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The Faces of Occupy: Annie

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Annie
©2012 Paul R Davey

My observations have not pleased everyone in the Occupy London camps. One of the people I was interviewing, one of the stalwarts, abruptly ended his interview when, as I was showing him on my iPhone my post about Dom, he accused me of putting the camp in a bad light. It was my reference to the fact that some residents were complaining about theft and that the Finsbury Square camp was in some respects, struggling to adapt to the sudden influx of evicted St Paul's Occupiers that did it.

Well, there is unity - especially on the surface, but there are divisions too. It is unrealistic to try and sell the idea of idyllic harmony - and it is not my job as an observer. Why should Occupy be different to any other organisation where mixed agendas struggle to get to the top of the pile? The movement that valiantly tries to portray itself as being leaderless and a pure democracy where every voice is equal, is finding that as always happens, equality and human nature do not coexist. There are people who through sheer force of personality will have a stronger voice, a winning argument. Occupy is no different from the real world.

Which brings me to Annie. Elfin Annie.

At the end of a busy day's shooting and interviewing I did a last sweep around the camp hoping to get one more interview. At the back of the camp, by one of the locked entrances to the car park beneath the square, I saw her hard at work, skinny and elfin, hands blackened with grime as she scrubbed away the rust and charred patina from an enormous paella pan.

Annie cleaning a pan
Simply cleaning a pan or was it more a labour of love, Annie's plan to bring everyone in camp together?
©21012 Paul R Davey

"Hi, I'm Paul. I'm a photographer and I'm doing a project called the Faces of Occupy. It's a blog on The Huffington Post UK."

"Where's Huffington?" A commonly asked question.

"It's the world's biggest online newspaper."

"Oh?"

"Yes."

We started chatting, me building up to asking Annie if she'd be so kind as to do my interview and let me take some pics. She was shy. Very shy, but did kindly agree to do my questionnaire and let me take a few shots. "I hate having my picture taken."

I commented on her cleaning the pan and she showed me its rusty underside. "It was all like this. I'm cleaning it up so we can make a risotto we can all share. Something to bring us together, to eat together. We need something like this."

A simple, sweet idea. Annie is not a verbose activist with much to say. I think she's a gentle doer, quietly communicating - even cajoling - through her actions. Beneath the veneer of cosy oneness in the camp, there is this aforementioned undercurrent of restrained conflict. I see Annie as a unifying force - one of the little dabs of glue that actually hold the movement together.

Never stopping in her work and with only quick, shy, sideways glances at me through her fringe, she told me her story. Like many in the camp, she has a difficult personal history and has found that amongst the raggle-taggle of freaks, hippies, anarchists, rough sleepers and earnest activists, she has a place, a sense of purpose and friends. Five years before joining the camp she had locked herself away from society. She was a damaged, lonely recluse, misdiagnosed and mistreated by a box-ticking, target-driven system that is too busy looking after its own survival to care for hers. She told me how she has for 20 years suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. She explained how it came about too, but I'm not going to share that. It is too personal, too private. Suffice to say, the world owes her a huge, warm hug and a lot of kindness.

If ever 'The System' needs to listen, it is now. The voices they need to listen to are those of people like Annie. She's no militant. She's someone whose clear, grey-blue eyes have witnessed first hand, The System failing to function. Intelligent and articulate, with both feet on the ground, this quiet, reserved woman deserves to be heard.

First Name: Annie

Age: 42

How long have you been in the camp?
Since the last week of November

What were you doing before you joined the Occupy Movement?

I was a recluse for five years. Before that, I was a nanny and before that was a secretary.

Are you a full time resident in the camp? Yes.

Do you have a specialist role in the camp?
No.

What compelled you to become an occupier?
I was in the process of being evicted from my flat. For the last 20 years I have had Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and no real help with it.

How will you as an individual make a difference?

By helping people to integrate, to get people connected and included. We're all in a mess, we all want change and a better society where those who need help, get it.

Who is your Enemy Number One?

Apathy

Why?
People don't want to look at things that aren't nice. Everyone puts a value on glamour and fame whilst ignoring homelessness, people with mental illness, alcohol and drug addiction.

Who do you admire?
People who overcome adversity - the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Ron Clark.

Why?
They are people who turn adversity into opportunities.

What is the best part of being in Occupy?
Being able to just do what you want. I feel like it is giving me my voice back. I feel part of something.

What is the worst part?

Rain. I thought the snow would be bad but it wasn't. It was really pretty, but the rain...mud and mess everywhere.

Is Occupy making a difference?
Yes. It's a worldwide movement. It has growing pains, but it is changing things.

How so?
We are all learning from each other, learning from our mistakes.

Anything else?
Being here has given me hope for something better. People do care. The fundamentals of human nature exist in the camp. It's not about anarchy for me, it's about making a difference.

Annie