No Tents Anymore

Where have the Occupiers gone?

By Elena Butti

“Five tatty, sadly-coloured-in-grey tents, a big poster with a hippie-nostalgic slogan and a couple of Occupiers wandering around with a dripping nose” (check our February 2012 issue). Six months later, the Ganzenmarkt is empty – no tents, no dripping noses. Where have the Occupiers vanished?

They still hold General Assemblies every Tuesday night at 19.30 – GAs are open, if you’d like to join.

“Violence against the camp has forced us to close it down some months ago,” says a middle-aged woman, Marion, during one of the GAs. “In Utrecht, there are a lot of centres for homeless people and immigrants. Our camp had become a place for everybody who didn’t have anywhere else to stay.”

Despite having to abandon the most ‘hippie’ part of their demonstration, the tents, the Occupiers still stubbornly meet every week in the cold Ganzenmarkt. ‘Who are we?’ is a question they still ask themselves.

One of the most debated issues is the image that Occupy should present. “We should strive to be a direct democracy movement, not a protest one,” says Pieter Jan, a chatty student who tends to take the lead of the group. “People in the Netherlands are different from people in Spain or in the US; here we need to be constructive, not only deconstructive. And we might need to consider working with the government, rather than against it.”

Not everybody, however, shares this position. “This movement was born as a protest, protest must remain our front line,” says Bram, also interviewed for the Boomerang last year. “If we all do something different [from the other Occupy movements around the world] we risk fragmentation, and we cannot afford this.”

However, even in the case of these disagreements, the members respectfully listen to each other. No one interrupts; there is no shouting or making fun of what others are saying. What seems to prevail is the so-called ‘bridge ethics’: “I try to find a middle way, creating a bridge between you two,” says Marion, attempting to mediate between Pieter Jan and Bram.

True, listening to everybody may cost a lot of time – for example, a half hour discussion about whether, given the cold temperature, it was better to keep the assembly outside or to move it inside. In the meantime, everyone was freezing.

However, the ‘bridge ethics’ also ensures that everybody feels accepted and can immediately integrate into the group. No bureaucracies, no feeling of exclusion, no need for formal acceptance into the group. As soon as you sit down with them, on the benches of the Ganzenmarkt, you’re part of the Occupiers. And your opinions are welcomed, encouraged, and valued just like everybody else’s.

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