De-Occupy Glasgow

Cross-posted from Mhairi’s personal blog Random Musings. Long and volatile comments section happening over there. Thanks Mhairi for letting us have this one up here too. Watch comments section here for links to further writing and activism on this issue. — Morag Eyrie.

Update – Open Letter from Glasgow Women’s Activist Forum

I cant honestly say that I was ever that enthused about the “Occupy Movement“.  After seeing a live link up from Occupy Wall Street earlier this month, I did feel a frisson of revolutionary excitement, but it faded by the time that 15th October came round.  It was genuinely amazing and inspiring to hear from an OWS activist live on video link, and when asked what we could do to support them his immediate response was to bring the Occupy movement to wherever we were.  But once the initial rosy glow evaporated, I cant say it was an action which filled me with much enthusiasm.

In Glasgow there was considerable debate within the activist community in the lead up to the global day of action on 15th October.  Should we be supporting the better planned Edinburgh Occupy?  Should we be looking to set up our own Glasgow Occupy?  Or should we be concentrating our activities elsewhere?  In the end the decision was kind of made for us when people unknown to the activist community set up a facebook event which attracted considerable support.  In such circumstances it would have been horribly elitist of us to stand at the edges shouting “Look, you’re doing it all wrong”, we needed to roll up our sleeves and muck in, at least to some extent.

The launch on the 15th was quite good, if a bit unfocused.  Lots of people, good diversity, interesting banners, a few dogs, some leaflets, a gazebo…and that was about it.  I said my hellos, shortly followed by my goodbyes and wished it well.  From that point onwards I fell firmly into the “Meh, it cant do any harm” camp – not willing to condemn it as pointless (although to be honest I didnt actually see the point), but equally unwilling to give it active support.  In the following week and a half, I’ve popped back and forward at various points, asking people’s opinions on it, chatting to bods there that I know from ther activity and some that I met for the first time there, followed the tweets, the blogposts and the news articles, good and bad about the whole Occupy movement.  My position remained that I didnt really see a point to it, but it had undeniable potential and may possibly grow into something worthwhile, so didnt write it off, but at the same time the time/benefit ration was in my opinion seriously out of kilter.

Any occupation, particularly long term ones will hit problems.  The recent 7-month occupation of the Hetherington Research Club was not without its issues.  There we dealt with homelessness, sexual harassment, drug taking and mental health issues on top of onging and constant battles over particularly sexist, but also racist and heteronormative attitudes.  In total over the course of the seven months, three people were excluded from the occupation.  The only formal sanction that we had  within the space to deal with behavour was to determine that we couldnt deal with it and exclude the perpetrator.  Despite the existance of a safer spaces policy and later a grievience procedure being developed there was a time when the sexual harassment of female activists within the space became so extensive that some refused to return to the occupation during that period.  Some never returned at all.

The Hetherington Occupation was a very different kettle of fish from the Occupy movement.  With a clear set of demands, it had seized control of a well equipped secure building and as the occupation had gone beyond its first days and weeks, turned it into a social space opening it up beyond the students and recent graduates who had created it to established activists, community organisations, international activists and individuals from the community who were in the process of becoming radicalised.  No occupation exists in a bubble away from wider society – sexism, racism, homelessness, migration issues, violence, drug and alcohol issues, homophobia and mental health issues are all prevalent in Scottish society – it is utopian to believe that they either would not emerge or could be “legislated” out of existance through a safer spaces policy.

The Free Hetherington, however flawed and imperfect did tackle a number of these issues head on, but it did it in a context of a consistant base of empowered and aware individuals.  It was never perfect, but safety and security was taken seriously and there was a genuine attempt to overcome some of the issues which led to some of the original occupiers feeling unsafe within the space.

But back to Occupy Glasgow.  As I said earlier I cannot claim to have been particularly involved with the occupation – although I kept tabs on it from afar.  My initial skepticism seemed ill-founded after a very sucessful public assembly was held on the 23rd October with a high proportion of attendees from the general public, a number of established activists and trade unionists engaging, however problems were becoming apparent.

The start of the occupation was a Saturday, and Saturday night in George Sqare can be a strange place, yet despite my reservations that the occupation would be over before it started, it seemed to pass without incident.  None the less given a city the size of Glasgow, the problems that it has and the lack of services to address them it was somewhat inevitable that in time, people in need of food and shelter would find their way to a central location providing both.  A number of people with a range of issues found their way to the Occupy camp at the same time as the politics and experience level of the activists involved declined.  The semi-cultish “anti-politics” of the Zeigheist Movement and David Ike started appearing associated with Occupy Glasgow – something which I believe has also been found in other Occupy locations.  Additionally there were rumours of neo-nazi occupier and a racist element to the camp.

By the Tuesday, I was sufficiently concerned at some of the things that I was hearing about the camp that on one of my regular visits, I drew aside an activist that I knew to express my misgivings, where he confirmed that there was a level of dodgy politics within the camp, but that their overwhelming issue was with vunerable and aggressive people turning up.  I grew even more concerned at this but he assured me that while he would take what I had raised on board it was all in hand and a “safer spaces” policy had been implimented that evening.

I first heard the news on Wednesday lunchtime.  Reporting was sparce however it was apparent that a rape had occurred within the camp. Later it transpired that she had arrived at the camp and despite the Occupy Glasgow’s efforts to obtain her accomodation, she was not offered anything suitable, despite being six months pregnant.  This is absolutely shocking and a disgusting reflection on Glasgow City Council.  Occupy Glasgow should be commended for the efforts that they put into attempting to obtain her suitable accomodation in the face of an uncaring beaurocracy, yet must also be held responsible for what happened next.  They eventually offered her and her partner a tent for the night – the most prominent tent in the entire camp, right at the front and in full view of the square.  From that moment on, fully knowing her vulnerability, her pregnancy and lack of accomodation, they had full responsibility for her safety as with any other member of the camp.  Her partner left shortly afterwards then, according to press reports a group of men turned up and started drinking with some of the occupiers, then entered the tent.  Occupiers overheard her crying and the men emerged from the tent offering them “shots”.  Where upon they called the police.

The first initial statement is below

Occupy Glasgow is shocked and deeply saddened about the alleged sexual assault on one of the individuals that have been co-inhabiting George Square with the separate Occupy Glasgow movement.

“Since October 15, Occupy Glasgow have provided free food, shelter and clothing to some individuals who had none of their own and we immensely regret any harm that may have befallen one of these individuals.

“We are fully committed to working with Strathclyde Police in their current investigation, and in continued improvements to the provision of safety to occupiers, the homeless and the general public that use George Square.

The distancing from this woman, referred to without reference to gender coupled with the implicit benevolence of the camp and lack of responsibility for what has happened is stunning without even mentioning that what later transpired to be a gang rape is referred to as an “alleged sexual assault”.

After work, I went down to Occupy Glasgow for the general assembly that night and talked to some of the participants.  I was genuinely shocked by some of the attitudes that I found there.  The woman was referred to in one conversation as an “undesirable element”, there were continual references to “alleged” rape/sexual assault, questions were raised about whether she had invited them into the tent and how genuine her claims were and her “vulnerability” was repeated over and over again as evidence of their lack of responsibility for her wellbeing.

The meeting which followed was little better.  The overwhelming impression that I gained from that meeting was that this was a terrible tragedy which had befallen the camp due to their kindness and benevolence, but was really nothing to do with them, and that all they needed to do was to recify the security situation.

Horse.

Stable.

Bolted. 

I can’t (and don’t want to) remember all of the comments which were made and left unchallenged during that meeting, but I sat there transfixed with anger and my teeth on edge.  Online the discourse was little better with a continual stream rape apologism, minimising, othering, denial and victim blaming coming from some of the Occupy Glasgow contingent.

This isnt the first rape that has occured in the Occupy movement, and the victim blaming that has gone on here is replicated in a rape of a 14 year old at Occupy Dallas, while Occupy Baltimore has discouraged victims of sexual offences reporting them to the police.  The leaderless nature of the Occupy Movement, and lack of accountability leads to informal hierachies taking hold – and at the top of the heirarchies are generally the straight white males.

When sexist people are allowed to join and define a movement, this drives women away; but, when women stay away, men, including sexist men, become the defining voices within the movement

How Occupy’s (non-)power structures enable sexism

At the moment there is no possible way that Occupy Glasgow can continue.  This rape was fully preventable and it is a sobering reflection on the culture of the left that it happened.  I am sure that there are many good and genuine people who have been involved in Occupy Glasgow, as with other Occupy camps, however the current situation is untenable.  It is perhaps unsurprising that sexual abuse has occured within a movement which started off by welcoming a rapist as a hero.  While I continue to support the aims and ambitions of the Occupy Movement, its methods and culture need seriously rethought.

A woman’s place is in the movement and not just as a fucktoy for the menz.

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21 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: De-occupy Glasgow « Random musings
  2. Morag Eyrie
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 20:51:29

    There is now a “De-occupy Edinburgh” posting on the fabulous Be Young Shut Up blog: http://beyoungshutup.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/de-occupy-edinburgh/

    It’s disturbing how similar the issues there are to Glasgow. Something is going badly wrong for the Occupy movement in Scotland. I have a few ideas about that which I will blog about soon. The short version:

    My theory is that the successful Occupies around the world have been in places where there was a reasonably large vacuum in local activism or sense of political engagement. Scotland is chocka with outlets for people who want to be politically active. Hence the main vacuum is outlets for people who are misogynist, racist, anti-left weirdos who can’t get a hearing anywhere else. Scotland’s political culture is *already* pretty left-wing and engaged. And we’re one of the few countries in the world to *not* have recently elected a Tory-style govt.

    Reply

  3. SLH
    Nov 14, 2011 @ 02:07:46

    Hi Morag

    Wow – this is exactly the thesis we came up with last night when talking about this. It also explains why the Occupies here are so keen to shut down any attempt we make to comment about them,

    Reply

  4. Regular Joe
    Nov 15, 2011 @ 01:57:40

    Please flag all equalities issues regarding Occupy Glasgow to Regular Joe. We take these matters very seriously and would appreciate your assistance. http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003171362662#!/profile.php?id=100003171362662&sk=info

    Reply

  5. Regular Joe
    Nov 15, 2011 @ 02:01:47

    I would also like to invite you as my sisters to the following event: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003171362662#!/event.php?eid=244698965584491

    Reply

  6. Morag Eyrie
    Nov 15, 2011 @ 11:03:37

    Hi Regular Joe. Thanks for posting respectfully here. I’ve alerted women I know to your posts, but I feel I should tell you that several of these women have already tried to engage with Occupy Glasgow on a number of occasions and may not be willing to try one more time after the verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, and general misogynist and anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi stuff they encountered there.

    Also, using a man’s name for a group set up to address equalities issues for women might not encourage comfort levels with engaging with you, given how heated things have already become. It doesn’t show much sensitivity to issues around male domination of Occupy Glasgow.

    Just my thoughts. If you are sincere, a bit more info on the pages you’ve set up might be helpful.

    Reply

    • Regular Jo
      Nov 21, 2011 @ 04:21:35

      Hi Morag, Thank you very much for allowing me to post on your blog. I thought Joe was a unisex name however I have since removed the letter “e” making Jo. Can you identify the people who have threatened you? I do not believe that such conduct is acceptable and would expect the support of my fellow occupiers in challenging it. I am sorry you have had these frankly appalling experiences and as the current Equalities Working Group Facilitator I see it as my responsibility to deal with this. The EWG has just started but was set up as a forum to deal with such issues as they arise. The EWG was set up as a face book person rather than a page to allow people to PM their concerns without fear. The person R.J. is a profile to which several people have access to insure that the conduct of of EWG members. Please do not hesitate to raise any equalities issues through this group. The members of the group are both male and female, I am female and currently dealing with most of the online work.
      Leanne.

      Reply

  7. Morag Eyrie
    Nov 21, 2011 @ 10:43:11

    Hi Leanne / Regular Jo. Thanks for responding.

    Just to clarify, I have personally not been anywhere near Occupy Glasgow; I have heard back from several women I know who did go to OG, both before and after the rape there, and one who has been since the move to Kelvingrove. Their reports have been frankly very disturbing. Note that these are people I know personally and whose reports I trust. But it’s not really for me to report second hand on this public forum.

    Anyway, I think it’s courageous of you to take on trying to make OG a safer space given what’s happened to date. The women who I’m referring to here are already aware of the Regular Jo account on Facebook and they read the Village Aunties too so hopefully they will see your comments.

    For myself, I am taking part in the Glasgow Women’s Activist Forum which is developing safer spaces guidelines to offer to women within radical organisations who wish to make use of this resource in making mixed groups more viable places for women to take part. That and maintaining this Village Aunties blog are the extent of what I can contribute right now!

    Reply

    • Regular Jo
      Nov 21, 2011 @ 14:04:27

      If there is public access to the safer spaces guide lines you are developing then I’m sure we at Occupy can draw from that. I have also met with people from Occupy LSX and there is a strong will down there to address womens safety issues and also assure that women are not being pushed aside in debate. I am hoping that the EWG can work with other Occupy camps in the UK and then together we will have a voice on an international level. As most communication between OG camps is web based it means that if one camp begins to do something well, the others adopt their strategies. Many of the most active members in LSX and OG are female. This is a very young movement but if we can get our house in order now then the future will begin to look less bleak. The remit of the EWG includes equality for all groups and will challenge racism, bigotry and anti semitism.
      I am very grateful to you for allowing OG to post on your wall even after your friends have had such bad experiences. I hope they read these posts and feel able to work with the EWG to address the things that have happened to them.

      Reply

  8. Feisty the Fearless
    Nov 22, 2011 @ 00:27:04

    Hello! I’ve just returned from OGKG. I am a woman. There were around four other women in the company when we left. I am no fighter. I deplore violence except in the defence of innocents. I spent weeks in George Square trouble-shooting, and one of the things we’re working on right now is a ban on hate language so we can be allowed to discuss all ideas without causing offense. No literature is to be burned, even if we disagree with it. The air in the camp was of peace and a little intellectual excitement. We are almost ready to house a library and properly defend our literature. This has been very hard work. The learning curve has been very steep for everyone who stuck with it. I’m not going to discuss the rape here, for the same reason we tried not to discuss it in the beginning, out of respect for the lady involved and to ensure her confidentiality. We have maintained contact.
    There were some very unsettling characters floating about at the square. I, as a woman, did my best to remedy this situation. Some of our men did the same. The situation now is that the free range chicken is relaxed enough to lay her eggs, the storytelling circle is nearly up and running, we have a warm heated tent where we can burn our Goddess incense and sing our songs (thanks, guys), and the beautiful River Kelvin sings along with us.
    The Clyde Valley is an area of incomparable poverty and class divide in Western Europe. The streets are dangerous for everyone, but even more so for men in some ways. I feel great love for the men I have just left in the camp. They are our protectors. We had to build this together. We built it together in a city where many women have been slaughtered due to the lack of a police safe zone for street workers, and where men and boys die young all the time for drunken frustrated and confused glory. We stood together as women in the square and defended the rights of our sisters who had fallen on hard times. We witnessed and we will never forget. These stories will be told if our Warrior Queens have anything to do with it. The men who have remained with us will have our backs. We will also defend our brothers’ rights to participate in our dream of a better life. They have also transformed themselves and their spiritual landscapes in the past few weeks, and we hope our fragile peace can grow strong roots and branches. I have never felt safer in Kelvingrove after dark.
    Spectres of hatred and misunderstanding surround us on all sides, but it is all worth it for what we have achieved and hope to build on. I hope this goes some way to breaking down barriers. Regular Jo is another one of the army of angels that has helped carry this through. If anyone has had a bad experience we’d really like to hear about it. We are passionate about community education and have a zero tolerance policy on hate language and bullying that we are working hard to fine-tune and enforce. Thankyou for listening. One love from the Kelvingrove Ladies’ Mud Wrestling Team. No Flag, No Hate, No Fear.

    Reply

  9. Feisty the Fearless
    Nov 22, 2011 @ 00:42:38

    BTW, our chicken is a refugee. She had two sisters and they were slaughtered by entities unknown in their coop at home. She is with us to keep her safe and free. She is well cared for and we have the experience and set up to keep her well. So far we’ve managed to keep the foxes out.

    Reply

  10. Feisty the Fearless
    Nov 23, 2011 @ 09:46:50

    BTW, if anyone has seen Ms Mharie, I’ve been asking for her to get let into FB admin or I’d be happy to have coffee with her myself. I have great respect for this young woman, who had the courage to say her piece, to defend it, and to genuinely take on board (or so it seemed) my response. My take was that she had the same wild panic in her gut that I did, because something was badly wrong. She was crying wolf, and breaking the silence is the first rule for ending the cycle of abuse. I was sad to see her tears, but happy for her to leave the battlefield until the peace had been secured. Unfortunately in this case Little Red Riding Hood was shooting at Granny while the wolf got away scot free. I am older and battle hardened, so I stayed to help pick off the predators one by one. I would be lost without my sisters. We would be as babes in the wood without each other. I know that these issues have popped up all over the world, and in some cases the culture of silence has prevailed. Glasgow does not stand for this. These are mean streets and it takes great courage for men and women to peacefully hold their ground on them. Ladies, why has Glasgow taken the stick for this? Because we intervened, put our foot down and loudly shouted ‘WOLF!’ Remember this; had it been brushed under the carpet we might have had better headlines, but courting the press is not our first priority.

    Reply

    • mhairi
      Nov 23, 2011 @ 10:30:21

      I’ve been banned from the FB page since 26th October, along with numerous others who were pointing out issues with OG. I am glad that some are taking these issues seriously – it would seem that they have manifested themselves internationally and am happy to start a dialogue with the women of OG away, but only from the (physical) OG site.

      Reply

  11. Feisty the Fearless
    Nov 23, 2011 @ 09:59:25

    Welcome to the sparkling commercial district of Glasgow, ladies. This is where we stood.

    http://www.jeanrafferty.com/Prostitution-in-Glasgow.htm

    I hope you will support those of us who resisted the urge to break and run.

    Reply

  12. Feisty the Fearless
    Nov 23, 2011 @ 10:03:53

    There’s a missing ‘l’ on that link.

    Reply

  13. Morag Eyrie
    Nov 23, 2011 @ 11:02:38

    @Fiesty and @Regular Jo I’m also happy to continue dialogue with you women of OG. I value your continued efforts at dialogue and at working on bettering things for OG.

    I’m wondering if Mhairi meant “away from the OG site” (mis-typed I think) as that would be my preference too.

    Feisty, I appreciate everything you’re saying. Women standing in solidarity with oppressed men.. that’s something we all need to do at times (and sometimes we just need to stand in solidarity with our sisters). And I love your identification with the Warrior Women throughout Glasgow’s history!

    The only bit I’m not comfortable with is a situation where men are referred to as “our protectors”. From my experience that’s a dangerous road. I think women need to be our own and each others protectors; I’m all for a return to one of the tenets of second wave feminism; that we learn to take care of ourselves physically, through learning self-defence techniques together.

    If any group is the physical “protector” of another, that’s just a way of saying they have power over the group they are protecting. And we all know the adage, which applies even to the most well-meaning people with power: power corrupts. I don’t have a problem with a group of men and women activists working together protecting each other, but women relying on men for protection? No. I don’t care how good or nice or feminist the men are, that is a power imbalance that can only do harm. That’s what makes me want to talk with OG women away from the camp.. for now.

    When I told a friend of mine about the rape at OG, her first question was “but where was their security patrol?” She was speaking from her experiences at Greenham Common where women protected themselves and each other all through the night from violent police, government agents, angry men of the left and locals. I mention this just to remind us of how much is possible in an occupation style protest movement, not to heap further criticism on the OG camp regarding the rape. Just as an inspiration.

    Reply

  14. Feisty the Fearless
    Nov 23, 2011 @ 16:03:27

    Now we’re talking. In my original response to Mhairi I made exactly that argument if I recall correctly. I mean what I say when I say that these streets are more dangerous for men than women in some ways, and that’s pretty bloody dangerous. In the tent where the discussion was had that prompted Mhairi to leave I was heard to sound a plaintive cry that we could also protect our menfolk. I’d just spent half an hour with a disenchanted(m) veteran weeping on my shoulder. On the occasions where I feel endangered by the horrible menz disrespecting my personal space though, I will be running to our field tested male allies for protection, believe me. This is not because I am scared of a fight, but because I have to go home to my children at the end of the day and am therefore indispensable. If we need to bring passing vulnerable women in for protection this is a job for the KGLMRT, for our men’s protection as much as anyone. Anyone who sabotages our men sabotages us all, and there have been rumours of skullduggery afoot.

    > > When I told a friend of mine about the rape at OG, her first question was “but where was their security patrol?”

    I’m also mightily fucked off about this. As a single mum I put my body in the way on many occasions here to protect innocents and keep the peace. We are really doing well here, our security patrol are vigilant, and would be briefed for extra vigilance if we had new or vulnerable people on site. I ended up patrolling the square myself. One night we had to throw the filthiest specimen off camp while protecting two very young women who were hiding behind us (they were just passing). That night there were only women on the door and this creep was lucky not to get himself killed as the police turned up to rescue him.

    Mhairi, you are quite right that this was unacceptable. It would not have happened on my watch. We women were running a tight ship by the end days of that camp, and the whole thing was safe and sweet and clean in time for the Beeb to come and record. If you have been silenced or intimidated it seems that the KGLMRT will be responsible for keeping the equalities group afloat, and I for one am most unhappy about you being silenced. That is just not cricket. You are a good listener. This must have been initiated by people who did not have the chops or the passion to have an intelligent discussion with you. All I would say is please avoid hate language or victimizing any one group. This will not be tolerated and it is there for your protection as much as anyone else. Please tell all your friends. I really felt for you that night. I will get a contact through to you if you’d like to talk to me and we can meet wherever you fancy just as soon as I get the roof fixed. Maybe up the hill at the uni for a bit of light relief. I’ll try to get a phone message to you x

    Reply

  15. Feisty the Fearless
    Nov 23, 2011 @ 16:18:22

    Google the Battle of George Square 1919. The ancestral memory runs deep. When we left the square to march on KG the women and children marched first. Apparently there was slaughter in the square 1926. A brave and beautiful grandmother from Partick who had come to visit us told me this. I will be continuing my tireless research and orientation work later this evening when I’ve finished my domestic slavery shift. We must keep the peace at all costs. I’m getting a flash of my auntie ‘don’t mention the war’ Annie’s (names have been changed to protect the innocent) soft Irish lilt saying, ‘You know, she was never a housewife’.

    Reply

  16. Morag Eyrie
    Nov 25, 2011 @ 16:42:04

    @Feisty

    Re: “On the occasions where I feel endangered by the horrible menz disrespecting my personal space though, I will be running to our field tested male allies for protection, believe me.” – I hear ya. The key phrase being “field tested”. It was the original wording “our protectors” that pushed my button. But sounds like we understand each other on this one!

    Thanks for the follow-up comments, it’s good to hear more from you. I’ve heard about the Battle of George Square but wasn’t aware that women and children marched first. That situation had long-lasting consequences for Glasgow that are still felt to this day, in practical as well as ancestral-memory terms.

    Reply

  17. Trackback: If you aren’t fit to change your attitudes, you aren’t fit to change the world. | THE VENUS ENVY

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