Sunday, January 22, 2012

Occupy Takes Centre-stage

Old Street Magistrates Court; photo by Val Phoenix
Some of the best theatre around these days is to be found on the streets, rather than in proscenium theatres, and I have watched the burgeoning Occupy movement with interest. While the tent cities that have sprung up around the world get the headlines, often because of clashes with the police or threats of eviction, lesser attention has gone to the very creative avenues that the protesters have gone down.

In London, for example Tony Blair was on trial this week for war crimes, in proceedings that could be watched online. Today Vivienne Westwood was speaking about the banking industry at the Tent City University (politics makes strange bedfellows) and tomorrow, a teach-out on City finances will be conducted in the Barbican Centre.

The trial venue was the grey monolith of Old Street Magistrates Court, which hasn't seen such proceedings since 1996, which is almost as long as I have lived in London. Many is the time I have walked past its sad frontage, wondering why this behemoth remains unused. Which is part of the point of the movement: to enter these corridors of power and demand they be accountable. And to make salient points about distribution of wealth and privilege, power and profit.

But it is increasingly being done in rather clever ways, with spinoffs into music, design, etc., showing that it isn't just placard-waving that makes a statement. It kind of reminds me of the early days of the queer movement in the '90s, which moved away from mass street protest and into other avenues, with smaller, more focused confrontations with the seats of power. But, of course there was no Twitter then. This is a zeitgeisty movement.

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