Week 32: 15 April 2012
Founding editor of The Occupied Times
A nation built on egalitarian foundations
As an internationalist, I'd quite like to start by abolishing the idea of 'citizens' for Nowhereisland. As soon as you make some people citizens, you say that others aren't, excluding them from the rights and privileges that citizenship confers. I would rather the only criteria for citizenship on Nowhereisland was to be a living being, so we can all lay equal claim.
Of course, should Nowhereisland become an attractive place for people to reside, this could become quite a problem, but only because other sovereign nations do exclude based on arbitrary distinctions of ancestry and geographical birthplace.
If we are talking about starting afresh, free from the mistakes and problems pervasive in the wider world, then I think citizenship for all - or none - would be a good start.
Then, assuming we aren't ready yet to consider nations without government at all, the most important aspect for me would be representation. One of the great things about the Occupy movement which anyone who has spent time at the occupations will attest to, is that it reminded people that politics ought to be the domain of the people, not just a privileged elite. During my time at St Paul's I, like many others, felt empowered by participating in direct forms of democracy, and being in an autonomous zone where there were dozens of political conversations taking place at any one time.
The idea that our parliamentary system is actually representative of the people seems to be on borrowed time, and even if we don't yet have an alternative, the conversation about what needs to change and what an alternative might look like has certainly begun in several countries around the world.
A criticism of Occupy from the start has been that the message is unclear, that there are no concrete demands (even though there are) and that it needs to focus on a single issue. The financial system has been an obvious target for criticism - not only from Occupy - and has played a huge part in causing the global crisis we find ourselves in, but I think we need to look more deeply at systemic problems and at how unethical financial systems like the one we have are allowed to come about in the first place.
As things are, money plays too big a part in deciding those who end up in parliament and those who don't have a chance, no matter how intelligent or competent they might be. If you want to get elected into parliament, having a big pot of funds to help finance your campaign is vital (in the US even more than the UK) and the education and contacts that money can buy also help stack the odds in the favour of the already 'haves'. Even on the rare occasions when people from "working class" backgrounds become MPs - like Diane Abbott, David Davis, Nadine Dorries and Hazel Bears - the language, conventions and trappings of the power elite turn people from "ordinary backgrounds" into enthusiastic members of the out of touch in a disconnected bubble. The system corrupts people from all backgrounds because they're forced to conform to archaic traditions and corrupt practices.
This results in a correlation between a predisposition to acquiring wealth (or, if born into it, not knowing what it's like not to have money) and the likelihood of holding a position of power. When such a correlation exists, it's hardly surprising that we end up with policies favouring big corporations at the expense of the majority who are more likely to benefit from things like free healthcare and education than a tax cut for the richest in society. Would the banks have been deregulated at such great cost had parliament been made up of regular citizens from across society more connected to regular citizens, more approachable and representative? Doubtful.
That we end up with a political system which allows and even encourages totally unfair and undemocratic financial systems isn't just likely in these circumstances, it is predictable and planned. The motivation for many people seeking positions of power is often to maintain the status quo which has treated them so well, or as has happened over the last thirty years, to accelerate inequality through the implementation of neoliberal policies.
Targeting a financial sector which is symptomatic of a political system already corrupted by money is like ripping up weeds without removing the roots. Unless we address the conditions which allowed the weeds of fiscal inequality to grow, we just reset conditions to a point where the same outcomes will develop, or, more accurately, where the same people with the same motivations have the power to recreate the same – or perhaps even worse – system that they desire.
It isn't only our financial system which is tainted by a lack of genuine representation.
It doesn't take a huge leap of imagination to picture a political system built on actual representation and direct democracy being more willing and able to conceive of and implement policies to address the growing environmental crisis, rather than pandering to the huge corporations whose fingerprints are all over the crime scene that is manmade climate change.
One of the few industries as nepotistic as politics is the mainstream media. Unless you know the right people, any job in journalism these days requires you to undertake two years unpaid internship as work experience. This means people who can afford to live without salary for two years or whose parents can afford to bankroll them get all the opportunities and eventually take the jobs, while less privileged people are forced to look elsewhere. Not only is this hugely unfair in itself, it also results in the media being populated by people from a particular kind of background, with particular experiences and perspectives and, with that, particular agendas.
Given how important we hold a free and open media to be, for democracy, a fourth estate every bit as unrepresentative of the population as parliament is clearly something Nowhereisland should try to avoid.
So if Nowhereisland is to be a success, I'd suggest it needs to be built on egalitarian foundations where money and power are not two sides of the same coin, where we don't thrust decisions about huge issues like climate change into the hands of a privileged few, where the media consists of the people it serves, and decisions are made by the people themselves - or at the very least, a genuinely representative sample.
Steven Maclean is a political activist and founding editor of The Occupied Times, a free, non-profit newspaper without advertising that was born out of the Occupy London movement.
Having lived in Spain for almost a decade and spent time travelling from Venezuela to Argentina, Steven returned to the UK in 2007 to study for a degree in journalism. During that time he became increasingly dissatisfied with the political system and the mainstream media's role in perpetuating the status quo. He joined thousands of others at St Paul's Cathedral on 15 October last year to protest against economic and social inequality, and started The Occupied Times newspaper in the first week of the occupation.
For more information visit http://theoccupiedtimes.co.uk/