A few days ago I presented some ideas at a meeting of Occupy Edinburgh. I re-present them here so that they might receive a wider audience. Please excuse my bad drawing and penmanship!
Fundamental questions are:
- What is the current state of the world?
- What is the current situation of Occupy Edinburgh?
- What is the Occupy movement’s long-term goal? and
- How can we move from the present situation towards the goal?
The present situation
We live in an increasingly unequal world, where the wealthy call the shots. Inequality is hugely damaging.
Bruce K. Alexander argues that hypercapitalism causes psychosocial dislocation and that this makes people vulnerable to addictions. Such addictions include shopaholism. It is certainly true that many indulge in competitive consumerism and the wealthy consume far more of the earth’s non-renewable resources than is sustainable. Economic growth, as measured by GDP, is not a way out.
The Occupy movement’s goal
The ultimate goal of the Occupy movement is surely to create a more equal society where everyone’s needs (physical, emotional, social, spiritual…) are met in an environmentally sustainable way.
The present situation of Occupy Edinburgh
With significant negative coverage in the media relating to incidents/behaviour at the camp, the focus seems to be on the camp and not on the bigger picture. The impact of Occupy Edinburgh is questionable.
We are portrayed by some as a disorganised, feuding rabble; it may appear as if Occupy Edinburgh is descending into
Pythonesque “People’s Front of Judea/Judean People’s Front”) in-fighting. What’s more, OE is now facing eviction. Public attention should be on the corrupting effect of big money on the way society is run, not on events in a square.
How can we turn this situation around? There’s a clue in the picture!
We must learn to KISS/KISSS! The original acronym was: “K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid!”
I prefer: “K.I.S.S. – Keep It Short and Simple.”
Even better: “K.I.S.S.S. – Keep It Short, Simple and Specific.”
->We need to communicate our main message in short, simple and specific ways.<-
(I apologise if this post itself seems rather long. 😉 At least I have tried to break it down into bite-sized chunks!)
Which is more effective?
People are, by and large, not moved by general statements. They are moved by specific stories about particular individuals. This is the way grand concepts and ideas should be introduced. People will identify with a particular abused baby who lives around the corner, but a broad statement about the numbers of children abused the world over will be ineffective.
Furthermore, if one attempts to give people a great deal of information, they will feel overwhelmed. By describing all that is wrong with the world one is likely to leave people feeling confused, or helpless in the face of the magnitude and complexity of the world’s ills. Far better to pick a single illustrative aspect (target!), one that can be conveyed in a story or two and one that directly relates to people’s lives.
Perhaps this is overkill, but let me emphasise again the importance of stories! They permeate our culture for a reason.
So how can we apply all the above? Is there an obvious target for Occupy Edinburgh, which we can explain using stories?
…Or, in other words, what could the elephant in St Andrew’s Square be?
It’s the Royal Bank of Scotland, who own property bordering the Square and thus are represented by Essential Edinburgh (as far as I understand), a body currently in the process of evicting Occupy Edinburgh! RBS, however, is more than 80% owned by UK taxpayers.
It would have been great if Occupy Edinburgh had, from the outset, picked this dodgy institution as its target, stating, for example, that OE would be happy to leave the Square if the RBS:
- set a maximum pay ratio of (say) 10:1
- allowed basic account holders free access to all ATMs, and
- pulled out of the appalling exploitation of the Canadian tar sands (environmental destruction on a gargantuan scale that is also destroying the lives of indigenous people).
Each of these points can and should be illustrated by personal stories. All of these issues already have people and organisations campaigning on them. If OE chose to make these its headline demands it would engage many allies and compel the media to focus on these issues.
Here are two campaigns on pay ratio:
- Jenny Jones vows to make London the ‘Fair Pay City’ in Green Party Mayoral election campaign launch
- Is a maximum wage ratio the way to realize the goal of a living wage?
Here’s an imaginative and entertaining campaigning video by Friends of the Earth on RBS’s tar sands investments. (I have met a representative of the Beaver Lake Cree, whose territory and way of life are being destroyed, and heard of their struggles directly. Here he is.)
Here’s a personal story relating to the RBS. A friend of mine worked for a building society that was taken over by RBS at the time of Fred the Shred’s reign (he of the knighthood and multi-million pound pension – over £600,000 per year). The atmosphere changed horribly. The staff found themselves under huge pressure to meet targets to sell loans to people – loans they knew their customers would have difficulty repaying. My friend felt extremely uncomfortable with both the bullying management style and the lack of ethics with respect to what they were being pressured to do. She resigned. Fred the Shred retired, stinking rich. The RBS is now largely owned by UK taxpayers, yet they continue to do ghastly things and pay their top executives a fortune. Most people can understand the injustice of this, I think?
Importantly, it’s not only easy for people to understand these issues, it’s also easy for them to take part in such a campaign themselves. While it is apparently illegal to advocate a run on a bank, it would not be illegal to state the following:
The Royal Bank of Scotland is largely owned by you, the UK taxpayer, who bailed it out.
It has been using your money to:
- pay its top executives vast sums of money,
- and to destroy our planet and people’s lives, while
- making life harder for its poorest customers.
Occupy Edinburgh is fighting for your money to be used properly, and will not leave St Andrew’s Square until RBS fixes these things. It’s illegal for us to tell you to close your account with them, but we can tell you that some people are closing their RBS accounts and telling RBS why. We cannot stop you doing the same, and/or informing your friends about RBS’s activities. [Incidentally, I moved my account from RBS to the Co-operative Bank, who sponsor the Beaver Lake Cree’s legal battles against the tar sands developments. It was easy to do.]
Don’t let the few top executives at RBS (representing what we call “the 1%”) use more taxpayers’ money to evict OE (as if they haven’t already siphoned enough into their personal accounts). OE is fighting for your rights. We are all the 99%!
Such a targeted campaign would surely have galvanised people and shifted the focus from OE itself to a major actor in the grossly unequal and amoral society we live in.
However, we could equally have picked another target. It’s not crucial which malefactor we attack first, but it is important to pick one. The criteria should be:
- that its evil deeds affect many people,
- that these deeds are symptomatic (illustrative) of the ills of the predominant economic order, and
- that it is easy for many people to take action against it.
(It is also important not to waste time debating which organisation to target. Why not the RBS, which owns a building on St Andrew’s Square?)
Currently: several Goliaths against one David
The Occupy movement, by failing to focus on a specific initial target, is setting itself against the entire economic system at once. It is therefore failing to communicate its message effectively, and failing to engage allies. Goliath corporate entities laugh as they use their media to destroy the puny David facing them!
What could happen: several David’s overpowering single Goliaths, one by one!
By systematically targeting organisations in the way I have suggested, we would easily communicate our message and motivate people to join us. At any one time we would have several Davids facing a single Goliath. If you know anything about how predators hunt, you will know how important it is to separate (divide) in order to conquer. Sun Tzu and Machiavelli would agree!
The logic and integrity of this approach
So here’s the whole picture in the form of a flowchart (see above)!
(1) Occupy Edinburgh should have made specific demands of a single entity, offering to move out of St Andrew’s Square as soon as it complied.
Either the organisation would (a) comply, or (b) it would refuse, but OE’s headline demands would have attracted support.
(a) If the organisation complied, OE would have vacated the Square, and (2) picked another site (or campaigning tactic) and another target, with its credibility and support bolstered… (Spears metaphorically blooded, on we go to a better world!)
(b) If the organisation failed to comply, OE could have:
- negotiated the conditions of it staying and, failing that, if it were evicted,
- it could have argued that the taxpayers’ money used to enforce an eviction amounted to taxpayers’ money being spent to support the organisation’s dubious activities. This would have integrity because the headline demands had been made!
There is no integrity in making specific demands only when OE has been served with an eviction order! It is beside the point that Essential Edinburgh might laugh in the face of such demands. Is OE ashamed of such demands, or does it not really want to change the world? It must not be an organisation that simply exists to occupy a few square metres of lawn. It is demeaning for negotiations to boil down to the number of tents etc. it is allowed to keep on the site. It is madness to give the media the opportunity to portray things as if OE’s focus is merely the personal needs of a few campers and not the big picture. Yes, its name is “Occupy”, but its purpose is not to occupy land, but to permeate hearts and minds and make the world a better place.
I salute all those who camped out in St Andrew’s Square (I managed only two nights). I admire you enormously! Occupy supporters have a wealth of talent, enthusiasm and energy. If this is not to be wasted, the movement must now evolve. We need to become 3D, to demonstrate and embody Dignity, Discipline and Direction. We need a new strategy! (Bearing in mind the above, specific targets, flash mobs, humour, new media…?) We certainly need to improve our communication. NVC and the Circle Method are the way to go, I think!
Remember too, that while we should be mindful of the needs of people (who may be the victims of the political/economic/social order we seek to overturn) we are not a substitute for social services. We are a protest movement or, better, a reform movement. There comes a point when people’s behaviour cannot be condoned or tolerated. While we must be compassionate, we must also be aware that extreme behaviour can be used to discredit the movement. It’s a fine and difficult line.
I have long been thinking about such issues. My 2004 paperback novel, Saving the World and Being Happy, recently republished as an ebook, Saving the World, imagines an ‘International Hope-ist Movement’ that systematically targets multinationals.