Occupy Antwerp was born mid October 2011, about a month after the Occupation of Zuccotti Park in New York City by Occupy Wall Street. It was back in the days when the mainstream media found it impossible to ignore this worldwide movement and thus the first assemblies of Occupy Antwerp saw an attendance of about 500 people. Not bad for such a small city, but when the attention of the media waned so did the amount of participants. Only a small group remained but this group proved to be stubborn and dedicated and outlived the old mayor’s term. To this day they have not missed a single Saturday of their weekly Occupation!
Their actions have been many and vary from an Occupied Olympics, to a public debaptizing ritual protesting the Vatican, to a 99% photo session, to a weekly outdoor "Newspaper on the Ground," to an ongoing multi-lingual “Welcome” action, to a People’s Kitchen.
The People’s Kitchen started almost exactly a year into the Occupation in October 2012, and is carried by people like Jeroen Olyslaegers, Nikkie van Lierop and Patsy Van Der Parre who, thanks to their status and popularity in Belgium, not only inspired their friends and followers to drop by on a regular basis but were also able to attract media attention in the form of articles and a piece on Belgian national TV. The weekly action grew and so did the collection of the 99% photos from Martine Wathy who, with her project “Occupy with Signs”, gained a spread in a Belgian newspaper.
Occupy Antwerp has a message of tolerance and solidarity and rightly asks the question “How come there is poverty in a rich country such as Belgium?” They aim to firmly establish the concept of Share Squares, a reaction against the neo-liberal culture of competition, profit, overconsumption and waste and a call for collaboration and mutual aid. This didn’t exactly fit into the plans of the new right-wing mayor. He must have thought Occupy Antwerp was becoming too big for comfort in his town and found a way to boycott their actions by targeting their People’s Kitchen. The boycott was reminiscent of a measure taken by the New York's Mayor Bloomberg back in 2011 when he ordered Zuccotti Park to be cleaned urgently for reasons of public safety. Ah yes, repression is always in our best interest, isn’t it?
In this case the Antwerp mayor, Bart De Wever, threatened to send the Food Safety Inspection. It is ridiculous, because Occupy Antwerp is cooking for friends (yes, poor people and homeless people are friends.) The food is free and so they shouldn’t be subjected to the same regulations as restaurants. It’s like getting a visit from the food inspectors when you are enjoying a nice family dinner party at your house.
The problem of course is that Occupy Antwerp is claiming public space for…well...the public. The audacity! Imagine if everybody would just go use public places for what they were meant for: a place to get together, hang your laundry to dry, share food, repair a broken bicycle with your friends, watch your, and your neighbor’s, children grow up, make music, dance, talk politics, dream, fall in love, have heated discussions, play with your dog and build community. Yeah, imagine!
Occupy Antwerp is far from defeated. Just like the Bloomberg measure blew up in his face so did the De Wever attempt to shut down Occupy Antwerp. Yesterday, with their first action after the new measures, Occupy Antwerp, despite the bitter cold, experienced the generosity and kindness of their growing army of supporters. The boycott had just been a small obstacle that forced them to flex their collective muscle. Jeroen had contacted his fellow journalists and many articles had been written about the boycott leading to, once again, an upswing of the Occupy Antwerp popularity. Repression always makes a movement grow. It breeds solidarity and support. A lesson the mayor from Antwerp could have learned from his NY counterpart. Bloomberg still hasn’t been able to stomp out OWS, not even with his personal army, the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world. On the contrary, OWS is only growing, steadily and firm, just like Occupy Antwerp is. The People United Will Never Be Defeated. Impossible.
To be continued…we promise!