism's brought forth ensued.

Then there was the next most popular question of 'should we really be bringing something apart without having a clear alternative?? shouldn't we structure a comprehensive alternative first'. This is when i explained that these were the very questions that held us back from a revolution for decades.

I loved how the fears are universal. People are exhilarated by the possibility of a possibility of an alternative; but the lapse of the current world is just so unthinkable, that an alternative is unimaginable.

But that's mainly because we're stuck in so many dichotomies? Does it need to be this or that? Can't we think up a whole other socio-political-economic system that works for us. Start with things we lack the most. How can a system of government(nance) be more accountable to its people - what ideologies/or simple ideas can grant or garauntee social justice..

We always find ourselves stuck in this fear of not having a fool-proof and comprehensive system to propose instead of the existing one. When the existing one has taken years, if not decades to put together. Not to mention that it is at that point in the cycle of coming together where it is disintegrating.

In a 'process' work-group, we were trying to discuss and debate different ways of decision making. Very much like the first few days of the June sit in in tahrir, there was a huge debate as to whether the known mechanisms, systems of representation, voting and consensus should be used; or if we should opt for that which is the more radical and experimental. The alternative that we don't know yet. Experience shows that experimenting with alternative means of management and decision making, takes much much more time. And much learning as we go along. Whereas falling on ways we 'already know' is much more effecient. But if we can't experiment, and go out on a limb a little in spaces that are already radical and 'outside the system' like these, then were can we?

We have to remember, i feel, that these spaces are not only spaces where we stand (or sit) to get a certain message across to the government; they are also (and more importantly, i feel) spaces where we meet with people we'd never usually meet. People we have nothing in common with, but much in common with on that particular point in time and space where we met. It's where we can discuss the similarity of our discussions, be blatantly honest about our fears, and experiment with our relationships with each other and the bigger society. It's where we learn about all those of us the world is made up with. I sat 'retelling' all the tales that Fox and BBC had already volunteered about the "latest deadly sectarian clashes between muslims and christians in egypt". I also got much insight about the situation in iran, and what the truth behind the crumbling of the NHS may be. Lots of really interesting ideas about the question fo the importance of decision making in teh first place arose in the 'process work-group'. Do we really need to deliberate and make decisions all teh time? Must we be presented with a dichotomy? To do this or not to do it? Or can we decide in layers. Start with a very thin and simple proposal and pass it around and see how it grows.

Julian Assange came in, lightly, humbly and cheered by the world, he came in through the crowd and to the top of St Paul's stairs. He gave a little speech and warned that (and i improvise as i can't remember exact words) "We are being held hostage to the rule of law - we should be less concerned with obeying the rule of law, and more concerned with making laws that govern us all , equally' . Us and them i suppose. But we are beign held hostage to many things. All of them our fears.

Our fear of no longer having access to running shoes and a wide array of chocolates and medicines, our fear of bearded men in short galabeyyas and their say in our lives; our fear of militias; our fear of making less money; and our fear of a temporary period of instability. But much like each of our personal lives, i feel it's those moments of societal instabilities that make us who we are. They stop our lives, shake us, our beliefs adn understanding of things; and suddenly everything is temporarily not as it ever was, and for some brief moment it can be anything, anything at all.

But the key is to take it one step at a time; for to construct it all straight away could only mean falling back on all we already know too well , or risking that. What comes to mind to me, is the popular committees taht arose at the start of the revolution to protect public property, organized to manage traffic and help calm people when the army came out and was overwhelmed and useless; and eventually developed into forms of community governance. Keeping security up, creating a group to monitor prices in markets and make sure they stay reasonable; starting campaigns to pressure municipalities to collect garbage etc. They grow in credibility, in numbers of people and governors will have no choice but to become accountable to them. One day they may replace the idea of a governer's governance and present the idea of an elected municipality, accountable to its community.

We're all afraid of disorder, but a little anarchy may mean we get a chance to explore the possibilities and try to organize in a different way. A chance at a stronger more sustainable sense of 'order'. I think , ironically, we have it in us, inherently. Revolutions are all about faith. Faith in the possibilities of an alternative future, and faith in ourselves as a people. Only then will we not be held hostage to law, order, and the other that surround us on a day like today.

We shouldn't expect ourselves to be ready with alternatives - that would be ruining everything. But we can definitely make it up as we go along, liberating our imaginations and building our alternative worlds, one step at a time. The most challenging revolution is the internal one, and the most euphoric moment is when we surprise ourselves.

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