Welcome to Occupy Wellington

'There's no-one here who has never worked'

KIMBERLEY ROTHWELL
Last updated 05:00 20/10/2011
HAMISH COLEMAN-ROSS

A tour of the area in Civic Square where about 30 people are camped as part of the Occupy Wellington movement.

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KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ Zoom
Occupy Wellington protester Alan Cooper.
Occupy Wellington
SPREADING THE WORD: Protester Ben talks of his three-year spiritual journey that has brought him to Civic Square.
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They're sitting in a circle just by the pyramid in Civic Square, bathed in the morning sun.

An orange fluoro juggling baton is being passed around, and whoever has the baton is allowed to speak.

Others in the group do jazz hands to show their agreement, or give applause. One chap, called Strypey, apologises for being grumpy. He's trying to work on it, he says. If only most meetings were this civil.

Welcome to Occupy Wellington, a camp of 30 tents and 60 people joining a global protest movement against corporate greed that started in New York just over a month ago.

The site they've chosen here by the pyramid is no accident. In the background, the ticker on the NZX building spews out numbers. Like their counterparts in New York, it's the financial heart of the city they're pointing the finger at.

In the assembly circle are Ben and Nick. Both are quick to point out that there are no leaders, no spokespeople in the Occupy movement, and everyone The Dominion Post interviewed said they spoke for themselves and their own ideas only. And no last names.

Nick looks like he's not had much sleep. He's off home to his flat to "do a little bit of grounding back to some normality". He's between jobs, he says, and is soon heading to Christchurch to see what the Occupy Christchurch people have been up to.

Ben's dressed in green cargo pants and a poncho, with shoulder-length blond dreads and a red, bushy beard. He has a calm demeanour and, when he talks about his three-year spiritual journey, it's like he's trying to channel a modern-day Jesus.

Life at camp Occupy Wellington is highly organised. The central focus of the camp is a kind of kitchen, where there's donated food – this morning it's a bread crate full of mandarins, bananas and kiwifruit – that people can tuck into to.

"No-one's paying for any of this food. It's just been brought to us," Ben says. "Our society generates so much waste food – I don't know if you guys have ever been to the dumpster behind the supermarket, there's an amazing amount of food that's been chucked out."

Last night they had a dahl curry for dinner, which had been dropped off by a supporter. "We've been overwhelmed with the food," says Cat, who has come from Palmerston North to be here.

Hot-water facilities are made available by nearby businesses, and the council has left the nearby toilets open 24/7 for the camp.

There's a dedicated area for washing dishes; sinks are made from 40-litre plastic bins. Care is taken with the ground, there are tarps in high-traffic areas to stop them becoming boggy. Food scraps go into a compost bin for a community garden, and rubbish is disposed of wisely.

It's all very civil and every aspect of it is discussed at length, including what to do with the donations of money they've been given.

Ben says: "That's our biggest disagreement so far," and smiles when he says that they were thinking of opening a bank account to put it in rather than having it hang around camp. There are contradictions, he says, because that's the reality of the society we're living in.

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Everyone has a role here; there are people dedicated to using social networks to get their news out and keep in touch, people who take care of "hospitality", or passing out fliers and chatting to people who stop by.

There is even someone on hospitality at night, just in case someone passing at 3am wants a natter.

One chap, Tom, says without a hint of irony that they've been calling it a "do-ocracy". He's a backpacker from Britain and says that, when he heard about the Occupy movement, decided he would join the closest one.

No-one has given up a job, or taken leave from work, to be here, and no-one seems to know how long they will stay. There are no children in the camp, not because they're banned, but because none of the participants have children to bring.

Ben realises that the setup here – where feelings are shared in assemblies, there's talk of a moneyless society and a 9am wakeup call is announced by drum rather than alarm clock – looks pretty far out to most people.

But he says this occupation is to start the conversation about the disparity between the rich 1 per cent who run the world and the rest.

He says he's read some of the negative comments left by readers on websites and others seem aware that they are being slagged off as dole bludgers with nothing better to do.

Ben says: "Everyone here has at some point paid tax, we've all given our bit to society. There's no-one here who has never worked."

And as for how long the camp will last, "the occupation doesn't have an end date, there is no defined date when it ends.

"Is it going to fizzle out and no-one cares, or is it going to grow and grow and grow ... it's actually been growing for years and years, waiting for a unified response to what's going on."

Occupy Wellington on twitter @occupywelly and Facebook

- The Dominion Post

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