Séverine Chavanne
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26 October, 2012

The Occupy London movement has embodied the wave of protest at social injustice and corporate greed in the year since its launch. Two members of Occupy London’s Economics Group—a private investor and a former City boss—recently gave an intriguing insight into the objectives of this controversial movement. They emphasised its role in equipping people to engage in the debate about society.

City of London and Metropolitan Police keeping watch on the Occupy London protests on Saturday 15 October (Photo: <a href
City of London and Metropolitan Police keeping watch on the Occupy London protests on Saturday 15 October (Photo: <a href
‘One year on from its launch, has Occupy London made a difference?’ was the question addressed by Peter Dombi, a private investor, and Tom Moriarty, a former City boss and recording artist, when they spoke at a Greencoat Forum in the London centre of Initiatives of Change on 9 October.

Chairing, Don de Silva, Head of Programme Administration for IofC UK, gave the context: ‘The party conferences are filled with speeches and actions proposed to deal with the economic and financial crisis and how to regulate the banks …. . Polling companies are also gauging the pulse on the well-being of people with regard to the economic crisis. Gallup has done a series of surveys pointing to the fact that the root cause of the economic crisis is a system that encourages people to borrow and spend money they have not earned, to buy goods that they do not need, to impress people whom they do not like. Bringing trust and integrity into the economy is a key strategic action theme for IofC.’

Tom Moriarty (Photo: Kelly Burks)
Tom Moriarty (Photo: Kelly Burks)
‘People often confuse us with a political party,’ Tom Moriarty told the forum.’ Occupy is a diverse group of people and some of us will never agree. A people’s movement is about expressing a will, a desire for change, raising questions and bringing them into the main stream, encouraging new ideas, new propositions. The question we ask is: “Do you think our unsustainable political and democratic system will go away on its own? Or is there something we can do?” and through that sort of discussion we can change. Behaviour changes come from society. Society changes society.’

The path to protest

Dombi said he discovered capitalism was flawed after he became a private investor. After 13 years working in the computer department of a leading UK department store he discovered he could make money by investing in the stock market. ‘But very soon, I realised it wasn’t quite working as it should. The good gets rewarded but so does the bad,’ he said.

Both men realised the evolution of capitalism was leading to a very small number of very big players. ‘In the United States, 20 per cent of people own 85 per cent of the wealth,’ Dombi said. With these observations, both of them joined Occupy in the first few weeks of its existence. ‘I had never protested before, I never was critically active. I was politically very conservative,’ Dombi explained. Moriarty added: ‘We were immediately labelled as anti-capitalists, anarchists – you know, lots of “–ists” and actually quite a few of us are pragmatists. It’s easy to demonize a movement without listening to what they say.’

Equipping people to engage in the debate on economic and democratic life

Don de Silva, Peter Dombi and Tom Moriarty (Photo: Kelly Burks)
Don de Silva, Peter Dombi and Tom Moriarty (Photo: Kelly Burks)
Moriarty and Dombi explained how, in this context of economic crisis with governments unable to protect the public, people can sense something is wrong without realising what. It all leads to disillusionment, disengagement from the democratic and economic life, and loss of respect for leaders.

The Occupy movement strives to offer ordinary people a voice but also to explain to them what lay behind the mystifying jargon used in finance and business environment and relayed in the media. ‘We published our Little Book of Ideas, looking into the language of recession and financial markets to make this language accessible to ordinary people,’ said Moriarty, holding up a copy.

Structured around different working groups – Economics, Corporations, Green, Democracy, Law, and many others – Occupy London opted for making decisions by consensus during General Assemblies. Tom recognizes that internal debates are a challenge. Occupy brings together people like him but also anarchists, communists, environmentalists, and many other creeds.

‘We did bring the debate into the consciousness of the mainstream’

Participants at the Forum raised questions about the lack of leadership of the movement and its aims. Moriarty replied that Occupy chose not to have a hierarchy and to reach decisions by consensus. ‘It’s a curious experiment, this consensus thing,’ he said. ‘It allows for a certain level of independence and freedom of speech.’ Dombi added: ‘It’s very democratic, participatory, everyone has a voice and feels included.’

Both men admitted this can be a slow, painful process, and that some things simply can’t be agreed. They have found a consensus around the need for accountability in banking and business, and for sustainability and regulations. Moriarty said: ‘It’s one thing to question the banks but we are also questioning the environment we are in that allows them to do what they do.’

Members of the audience (Photo: Kelly Burks)
Members of the audience (Photo: Kelly Burks)
A participant asked whether individuals within the capitalist system could change sufficiently to change the system. He mentioned his own search for the key points of leverage on which, if there’s a real change, the rest will follow.
Peter Dombi replied that Occupy was also very much reflecting on this question: ‘We don’t know what the key points are, which is why we are pushing buttons everywhere. People join Occupy with lots of different opinions and ideas, and nobody knows which of these initiatives are going to blossom into a flower. It will happen, it’s just about giving them space. It is a long march. Creating a new society will take a few decades. We will keep talking about it until things change.’

Watch part of the presentation on YouTube:

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