Couple of days ago, on Tuesday, I visited the Occupy Sheffield camp down the High Street, just on the forecourt of Sheffield Anglican Cathedral. Late evening, it was a rather cold misty autumn night. I was looking for a friend of mine, Lesley, who had invited me and was also one of the organisers. The intention was to take some photographs from the camp and get to know the fellows around. Once I got to the camp, I started wandering around looking for Lesley. She wasn’t there. Couple of chaps there noticed that I’m not just an average pedestrian passing by, which led them to come over and say hello, presumably to find out who I am.
After a short chat, I was introduced to the other fellow members of the camp who were gathering around the fire. Some where already sleeping, I was told! There were about 10 or 12 tents already set up. I pulled out my camera whilst having a chat about photography with the guy standing next to me, Chris was his name, or so I recall! Changed to a proper lens, installed my flashgun, and geared up, headed towards the scene. A nice middle-age man was playing a Country song on his guitar. He gave me a sweet nice smile and greeted me warmly. So I started with him. A nice, good looking young lad, wanted me to include him in my photographs too.
Once finished with that scene, I decided to walk around the camp and read the posters and banners. I must confess that one of them was so against what I had pictured in my mind. It had the following message displaying on it: “Drug and Alcohol Free Site”. Considering the fact that I had heard ‘drugs’ and ‘alcohol’ are the main issues at the camps of this ongoing movement, I so wasn’t expecting to see such a message. Nevertheless, I had to inquire about it. “Chris”, I shouted, “Can I have a word please?”. And I asked “Why the general assembly of the camp have decided to ban any drug or alcohol? Considering the fact that this is a private property, you wouldn’t have any problems with the police either!”. He told me that they had heard about the issues within the other camps and experienced a minor difficulty themselves on the first night the camp was set up, and therefore the assembly decided to ban any drug or alcohol from the camp.
In response to my question asking “Don’t you have any problems with the homeless people?”, Chris said “No, if they come over, they are more than welcome for as long as they observe the rules and respect the cause.”
I had heard in the past that these camps tend to be very attractive to the homeless people, but majority of the people I met there seemed neither homeless, nor uneducated. In fact I met several academics, retired staff of the government, students, medical doctors, former military staff, and a mathematician. It looked nothing like a night-shelter for the destitute or the homeless. vulnerable? maybe! I also had a nice chat about politics and economy with several people over there.
I noticed some problems, I must confess, and I indicated them to the organisers later. Among the most important ones, I should highlight the fact that the campaign significantly lacked a written manifesto, and a defined spokesman.
However, on the other hand, I really liked the innovative, hopeful and fresh spirit throughout the camp. Everyone was basically doing whatever they could possibly do. There was even a cultural tent in which they were keeping books, newspapers, magazines, and also planning for concerts and other cultural shows.
I just had to return once again to see if there is any progress going on within the camp! So I did. And the short answer was “yes”. Everyone was having fun organising or otherwise managing something. I was offered a nice warm coffee, and talked to more members. I also attended the general assembly meeting. I liked the democratic way through which the meeting was conducted. Everyone, even me, had their say. Everyone was the same. Everyone was ‘worth’ the same. I asked myself, would we really see this on a countrywide scale someday, too?