Book review: You Can’t Evict An Idea. What Can We Learn From Occupy? by Tim Gee


Inspired by the Arab Spring, the Spanish Indignados and the Occupy movement in the United States, on 15 October 2011 there were simultaneous protests in 900 towns and cities around the world. The London demonstration established an Occupy camp next to St Paul’s Cathedral to bring attention to the crisis-hit banking system, staying until they were evicted in February 2012.

Author of the brilliant Counterpower, a history of social movements, activist Tim Gee was involved from the start. He participated in the open planning meeting on Westminster Bridge to set up the camp, visited camps around the country and wrote for Occupy London’s in-house newspaper, The Occupied Times of London.

Coming in at a concise 42-pages You Can’t Evict An Idea is Gee’s inspiring and accessible first-hand account of the Occupy movement. Comprised of very short chapters Gee gives a whistle-stop history of the use of camps to effect social change, addresses some of the criticisms levelled at Occupy and gets into the nitty-gritty of living outside in the midst of winter. How, for example, do you keep a tent tied down with the wind blowing around you and only concrete below?

A supporter of non-violent direct action, Gee argues that throughout history protest camps important role in “the awakening of critical consciousness” is generally not sufficient: “Only by using camps as bases from which direct actions are taken which undermine the interests of the ‘haves’ , are such camps successful in their aims.”

In the concluding chapter, Gee notes the achievements of Occupy “are well rehearsed – it helped change the debate, involved new people, catalysed the Boycott Workfare protests”. However, I’m not so sure the achievements of Occupy are well understood beyond activist circles. Are people aware that in 2011 the influential Republican strategist Frank Luntz said “I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death. They’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism”? Or that a top Bank of England official noted last year that “Occupy will have played a key role” in any financial reform that takes place? “You have helped win the debate”, noted Andrew Haldane. “And policymakers, like me, will need your continuing support in delivering that radical change.”

The pamphlet ends with a challenge: “Whether Occupy Part 1 was a phenomenal success or an abject failure largely depends on what we do next.” As Gee notes: “With an enemy even more persuasive than the empires of the past, our resistance will need to reach a scale never seen before.”

You Can’t Evict An Idea. What Can We Learn From Occupy? is published by Housmans, priced £3.00. www.housmans.com.

Ian Sinclair is a freelance writer based in London, UK http://twitter.com#!/IanJSinclair and ian_js@hotmail.com.

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