Reflections on Democracy Camp

Wednesday, 22nd June 2011 at 0:28 UTC Leave a comment

Its been over a week since Democracy Camp disappeared itself, to return at a late date. Three nights spent camping in a square in York taught us a whole range of lessons, but was broadly a success. The final output of the camp, the Library Square Declaration, can be found on the camp website.

There is absolutely nothing revolutionary about having a camp as a form of protest. In one guise or another, camps have been a part of protesting since the second world war, if not longer. From Greenham Common and the Faslane Peace Camp, to Anti-G8 convergence camps, Climate Camps and No Borders Camps, camps are a pretty standard format for a protest. But at the same time, they have shown themselves especially useful in protests from Egypt to Madrid and even in Wisconsin. Set amongst these towering feats of social movement creativity, our camp was pretty insignificant.

But sometimes, its not a case of how significant you can make your protest on the global scale. We set out to achieve various things – in fact, I’m pretty sure we all set out to achieve different things. For some, it was simply to test the waters and see if we might actually be allowed to stay for a night, let alone three. For some, it was a chance to meet over a longer space of time – to “hang out” for a cause. Perhaps it was also the demonstration of democracy in action that the camp sort to make visible to people, or the widening of the debate about cuts to a more broad discussion of loss of sovereignty.

For others, it was to prove that York could do something, do it well, and do it before the rest of Britain caught on. That’s not a shallow aspiration – its a recognition that sometimes the baton needs to be passed around. For myself, it was partly a recognition that people have come to associate camping protests with Central London, and that this couldn’t end until someone stuck their head over the parapet in another location. The camp also served to plug a gap between the NHS march and the June 30th mass-strikes, though this was far from main reason for carrying it out..

Each day of camp was very different: the first was exciting but fraught with the challenges of consolidating a group of people as disparate in political opinions as our camp. The Friday brought with it media attention and large numbers of people who were surprised to see us but also very supportive – clearly they understood the issues, and many were living with them. Saturday was actually very different – many passers by were simply uninterested, far too preoccupied with their consumerism. Sunday was fairly chilled, but then we were all pretty tired and the suspension of the camp (later referred to as ‘dissolving’ as the rain set in) meant everything was in natural (and fairly satisfied) decline.

The camp was not without its problems. We had guard shifts over night, but could really have done with “welcome shifts” during the day – people signing up for an hour or two of public-facing work. In turn, this would have allowed people to stay in the middle of the camp and not feel like they were going to be on duty at any second. As it was, we spoke to more than 200 people and fliered many many more during the camp, but its something we could tighten up on. Also, clearly marking out the “Information Point” might have helped, as people often walked straight passed it into the camp.

Another key area of concern from my point of view was the media presentation of the camp. The outcomes were fine – nothing was said that I felt shouldn’t have been, but we did have too few people able to say it. When I put my foot down and refused to speak to BBC Look North as I’d already spoken to every other outlet already, only one person could be found who would take the interview, even after people’s insistence. I’ve decided to run a media training workshop in a few weeks time, in the hopes we can encourage a few other voices to come forwards. Whilst that isn’t guaranteed to solve things, its about as much as I can do without forcing people in front of a camera or microphone.

Another niggling concern is that people didn’t get involved in the camp as an event because they themselves weren’t able to camp over. I was warned about this beforehand, but never really produced a solution, nor did anyone in the camp. Its clear that the success of the Spanish and Greek camps has hinged on a good turnover of people, some of whom have never stayed a night. The point of being a camp is to open a space for debate, and whilst it requires people to do the nightshifts, both watching and sleeping, it is also an opportunity to do much more during the daytime.

Having said all that, it was a massive relief to see how well the camp went, and particularly to see people step up to the plate and hold the camp for the night I wasn’t able to stay in the square. I enjoyed it a lot, despite how tiring it was, and probably wouldn’t have done so without people conspiring behind my back to spread the load. For now, Democracy Camp York is suspended, ready to re-manifest itself when the time is right. When that happens, come and find us and join in the debate.

Real Democracy Now!

Victory to the Greek Uprisings!

No to IMF neo-imperialism

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Entry filed under: Activism, democracy, Europe, Free Space, York.

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