Artless protest? Or a disappointing protest that hasn’t yet occupied the agenda of the public or the church?

Despite being critical of Occupy Belfast’s media strategy over the past few months, I’m still disappointed when they respond to Peter Robinson’s jibe about their “artless protest” with a press release.

Occupy Belfast would like to take this opportunity to say that we will not be going away and will be relentless in our campaign to expose the hypocrisy and spin emanating from the charade on the hill.

At the NI Assembly Business Trust’s event last Thursday evening, the First Minister had a small go at Occupy Belfast before aiming both barrels at the local media:

At times like this, when society is struggling to break the grip of the worst recession for two generations, there is far more to be gained by contributing intelligent opinion to informed thinking than by occupying major buildings in our towns and cities in artless protest. For it is only when we all pull together as a team that we will turn recovery into a reality. [Peter Robinson at NIABT]

Press release or imaginative, headline grabbing performance art. Guess I can’t have it both ways?

Occupy Belfast started out in tents in Writer’s Square opposite St Anne’s Cathedral and running small scale protests before boldly moving into the disused Stock Exchange building that had once been the Bank of Ireland headquarters.

I was going to write that I have two disappointments with the overall Occupy movement. But perhaps, it’s more that I’ve learnt two things from the Occupy movement in Belfast and beyond.

Firstly, anarchy isn’t a very fertile breeding ground for a well thought out and incisive message that influences large numbers of people and changes attitudes. And neither is anarchy disappointed at slow progress and minimal impact: the drip drip approach is quite acceptable.

Taking over the old Stock Exchange Building has been the most talked about thing that Occupy Belfast have done. It briefly grabbed headlines. It gave them an opportunity to explain themselves on Nolan and Talkback. And then the loose collective and “The People’s Bank” faded from public notice. Where are the public meetings that involve voluntary sector organisations already working in areas that concern Occupy: housing, employment, education?

If anything, the First Minister’s criticism has given the group oxygen that may lead to publicity, rather than them creating their own spotlight, despite being a stone’s throw from the offices of two of Belfast’s three daily newspapers.

Secondly, churches have mostly been very unimaginative in their response to Occupy. In the case of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, their response was bumbling and ham-fisted. When the Writers’ Square camp was in full swing, I heard Occupy Belfast representatives speak warmly about their relationship with St Anne’s Cathedral.

We are ordinary people who can no longer stand by while our futures are stolen from us, while house repossessions sky-rocket, while the chance of ever finding a job dissipates, while higher education becomes the preserve of the rich. [tonight’s statement from Sean Matthews, Occupy Belfast]

But did that church – as well as all the others around it in Belfast – not miss a trick by ignoring the camp on their doorstep. Without being clichéd, did they not ask What Would Jesus Do? The Gospels are full of Jesus speaking about the poor? Poor in spirit, poor in health, poor in wealth, poor in societal standing.

When Occupy Belfast was feeding turkey to the homeless on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, where was the church? When the service of Nine Lessons and Carols finished, why didn’t the choir walk down the aisle, out the door, down the steps and over the road to bring some impromptu Christmas cheer to the Occupy camp? Where was the hastily thrown together programme of talks and debates looking at the themes being raised by the camp, nearly all of which chime with core Christian values?

We are people who still have hope but why should we be held to ransom by the greed and crimes of the 1%. They didn’t share the wealth so why should we share the pain? But when we hope, we do not do it blindly. We know that a new society can only be created by the mass action of the working class. [Sean Matthews, Occupy Belfast]

Hope. That used to be something churches and the Christians in them spoke about.

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  • cynic2

    “will be relentless in our campaign to expose the hypocrisy and spin emanating from the charade on the hill”

    yabba yabba …..if you want to be taken seriously get elected. Nobody knows or cares who you are or what you stand for

  • pauluk

    What in the world do these people want? Do they not have lives, jobs, family or homes to go to? Condemning the 1% is a catchy slogan but it sounds just like an excuse for their anarchic and chaotic lifestyle.

  • Pete Baker

    “anarchy isn’t a very fertile breeding ground for a well thought out and incisive message that influences large numbers of people and changes attitudes.”

    Well that depends on what the actual message is, Alan.

    “Hope. That used to be something churches and the Christians in them spoke about.”

    Hmm… Appeal to the supernaturalists.

  • The Raven

    ” yabba …..if you want to be taken seriously get elected. Nobody knows or cares who you are or what you stand for”

    If there’s humour or even irony in that, I missed it…

  • ‘ But did that church – as well as all the others around it in Belfast – not miss a trick by ignoring the camp on their doorstep. Without being clichéd, did they not ask What Would Jesus Do? ‘

    yeah, I’m guilty. I saw them a few times and wanted to bring them some cake or soup or something like that but never did.

    And everyone pulling together as a team (like Peter Robinson suggests) might sound like the right thing to do but dissenting voices are good because diversity is good and healthy.Every society needs prophets and if that means that they don’t fit into our mould or play the game our way that is OK as well.

  • shirleymcmillan

    I am not sure anarchy can be judged by a group that is demanding *more* regulation. But maybe I have misunderstood the Occupy movement…

  • shirleymcmillan

    I am not saying I disagree with what you’ve said about anarchy, just that I’m not sure that is Occupy’s agenda. They had a protest the other day to try and convince MacDonalds not to be involved in the Government’s new ‘work for nothing’ scheme and to pay people properly. We can all say what they’re doing is ineffectual but I wonder what the rest of us are doing, and I wonder how we’ll vote next time around.

  • Reader

    Occupy Belfast: We are ordinary people who can no longer stand by while our futures are stolen from us, while house repossessions sky-rocket,…
    Is the issue of house repossessions a general feature of the Occupy movement, or is it just that Occupy Belfast is small enough that it has been dominated by a small special interest group (or indiviudual)?
    At least, if they are promoting private ownership of substantial assets in this way, they aren’t real anarchists, or even real anti-capitalists.
    And, to get on topic – would it really be sensible for the Churches to take sides with a shambling protest group against a government which operates a multi-billion pound welfare state?

  • shirleymcmillan

    Reader, Occupy are not a threat to the welfare state. The current government on the other hand…

  • Reader

    shirleymcmillan: Reader, Occupy are not a threat to the welfare state. The current government on the other hand…
    Occupy aren’t a threat to *anything*. Their only hope, ever, was momentum – and that’s all gone.
    And what could they ever have achieved anyway? Social upheaval? Fall of the Government? Mass protest? A new political party? Tighter regulation of financial services? A mortgage amnesty?
    Like almost everyone else, the Church(es) have probably concluded that Occupy are an irrelevance. Neither needy nor powerful – therefore off the radar.

  • “… anarchy isn’t a very fertile breeding ground for a well thought out and incisive message that influences large numbers of people and changes attitudes…”

    I’m not sure that’s true. Propaganda can be thought-provoking and it can result in changes in political culture. It’s quite frustrating watching critics of the Occupy Movement attacking it for not knowing what it wants. It kind of begs the question of it’s accusers: “What do YOU want then?”

    Either way, the Occupy Movement may include Anarchists, but it’s hardly an Anarchist movement.

    Any three-way slanging match between the broader left, the Occupy Movement and the church on this question is like watching three bald men arguing over a comb. What is missing, at the moment, is an accurate critique of the current economic impasse that we’ve reached, along with a response that fits that critique.

    I no longer believe that the concept of ‘neo-liberalism’ provides that critique, so any response based on it is likely to be futile. That it also appears to be futile may help to build my argument.

  • Paul – isn’t it small ‘A’ anarchic given the self organisation, leaderlessness, daily meeting to decide the next day’s priorities, and taking a really long term view of change.

    > What is missing, at the moment, is an accurate critique of the current economic impasse that we’ve reached, along with a response that fits that critique.

    NICVA’s Centre for Economic Empowerment initiative is a pretty good start on that.

  • andnowwhat

    Robinson has a brass one considering the nonsense he has protested about in the past years.

    These kids are not protesting because someone did or did not march down a piece of road or that the government(s) tried to move the situation forward. They are protesting because the cuts and policies are unarguably aimed at the ordinary folk, including the middle classes, at a time of rising prices and when unemployment is on the rise.

    Lets not forget that the effects of the ConDem’s policies are in their infancy but a dander up Royal Avenue of most UK city centres are a testimony to the failure of Gideon’s ideologically driven agenda.

    Again on Robinson, compare his tea party with the UVF after they attacked the Short Strand with his attack on these kids. People’s memories must be a right pain in the arse for Robinson

  • Drumlins Rock

    “When Occupy Belfast was feeding turkey to the homeless on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, where was the church?”

    Maybe you have missed the annual black santa sit out? Perhaps you also missed the thousands of presents that children got than morning, quitely donated by the churchs to families that were getting it tight, maybe you you missed the millions spent each year helping the homeless and other charities, maybe you missed the thousands of manhours volunteer youth workers put into helping the young people of their areas, maybe you missed all those old people living at home alone looking forwards to visit from someone from the church.

    The church is far from perfect but claiming this bunch of layabouts is putting them to shame is pathetic.

  • DR – I accept all of that. And I mentioned that to their credit, the closest church to Writer’s Square has maintained good relations with their tented neighbours.

    All those good things you mention happen each year. And I’m glad they continued to happen in 2011/12 too. But it’s like a small alien spaceship landed in Writer’s Square and was ignored. There’s *additional* stuff that could have been done – or woven into existing programmes to leverage the issues being raised.

    And can’t all be the job of St Anne’s Cathedral – there are other churches in the area, and in the city centre that have a social conscience too.

  • cynic2

    “If there’s humour or even irony in that, I missed it…”

    There wasn’t intended to be. It was an expression of frustration at what most people see as a self centred, middle class exercise in pointless, ineffectual, ill thought out, student type politics.

    As we might say in Belfast, they seem to be so far “up their own holes” that they have lost touch with reality

  • Greenflag

    ‘As we might say in Belfast, they seem to be so far “up their own holes” that they have lost touch with reality’

    Shure they’re saying the same thing about their governments in Dublin , London and Washington DC . Ironically they’re not saying that in Reykjavík , Stockholm or Oslo.

    Maybe the rear entry methodology for the secret to governmental success is purely an anglophone trait ?

    Anyhow one has to wish that the Occupymovement whether in Belfast , Dublin or London or Washington DC soon enough has an impact that promotes a real public debate on the current crisis of western financial services led capitalism /anarchy .

    It’s fairly obvious that the elected politicians are playing ostrich in the hope that somebody somewhere finds an answer 🙁

    I mean they were’nt elected to do anything were they ?

    At least the Occupy Belfast movement can’t be accused of political and governmental experience can they ?

    The Occupy movement has arisen because of the perceived failure of politics and politicians everywhere -not just Belfast> A point could be made in the defence of the local NI politicians that they don’t simply have the powers to do anything even if they wanted to . Those powers reside at Westminster and the City and in Wall St and Washington DC and in Frankfurt and the ECB and with the IMF and the USA Federal Reserve (which btw is not a government institution ).

  • For it is only when we all pull together as a team that we will turn recovery into a reality. [Peter Robinson at NIABT]

    OccuPioneers in Virtual Space Projects would wish to advise that all pulling together to turn reality into recovery is much easier done, and easily done today with even current technologies. It is just a case for now, of there being just too few who know what to do in such spheres of sublime influence.

    Perhaps Peter, as duly elected First Minister, should be exploring provision of a stream which provides tailored virtual realities to replace old analogue systems corrupted with damaged memory banks. A simple chat with virtual reality suppliers solves all of that, and delivers Live Operational Virtual Environment Streaming Team Information, Advanced IntelAIgents and CyberIntelAIgent Palace ProgramMING, in a few bits of a Relative Flash ClassE Action.

    One imagines that posting all of that here ensures sight to all in the country and government so all can be made virtually aware of Fabulous Progress being made here for the Future with Free Universal Export to Siloed Societies/Closed Worlds on Request an Abiding Passion.

  • cynic2

    “The Occupy movement has arisen because of the perceived failure of politics and politicians everywhere”

    I disagree. Its just another manifestation of the CND, tree huggers, anti Acid rain, anti-vivisection, eco warrior wannabes that has been around for almost 60 years in various forms. Standing shouting ‘something must be done’ doesn’t work

  • HeinzGuderian

    Now,if they were to make a stand against organised religion. You know,the ones with the BILLIONS in their bank accounts,I for one,would be out there with them.
    Never mind yer black santa bollox,sell a few of those gold crosses,those graven images made from gold,the manse houses,vicarages,parish lands,the priceless paintings,you know,the ‘sell everything you own’,and give it to the poor,thingy.

    A worthier cause I cannot think off !!

  • @Alan,

    I’d disagree more with you if we’re not talking about the ideology of anarchism, but more the unstructured deliberative thinking seen in the Occupy movement. Here are two compelling tributes to lesser-structured thinking:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/the-rise-of-the-new-groupthink.html?pagewanted=all

    … and http://www.ted.com/talks/view/lang/en//id/915

    … and one of the things that the Occupy movement has been roundly praised for has been the interesting deliberative dynamics that have made it more capable of adapting to its adversaries than the traditional ‘Democratic Centralist’ organisations of the vanguardist left.

    Here for example: http://genealogyofconsent.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/real-democracy-negotiating-difference-within-consensus/

  • @Alan – sorry – forgot to answer your second point. With all due respect to NICVA (and I’m not being backhanded here) they’re not setting out to address the bigger ideological character of the current crisis. It wouldn’t be within their remit to do so either.

    It’s the subject of a book rather than a blog-post, and it’s also a view that I’m forming (as opposed to one that I’ve formed) but I’d argue that the progressive movements and the left have mistakenly diagnosed ours as a ‘neo-liberal’ age when we are, in fact, in a Managerial one. And we should be more annoyed with the Managerialists than we are at the moment.

  • Paul

    Just watched that TED link. Fascinating, though slightly worried by the sight of Eyesenk in another link – think I might have protested one of his University of Ulster proteges at one stage. Too early in the morning to read it now though.

  • Here are two things you have to learn to deal with and harness in order to be instrumental in leading and delivering anything novel and creative and different/futuristic. Reformatting the past, which is all that the present status quo administrations do to maintain themselves as puppet masters , doesn’t deliver progress, it guarantees self destructive chaos and rapid collapse of real dumb servers.

    1)”How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think.” ….. Adolf Hitler
    2)http://youtu.be/V74AxCqOTvg

    And of course, are there other things to master too, for there are no simple fools excelling in those Intellectual Property and Great Head Game Fields.

  • And here is some supporting evidence of change in actual progress, ……. http://thedailybell.com/3647/Ron-Holland-The-Secret-Media-War-of-2012 ….. you will surely all recognise all too easily the pathetic and perverse and corrupt establishment media role as is outed in the piece.

  • babyface finlayson

    Cynic2
    It is easy to be cynical about this movement. I find myself sharing some of your opinions at times. You do indeed get more conservative as you get older.
    However cynics rarely change anything do they? For better or worse its those who believe in something who get things done.
    As for me, by the time I get home from work all I want to do is sit on my arse and read the wisdom of Slugger.
    These people have made a peaceful protest, and at least stimulated a bit of debate. So for now good luck to them I say.

  • cynic2

    “It is easy to be cynical about this movement”

    very easy in this case

    “These people have made a peaceful protest”

    I am all in favour of peaceful protest but not in favour of occupying other peoples property and costing them and the sate thousands to remove the protestors

  • cynic2

    “the bigger ideological character of the current crisis”

    I agree that not enough attention has been focused on the ideology of Government in response to the problems it faces. However I would class these more as pseudo managerial, especially in NI, where public servants pretend to manage while shunting as much as possible up to Ministers and hiding behind their skirts when the ‘advice’ turns out to be woefully wrong