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Too often in 2011 we saw protesters abroad hailed as heroes, while those of us angry at our own system have been painted as extremists. Granted, it is far easier to see the plight of those living under totalitarian regimes; nevertheless, this alone does not mean we have no problems of our own. In my eyes, those people within our society who are willing to give up their time to protest for the rights of the most vulnerable should be attributed some respect, rather than be subject to demonization by the media.
To many, Occupy Lancaster, as well as the rest of the Occupy movement worldwide, represents subversive extremism. Apparently, these Occupiers intend to overthrow capitalism and replace it with some utopian ideal which will never work. These Occupiers are too naive and simplistic; they see the world as black and white, with no space for the reality of grey. In fact these anti-Occupy sentiments have gone further than this. Depending on the source, Occupiers tend to be “sponging off the taxpayer”, “criminals,” “anarchists,” or “hippies”; whatever buzzwords will rile up the intended audience.
First of all, Occupy does not necessarily intend to overthrow capitalism. Many within the movement may see that as a good goal; but it is not, first and foremost, the intended aim. To see the issue as being purely anti-capitalist is to be too simplistic; there are various ways of employing a capitalist system within a society, and calling for a more responsible capitalism which safeguards ordinary people is no extreme suggestion. What many Occupiers are calling for is debate. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall many commentators have pointed to the repositioning whereby capitalism as an ideology has transcended politics, and has cemented its reputation as the neutral setting of society.
This has stifled debate within the political sphere, and has lead to the appropriation of policies which are damaging to society under the banner of economic necessity. Occupy protests have re-engaged that discussion, and hopefully will continue to. Political protests in a time of contentious government decision-making is a sign of a healthy society, one in which citizens not only have autonomy, but are willing to use it. Moreover, Occupy is not a negative demonstration; these protests seek to create community space and invigorate individuals to utilise their democratic right.
Whatever your feelings on the financial crisis and the subsequent government cuts, it is surely quite clear that the poorest in society are suffering the effects, while the richest have continued to profit. Thankfully, someone is attempting to question this logic. The problem lies not in the individual policy decisions of the government, but in our approach to capitalism as a whole; hence, this discourse could not come from the political parties currently representing us, and must come from outside the neo-liberal paradigm so prevalent in Westminster.
Occupy is there to remind us that we can stand up and be noticed. Occupy is about putting the needs of the people first, and encouraging those in power to seek to shape the economic infrastructure around what society needs. When ordinary people are being evicted from their homes yet Vodafone et. al. are being let off unpaid tax bills worth billions, surely we too should be asking whether the Government’s priorities are in order.