As Occupy Sheffield disbands the camp, I would like to congratulate and thank the protesters for having had the courage to take action against inequality and injustice. The protest has been maintained for more than 3 months in the face of a bitter winter, and bitter cynicism. Yet the closure of the camp will not mark the end of the protest, merely a change of direction. But what, collectively, as a global movement, have the Occupiers achieved?
They have raised awareness of critical issues facing our society
Across the world countless millions are now more aware of the critical issues of inequality and injustice, and the way these issues are affecting them and their community. Domestically, there is now a widespread awareness that the burden of the economic crisis is being borne unfairly by ordinary citizens, as the richest in society (including many of those who contributed heavily towards creating the crisis) continue to grow ever richer. As a result, these issues are now never far from the headlines and it has become embroiled in the national psyche that the system is unjust and needs changing. It is from this more aware and educated standpoint that society is more able to make informed decisions about its own future, as well as bring about real change to the systems which govern it.
They have emboldened a culture of protest and made challenging the status quo a norm
Even the harshest critics of the Occupy movement are engaging in the debate and offering their opinions, and with a renewed passion and vigour. . Positive debate is only ever a good thing. There is more widespread acceptance that maintenance of the status quo is not in the interests of ordinary people, and this has enabled the debate to move on to solutions and a focus on real change. This more vibrant culture of discussion has made individuals and groups more confident to protest about particular issues – whether reform of the NHS, public sector cuts, the welfare reform bill or even fairer train fairs to name but a few. The Occupiers have demonstrated that ordinary people are not only entitled to an opinion, but that the voicing of their opinion is essential to influence the people running, and perhaps ruining, our country.
They have introduced a new language into mainstream media and politics
For me this is the most important change achieved. You need only look at media coverage of recent news stories, regarding economic or banking reform and bonuses for example, and the way the language used by our leading politicians mirrors that of the protesters, to see that the movement has undoubtedly had an impact. See Ed Miliband’s speech about ‘one nation banking’ and even David Cameron has started talking tough (well at least tougher) on the issue of bonuses. The mainstream media are now exposing the misdemeanour’s of the rich and powerful, as well as the unjust policies of the government, with a sense of relish as they recognise that popular opinion has shifted and society demands change. The combative language has permeated through the media who print it freely, now without the necessity of a quotation from a protester.
There are of course many more achievements of the Occupy movement, but these three are key for me. It is without doubt however that more radical change is needed, but the Occupiers should be proud of what they have, and are continuing to achieve. Occupy have helped sow the seeds of change. The green shoots are showing. Whether we end up with a glorious bloom, or a thorny weed, is now up to us…
“This is your world. Shape it. Or someone else will.” Gary Lew
For The Guardian’s report on the future of Occupy Sheffield click here.