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Steph addresses a recent Youth Fight for Jobs public meeting in Leeds

Iain Dalton spoke to Occupy Leeds activist Stephanie Maston

ID: Why are you and other people involved in Occupy Leeds?

SM: We’re all there for different personal reasons, but we came up with an official statement within the first week to try and draw them together. But it really boils down to us seeing that we are part of the 99% as opposed to the 1%. The 1% control all the money and wealth in society, but we the 99% have to slave away in jobs to provide the wealth. We oppose all the current government cuts, and stand in 100% solidarity with the strikes against the cuts to pensions on November 30th. We know that they aren’t needed as the money is there to provide these services, but this money is going into the profits of the bankers, the big business, aided by their government of cronies.

ID: What’s it like at the camp?

SM: It’s cold… but its a brilliant forum for everyone to have discussions about different ways, the 1%, the government in particular, are lying to us. It gives us a space to discuss the problems with this system and what sort of alternative there is that could benefit the millions not the millionaires.
The atmosphere at camp is very friendly and welcoming to anyone who wants to join in, whether thats just for ten minutes or stay overnight or longer.

ID: What have you been doing at the camp to engage with other people?

We have lots of banners around the camp, expressing some of the issues that we are motivated by. We have people going out leafletting and have a permanent information table at the camp and there’s always people there to talk to people. Myself and others have addressed meetings over the last few days about the camp, and we’ve had some quite good press coverage over the last week or so.

ID: In a recent article, Rod McPhee (a Yorkshire Post journalist) has said the camp only represents a minority view, not the 99%, what’s your response to that?

SM: Well firstly he seems to have changed his tune in the last week, he had written quite a good piece that reflected the views of quite a few of us that were there last week, but now he seems to want to completey misrepresent us.
In his article he says that at people prefer to vote in a poll rather than protest, and that he wouldn;t be voting for a party that is in it for the money. But who does that leave as you can say that about all the main parties?
As for a nicer capitalism, well, capitalism has been trying to change its face for a number of decades but it always ends up in crisis and recession. Places like Occupy leeds have been set up as a means with for discussion with other members of the public, the 99%, about these fundamental issues. But when you look at all thats going on this isn’t just bad capitalism thats causing these problems, its capitalism as a whole and therefore there can’t be a nicer capitalism.
Most people who come up to discuss with us would prefer a nicer capitalism but as we discuss if that can be done then both them and us in the occupation end up drawing the same conclusion that it just can’t be done.

ID: How have the authorities reacted to the existence of Occupy Leeds?

SM: On the first day, the street cleaners came up to us and were supportive and gave us bin bags to help us keep the area clean. The other night some council workers who are responsible for keeping the area clean, came down and said the square is cleaner than it usually is.
Police officers have come up and been co-operative so far. In Bradford, the Labour council evicted the occupation, but so far this hasn’t happened here. Obviously we would peacefully resist being evicted and would appeal to our supporters in the community, the trade unions and anyone else to support us

ID: What do you think the occupation can acheive?

SM: The more people that we talk to in the camp and on the streets, we can help people to stand up against the government and their financial backers. I think most people would support this, it struck me when I visited the academy strike at Otley that parents were coming up to the teachers and thanking them for taking strike action against what is happening there. I think the Occupy movement will really make its mark, when its not just those of that are in the camp talking about these things, but when these discussions happen a lot more in society and people start to realise that if capitalism can’t afford them a job, a house, an education, health care or anything else, then capitalism isn’t a system that works for them.