Meet Nafeesa Shamduddin, ONN's Citizen Investigator and Livestreamer for Occupy London and Vocal Humanist
’’We Came Spinning out of Nothingness, Scattering Stars like Dust”
I first arrived to project Occupy London’s Initial statements and slogan/messages on to St Paul’s with my friend who had a custom built projector, I had been following the movement since Occupy Wall Street on the internet and considered myself to be a ‘clicktivist’. At the time, I never imagined I was going to spend the next five months running around the site, streaming with a laptop like a headless chicken, trying to capture and share what was really happening on ground; from the conversations and discussions, to the individuals, events, marches and actions. I stayed on site after my third visit, after missing the last train, I slept in the small equipment tent in front of our ‘’Tech tent’’. From the evening to the morning, I was inspired by the level of conversations, people from various walks of life and experiences burning to make change. As there were more conversation, more ideas, discussion of alternatives we grew in strength, enlightened by a common cause. It made a difference seeing real people who had these views congregated in one place instead of cynical speculation online.
I wanted to share the inspiration, the birth of firm belief and hope for real democracy which was in the air. The general assemblies, the consensus decision making, the variety of speakers and ideas at Tent City University. I saw something unique and historical, it was no ordinary protest but the beginning of a serious process. This needed to be shared, it was not a game, or an experiment – it was really happening.
I spotted an enemy of true democracy, the media. The mainstream media constantly underplayed the coverage and success of our activities, the content of our events, the misuse of police powers, the day to day depth of our incredible court case, the actual profiles and backgrounds of our visitors, campers, supporters, Occupiers and victims of our system. We were not ‘crusties’ and ‘junkies’ but a diverse representation of the electorate. Occupy London never claimed to have instant quick fix solutions, which was one of the newspapers favourite criticisms. People seemed to repeat the media’s regurgitated storyline, ‘’what is your message?’’, which was not too difficult to understand. It was shocking to see first- hand how the propaganda machine worked against us. I was fascinated by the livestreaming software which was being used in Occupy Wall Street and various occupations as well as meeting an online community of supporters we were sharing our experiences with various International Occupy’s who were going through the same process, I quickly took responsibility for the live stream. With our small team, we all had our different styles, I started off Annika Rice reporting from a type of war zone, with much positive feedback and encouragement from online viewers, I started to take the role more seriously. This was an information war. I felt I witnessed the role of false media representation and the level of inequality and falsified democracies in third world Bangladesh to luxurious Dubai, there seemed to be the same culprits, banks, corporations and corrupt politicians.
From working in Canary Wharf in London, to working in a Bangladesh where the success of social enterprise and ethical business, fairer society was supressed by an undemocratic government which allowed exploitation of its resources and people for Western Interests, where the gap between the rich and poor was ever increasing, where it was acceptable to be out of touch with social responsibilities in society. Working in the surreal world of construction in Dubai for two years I saw the ideal Capitalist utopia, extreme luxury and extravagance meshed with modern day slavery, companies which had been evading taxes in Britain, making millions of pounds, expats living overt, luxurious lifestyles while Bangladeshi and Filipino labourers were paid next to nothing, working on construction sites in 48 ͦC heat, their passports taken away, living in the middle of the desert, out of town in ‘’Labour Camps’’, women were trafficked for open sexual exploitation and abused as maids who were duped into this roles. The atrocities and human rights violations were ignored by westerners in the name of profit.
When returning to the UK, the extreme cuts, loss of services and deterioration of the once welfare state caused by the coalition government was depressing to experience. Coming across a group of people, prepared to seek change, it seemed like a calling, to finally take some action for real social justice. In the period between October 15th 2011 to February 28th 2012 there was a gathering of dynamic energies, people who took a stand against the corruption, starting with the banks and corruption, the social injustices, the inequality, the war machine, the people claiming to represent people’s needs and views abusing their power. Our determination grew as we were thanked, supported and encouraged on daily basis by those who could not spare the time to be there and news of occupations starting across the UK. It was about taking the first stand, exposing the faults of the current system, holding the politicians, the government, and the justice system to account.
It is only the start of a process, changing a system which has been operating for hundreds of years. Part of the exquisiteness of this experience was the spectrum of people who travelled from around the country, bringing their stories, their experiences and their passion. They brought soul food, reason and determination, reinforcing the reasons we had chosen to camp out in the belly of the beast, the City of London. From experienced activists, to Bankers, whistle blowing traders, barristers, teachers, doctors, social workers, ex-military servicemen, academics, unions, poets, musicians, artists, every day people who knew that the current system was not right. There were people on the camp, from the homeless, the asylum seekers, drug and alcohol addicts, some mentally ill, each person reflected the faults and symptoms of the failed system. When me and a fellow streamer had initially gone to seek approval for the livestreaming, it had taken 40 minutes to explain to others why the streaming was important for digital inclusion and transparency. People were cynical about it and sometimes we would be asked to stop streaming if there was content which could compromise direct actions. There were differing views about our censorship, especially when there were unpleasant exchanges in Finance meetings or general assemblies! It was the truth, it was reality so we kept rolling.
‘’The World is Watching’’
The role of the livestream on the ‘frontline’ was one of the most important elements during a march or action. As our weapon of truth, I felt like the police would think twice when handling people, the great advantage we have is hundred to thousands of witnesses watching it live, viewers would prompt me to shout out the police number, often during kettles or police lines I would make sure to do capture face to face rounds of the police officer profiles and badge numbers, for future reference. During actions, if there were any particular areas where some rough police handling broke out, people would scream out and make way ‘’Livestream coming through!’’. In the first months, when there was the student march and N30 strike, I would go to the marches carrying three laptops, the batteries would only last two hours, sometimes I would even charge half way through the march. The first few demonstrations, there were three of us, running in a line, one with the laptop and dongle in their pocket, one with the microphone and the other with the webcam. The guys built a camera helmet, which was a bit of a disaster. Finally, the Occupy Wall Street, sent a battery pack and advised us to use an internet streaming site which could be used with a smartphone application, this made streaming a lot more simple and easier on the shoulders. What made the streaming real was the interaction with the very supportive viewers; I would be able to read their comments. We would spend time talking to them and trying to share the awe-inspiring conversations, visitors and atmosphere of the camp. I felt this space was opening some ground breaking dialogue and I needed to share this with the online viewers. Some visitors would randomly thank me at St Pauls and I realised the true value of sharing this experience online. The support from the viewers enforced my belief that this change was possible. I found it difficult to walk around camp without carrying the viewers in my arms via my laptop. Working on the Livestream had given me the opportunity to record many different events, meetings, developments and even the arguments on the camp. Such big conversations in such a short space of time. We have streamed the various guest speakers from Tony Benn, Manuelle Castelle to renowned lecturers, academics, ex-investment bankers, Max Kaiser, Ken Livingstone. On many occasions I would rush to the speakers so Livestream viewers could pose their own questions.
For instance when Jesse Jackson was speaking in a crowd of 200, a viewer asked me to ask a question which I did. This brought a whole new level to interactive viewing. Occupy has been one of the most incredible culminations of some real life, even ‘heroic’, like-minded people from all over the country who never actually knew exactly where this would take them, the shared view was that the system had to change, we have had enough. These crimes against people’s liberties could no longer go on. It was a ”spiritual awakening” for people no matter what background, from the socially excluded to the highly privileged sections of society. Being inspired by the solidarity and passion of fellow occupiers, the hope and possibility of change had awoken in my soul. The encampment was necessary for the the dialogue which started there, from the banker who secretly funded for our professional banners, the elderly supporters, who occasionally popped by, the children passing through on their school trips to the academics introducing alternative ideas . Each and every single member of society who have a voice need to participate in order to trial and error and eventually propose the changes. The beauty of the research conducted by Joseph Rowntree and Sir William Beveridge was the focus on the accurate living conditions of the time and the needs of the people which were carefully analysed, which the present government have seemed to forget.