By Matthew Houtsma
The long and glorious history of the Lindenhof makes it the natural choice for Occupy Zurich headquarters. During a visit to Zurich for a business meeting, I was walking around exploring the city when I found the Occupy Zurich Movement demonstrating in the Paradeplatz. There were several hundred people of all ages and nationalities. People were making signs, banners, and writing with chalk on the sidewalk. There was a group with a man playing guitar, another playing trumpet, another clarinet, and others singing. Nearby, some drummers were setting up
I asked a man named Niklaus why he was there and he told me, “What is going on is wrong and must stop. The movement has grown every day.” When I asked if the police had harassed them, he said, “It doesn’t matter. We are Swiss. We have been fighting for 3000 years.”
Niklaus offered to show me the base camp for the occupation and said, “It was next to a Masonic Temple” with a hearty laugh. He led me through the winding streets, and as we walked up the hill, he talked about his life as a house painter and how he thought he should have better opportunities. Niklaus left me at the front of the camp, and I started taking photographs.
There was quite a bit of activity and as I walked around, there was a man who attracted my attention. His name was Swami Agavinesh. He added a very distinguished presence. He was speaking to a man named Rene, who was one of the organizers.”Can you stay?” he asked. “We want to connect to as many other occupations as we can.” He introduced me to Timon, from the media center, who graciously offered to show me around the Kanton. “We occupy Paradeplatz 24/7, but we don’t sleep there.” he told me. “We are here because this is the traditional spot in Zurich for this kind of activity. We don’t have or need a permit. At first, the occupiers were mostly people under thirty, but now we have people of all ages.” It was clearly true, as you can see from the photographs of the people. Some were resting around a fire; others were working.
A teepee was being set up, and Timon explained that people would sleep inside around a fire as it got colder. There was a large circus tent for General Assemblies and a screen for showing films. A sign outside the G.A. tent read: No alcohol. “We would prefer that people attend these debates with clear heads.” he explained.
On the side of the media center, there was a chalkboard with a schedule, and Timon commented that they were understaffed. “I have a job as a model, and I do this when I’m not working. We are not lazy!”
In the kitchen area, there was a small burner with a soup pot, and another roasting potatoes. There was also a table full of fruit, bread and cheese. Nearby there was a roomy tent with a mirror table, shower, and a large variety of grooming products. (I later discovered that all the water they were using came from the Lindenhof Fountain, which commemorates the 1291 defense of the town by the women of Zurich.)
Timon showed me the media tent, which had a kiosk of press, a small library, and a table with brochures, including an explanation, in three languages, of the occupation and why it was taking place. When I asked how the police had treated them, he said the police were happy that the Movement was dedicated to non-violence, and they had mostly left the protesters alone. However, the police had recently come into the occupation, and had stolen four very expensive cold-weather sleeping bags.
In one corner was the Masonic Lodge Niklaus had mentioned. “We have an occupier who is a member of this Lodge. His tent is over there near mine, and he sleeps here. The Lodge is trying to kick him out.” he explained.
It was an honor to be welcomed so warmly and to spend time with this movement. I was particularly impressed by the organization, their peaceful determination, and how friendly they were, and I thank them for their generosity.
Photo Gallery of Occupy Zurich:
Photos by Matthew Houtsma