Sunday, February 26, 2012

Open Letter to Martin Shaw

Yesterday, I came across a very reasonable and well-thought out Facebook post by Martin Shaw, a (correct me if I'm wrong) Bishop for the Scottish Episcopal Church. I thought I'd make a response, not on behalf of or representing Occupy Exeter as a whole, but merely as an individual supporter and activist within the movement. It would be great if other occupiers could write opinion pieces for our Blogger as well in the future. Anyway, I'll copy and paste the post below, and follow it with my personal response. :)
"Some days ago, you posted through letter-boxes a paper on some of the issues related to 'Occupy'. Although I am deeply anxious along with many about the financial climate and culture adopted by financial services in the UK, I wonder whether you had read what you wrote before you distributed the sheets.

The negative attitude towards the clergy of whom you write raises the question whether you have listened to any of them with any depth of empathy, let alone get your facts even approximately right. Your statement "Jesus occupies your rotten hearts"....such language is not only deeply sad, but certainly does not attract many to do anything other than be sucked into such destructive language themselves or, like me, be alienated by it.

Please try a different attitude and you may draw more not only to understand your sometimes courageous stance but also to thinking through and acting in a way that shows the commercial world an alternative and creative style of life.

If you had really listened and got alongside the clergy of whom you speak, you would moved forward with many more voices and lives, including mine, empathetic towards you and supportive of you.

I remain challenged by 'Occupy' generally and ask you to have a view of your actions and words that seem to me to do you little or no service.

In the Love of God,

Dear Martin Shaw,
I hope you don't mind the format I've chosen to write to you, but I believe it's an ideal opportunity to discuss the issues you've raised in a way that is entirely open, transparent, and can include people in and outside of Exeter regardless of their faith and feelings towards the Occupy movement.
I should emphasise that the leaflet that was distributed that included 'Jesus occupies your rotten heart' was not published by Occupy Exeter. One of the first things we agreed as a movement was that all our publications needed to be approved by the group as a whole (through our general assemblies) before it would be regarded as Occupy Exeter literature. The leaflet was not approved by the general assembly, and was made and distributed by an individual supporter who had the best of intentions of trying to do what he could to contribute to the movement and spent several hundred pounds of his own money on printing costs. However, once he realised that the content of the leaflet was alienating to many people he quickly stopped posting the leaflets at our request.
Occupy Exeter and the Cathedral did have a very strained relationship, especially towards the end of our presence on Cathedral Green. I believe that there is a lot that members of both Occupy and the Cathedral could have done better. For example, Occupy Exeter struggled to ensure that anti-social behaviour on the Green was minimal, but at the same time I personally believe that the Cathedral could have done more to support the Occupation in that capacity rather than leaving us to deal with those issues with very few resources or the social support skills to handle anti-social behaviour. Communication between both groups was poor at times, but there was a joint effort to solve that by Occupy having a Cathedral liaison group and various clergymen visiting the site itself. The issue of our presence on the Green and then the eviction process served as a major distraction and hindrance to having constructive dialogues on the bigger social, economic and political issues which both the Cathedral and Occupy share common ground on. Now that we have left Cathedral Green there is a window of opportunity to build, or rather rebuild bridges and get the focus back on making the world a fairer, more equitable place.
And indeed, we've been reaching out to various religious groups including the United Reformed Church in Southernhay and a number of us attended a talk at Exeter University by Bishop Michael Langrish last week.
There's no denying that individuals within Occupy consider established religion as being part of the 1%, but there are also devout Christians, Muslims, Jews, people from a whole variety of faiths within the movement. Despite these differences within the Occupy movement, we don't let that be a source of division or tribalism. We celebrate the diversity of opinion and faith that's integral to the community that's sprung out of the Occupy movement, and I don't believe there's any reason the same can't be true between Occupy and religious institutions.
So I invite you to join us at one of our general assemblies or working group meetings, and we can get back to the big issues and developing ideas for how to address them. Times and locations can be found here (link)
I hope this has cleared things up and reconciled these issues to a degree. Maybe see you at one of our meetings in the near future!
Yours Sincerely,

This week!

We have our general assemblies for the next wee while at the usual times and places. In about an hour's time at John Gandy's, Tuesday 6pm at the NBI, Friday 6pm at Friend's Meeting House, and John Gandy's 2pm on the following Sunday.

Our newly-formed newsletter working group will be meeting straight after GA on Tuesday. Come along to contribute to our first issue!

Our direct action working group is meeting 6pm at the Imperial (pub on New North Road) on Monday, and the 'public eye' meeting is on Wednesday, 4pm at the NBI.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


The NHS event for the 25th has had the date changed to the 7th to coincide with similar events in London and across the nation as a whole in protest against the semi-privatisation of the NHS, and to give us time to prepare for it better!

In other news, it's been a fantastic few days for Occupy Exeter! First of all, the Bishop of Exeter gave a talk at the university which was attended by a number of Occupiers. They grilled the bishop on the Church of England's response to the Occupy movement, and on the capitalist economic system.

This evening we had a general assembly which had an excellent turnout, and we had some great discussions about how the Plymouth movement is doing, on the idea of a regional Occupy conference, and on the NHS event.

Speaking of which, our very own Jake Céileachair chaired an event at the central library tonight which was about keeping the NHS public and had speakers from Occupy Exeter, Unison, Anti-Cuts Alliance, and KONP. Occupy Exeter's speaker, Stephen Bench, summed it up quite nicely by saying the speaking event was a great opportunity to talk about what each of our movements have in common, how we stand in solidarity with each other, and how we can support each other in the ongoing struggle against the cuts and the underlying economic system that caused the crisis.

There's still plenty going on later this week! On Wednesday at 1pm, the Student Action Committee is meeting at the Imperial to discuss the upcoming National Union of Students walkout. At 4pm later that day in the NBI, there's the ever-popular Outreach working group meeting. Thursday boasts an NBI meeting at 7pm about acquiring a site for Occupy Exeter legally. On Friday, our general assembly is (as usual) at Friend's Meeting House at 6pm - followed by a film screening of the Matrix.

We've also got an 'Extraordinary GA' to discuss the future of Occupy Exeter on Saturday at 2pm. Watch this space for final confirmation of the location.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Upcoming Events!

We have lots in store this upcoming week!

Monday 20th - our local bishop is giving a talk on the ethics of capitalism and wealth creation at the university. Plan is for Occupy to meet at the Imperial at 6pm to head to it as a group. Great opportunity to grill a senior clergyman who's been outspoken against Occupy Exeter in the past.

Tuesday 21st February - General Assembly at the North Bridge Inn (which I thoroughly recommend as a chilled, relaxed and affordable place to drink that does wonderful mulled cider) at 6pm.

At 7, there'll be an event at Exeter central library about the cuts - particularly the reorganising gutting and flogging-off of the NHS by the government. We'll also be discussing what to do for the event on Saturday (details below!). 

On Wednesday 22nd, we have the meeting of the outreach working group. Again, it'll be at the North Bridge Inn at 4pm. Lots of fun, mulled cider, and discussion for how to engage with the public.

Saturday 25th, there'll be a protest happening at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital starting at 10am. Here's what the Facebook event says about it:

We will be outside RDE to raise awareness of the alternatives to the public sector cuts, whilst at the same time telling the public what OUR governments plans for NHS reform are. Together the 99% can keep the NHS public, IT IS NOT FOR SALE!

Full details will be released in the weeks running up to the action. but here is a basic outline
Arrive at the hospital at 10am. We will be in a visual but (as much as possible) a non intrusive location at RDE. Throughout the day there will be leaflets and information distributedThere will also be special visits during the day from dressed up campers with a great message. All public sector workers will get a free hug on there way into or out of work as a thank you for the hard work they put in.Other things will take place throughout the day, but this is not a shouty protest...more like the best info stand you have ever seen.

Make sure to bring a banner or two!