Occupy comes to Bournemouth

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One thing I would have definitely not predicted about the likely evolution of the Occupy movement is that its next flashpoint would be my own town, the quiet seaside holiday resort of Bournemouth. But apparently after the protesters were evicted from the St Paul’s camp in London a few weeks ago, they somehow figured out that the Chancellor (a largely ceremonial role) of Bournemouth University is Lord Nicholas Phillips, who also happens to be the President of the UK’s Supreme Court. So last Friday they set up camp on the lawn at the rear entrance of Bournemouth University’s Talbot Campus, with one of their demands being a meeting with Lord Phillips.

This is happening literally on my doorstep, so on Sunday evening I grabbed my camera, got on my bike and paid a visit to the Occupy Bournemouth movement. There were two middle-aged guys busying themselves at the site, writing messages on the pavement with chalk, putting up posters, and setting up a tent, which one of them told me was going to be the “library,” where people will be able to educate themselves about the movement and other political matters. Both men had their Guy Fawkes masks resting on the top of their heads, ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. They were happy to put it on for me, and indeed whenever someone showed up with a camera, the masks came down. When I took a break from photographing and was chatting with one of the protesters, I saw from the corner of my eye that another protester also took a photo of me chatting to his comrade. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve turned up in one of their social media streams already.

The protester I was chatting to told me that today they found out that the piece of land they are occupying is owned by the local council, rather then Bournemouth University. He thought that was good news for them, as for some reason it would take longer for the council to evict them, than for the university. He also told me he came from the St. Paul’s camp, where he spent several months. “We are really big,” he said, “we are all over the world.”

The camp is situated right next to a busy roundabout (Boundary Roundabout), on the border that separates the towns of Bournemouth and Poole, and is very visible to passing traffic. Drivers periodically honked in support, as they glimpsed the camp’s banners asking them to do so. It is also right next to the footpath at the rear entrance of the campus, where thousands of students and staff pass by every morning and afternoon. It will be interesting to see the next move of the University and/or the Council. But my interlocutor gave me the impression that they were in for the long haul and the camp was only just in the initial stages of being constructed.

P.S. My blog post title and the first paragraph are somewhat misleading, as it suggests as if the Occupy movement had only just arrived in Bournemouth. But actually the Occupy movement has been around at least since November 2011, when they got evicted from outside the town hall, and there is another Occupy camp in Boscombe. Their Facebook page dates back to 21st October 2011. So I should have titled the post “Occupy comes to Bournemouth University.”

Update (13/3/2012):

Further coverage: Protesters ‘Occupy’ BU

Plus photo of the sign on the rear gate.

(Photos taken around 6pm on 11 March 2012. Click on Permalink for larger image, if you get the gallery view.)

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10 Responses to “Occupy comes to Bournemouth”

  1. danielbeunza Says:

    Hello PE. This is interesting. As a fan of your town myself, I can vouch for the advantages of a spring stint on the coast. But what you don’t quite say is whether you think this is a good move or not for the movement and its larger objective. Where do you stand?

  2. PE Says:

    It’s difficult to tell at the moment whether it was a good move for the movement. On the one hand, Bournemouth is a well-off, middle-class town, a conservative stronghold, where the protesters are unlikely to find wide-spread public support (see e.g. the comments in the local paper I linked to). Even BU students had shown little interest in politics so far. A camp needs donations (food etc.) to survive. Also, it’s unlikely that journalists will be flocking here from London, unless something dramatic happens (and the main local paper is rather conservative-leaning).

    On the other hand this particular camp has a very specific objective, to meet with the Chancellor/head of Supreme Court to discuss the legality of the St. Paul’s eviction. The movement has been criticised for lacking specific objectives in the past, so this is different. The funny thing is that probably most people in Bournemouth (and even at the university) had no idea who the Chancellor of the university was. They probably only heard of the previous one (Lord Taylor) because he got jailed for fiddling his parliamentary expenses. So one effect of Occupy Bournemouth so far has been to bring this association between the university and its Chancellor into focus.

    • danielbeunza Says:

      I have been a supporter, but my own view is that the movement has lost direction. Staging an entire camp just to discuss why they were evicted seems rather out of proportion, or a ploy to fill up an otherwise empty camping agenda. At this point, what I think the movement needs is a new tactic that does not involve sleeping bags.

      • PE Says:

        But it’s the tents that give materiality, durability and visibility to the movement (at least in the UK) and serve as media for their message. Without the tents either they just go home every night after their protest (and given their small numbers, they would go unnoticed and would soon run out of energy), or they would need to occupy some other prominent structures, which probably has legal and practical implications (such as health and safety risks or being evicted more quickly and even prosecuted). The camping strategy seems to combine the learning points from Tahrir Square (the need for permanent visibility) and the UK’s traveller (gypsy) community (how difficult it is to evict temporary camps). Camping is also simple, i.e. doesn’t need high level organisational skills (or a central command structure that can be infiltrated by the police). If the movement became lacklustre, the problem might be not with the camping strategy but the lack of popular support (?) Perhaps the majority of Britons still prefer to deal with issues using the existing long-established political institutions or they have reserves to weather the effects of the financial crisis (?)

      • danielbeunza Says:

        Well, that’s interesting. And it gets to what is the mechanism that makes “Occupy” protests effective. There are competing views on this. Is it the tents? Is it the assemblies? Is it the sign language? I’d appreciate some clarity on this.

  3. Gary Sherborne Says:

    Thanks for taking the time to visit and write about the movement at its decision to occupy at BU. The issues we are trying to represent, social justice, the injustices of the current economic and banking systems and the privatization of our world to the Demos elite. Please bare with us as we attempt in our tents to change the laws of the land and seek to build a fairer more just equal society for our children.

    PS Sorry that the Uni has decided to lock the gate at night. Not our decision.

  4. PE Says:

    Some reaction from the students: “Bournemouth Uni students ‘tolerant’ of Occupy protestors.”
    http://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/9586087.Bournemouth_Uni_students__tolerant__of_Occupy_protestors/

  5. PE Says:

    @ danielbeunza

    I’d say it’s the assemblage, but the tents are an important element of this particular assemblage. “The medium is the message,” as McLuhan would say, which in this case is the tent.

    I think expectations placed on the Occupy movement have been too high. Its main function in my view is to provide a sustained material-visual expression of public discontent – and that’s it. Then it would be for others (politicians and their parties, experts and their thinktanks, academics and their universities etc.) to harness that pressure in their negotiations to reformat socio-economic relations and institutions.

  6. Occupy Bournemouth leaves university « ANTHEM Says:

    […] you’re wondering what happened to the Occupy Bournemouth (University) episode, well, it has ended yesterday: OCCUPY protesters yesterday ended their 18-day long protest […]

  7. PE Says:

    @ danielbeunza

    Here is an extreme example of tents becoming a standard element of protests these days: these protesters even went for the same brand! :) I imagine it was either a cost-effective option (buy it in bulk in the same place) or they are trying to make a stylistic impact as well. This was a protest in Budapest in front of the President’s office yesterday, demanding his resignation due to him having plagiarised his doctoral dissertation.

    http://hvg.hu/nagyitas/20120330_tuntetok_a_sandor_palotanal_nagyitas

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