Saturday, 24 August 2013

Sleeping Out Under The Starbucks

Ironic, it was, to think that protesters of the bedroom tax, a policy that meant people losing housing benefit if they had a spare room, were about to spend a night sleeping rough outside a retail outlet known for paying virtually no tax in the UK. This was the first planned protest for a nationwide force of numbers but at 9:00pm the City of London had all of 15 protesters. If this was a sign of things to come then the will of the people would seem to be easily washed up.

But at least one of the protesters had travelled especially to London from Leicester, even though a similar sleepover was planned locally. There were a few people genuinely made homeless by the bedroom tax and with a couple of guitars and good company, the evening began in a cheerful mode.

One police transit van sat about 100 yards away where a couple of officers watched while awaiting the city police. The familiarly large dark blue van arrived and out came half a dozen or so officers. As the door pushed bak on the side of the van, I noticed the unfortunate blocking out of the beginning of the word ‘Police’. So as the officers spewed out of the van, the word ‘Lice’ was clearly visible.

The officers spoke to a number of the protesters, some of whom were the more vocal type and started to give the police some of the well worn phrases about being part of the corporation and that the government was corrupt etc; all perfectly true but sadly the protesters were trying to convince the wrong people. The police, who at the time numbered nearly half the protesters, did little more than talk and observe. One officer I spoke to expressed the early inset of boredom over the whole thing. These were officers having a hard day at the office with no particular political axe to grind.

Speaking of axes, the chant “Axe, axe the bedroom tax” interrupted the stead patter of rain over the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral under whose gaze there had been the ‘Occupy London‘ movement. The steps were clear tonight but who knows for how long if a sudden rush of protesters prove me wrong and fill the space between the shopping arcade and the Cathedral steps.

What I found concerning was how easy the emotional reason for challenging the status quo so easily became the reason why the challenge was in danger of failing. When I wrote in 2008 about Neptune’s ingress into Pisces, i said,

‘The historical evidence of the last four ingresses of Neptune into Pisces suggest a theme of rebellion by the people over the established authorities of the time. Therefore both religious and political belief systems must figure highly in what may come for us in 2012. Debt, death and hardship also figure quite prominently, not that they didn’t in other periods of world history but notable swings from the established way of life to something new seem to have emanated from them. There is no evidence of some cataclysmic change of events. If anything one can almost see the slow dissolution of old and outdated practices gradually coming to terms with a new set of ideals and conditions. Anything that Neptune has to offer is unlikely to come in with a bang. More likely it will trickle through the minds of the collective unconscious over a period of time, however, the changes may still be quite profound.’

So what I witnessed, even among the few who turned up early for the night, was the raw emotional outrage at the ‘wrongness‘ of the way the world was going. The bedroom tax was unfair because it penalised people on welfare benefit 14% of their rent cost if there was one spare room or 25% if there were 2 spare rooms, without offering alternative accommodation. It did not take into account that the council’s housing stock could not match those people most affected by the bedroom tax with appropriate housing. The government declared that people on benefit should get a job but there are also people who are working on low incomes (or people working part time and on ‘zero hours contracts’) that also have to suffer due to a lack of housing stock within local councils.

The government policy was patently unfair. Private rented accommodation in most cases were already too expensive, because the government had remove the rent cap on housing many years before. The most vulnerable were trapped and people with disabilities who were part of a couple - but needed to sleep separately - were penalised for having a disability.

It was easy to see how emotive reasoning rises up in favour of the much needed intellectual approach. Neptune may have a certain revolutionary quality to it but lacks the heady passion of Venus. In my opinion, I could see how the protests of 2013, of which this was the first, were going to play right into the hands of the oligarchy through huge amounts of energy spent breaking laws in some way. I could see many protesters succumbing to the judiciary system, convinced of the righteousness of their quest and being found guilty of crimes that offered nothing to the evolution of their ideals or to the cause they embarked upon.

But somehow this impossible confusion of passion and muddle headedness (in conjunction with a few economic disasters) might still be enough to prompt those in power to reposition their model of world power. So it is still necessary to sleep under the Starbucks for what little it might seem to do at the time. But Neptune drips tiny drops until a trickle of water turns into Niagra Falls. So every single person challenging the most dreadful oppression the Western world has seen for decades, is a valued voice against those who think we do not matter.

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