On Saturday I visited the Occupy London protest at St. Paul’s Cathedral. I’d imagined that as the protesters had set up tents they would be mainly around the back in the gardens but the gardens are closed and padlocked and the protesters and their tents are all around the front and partially along the north side.
Immediately in front of the entrance a few wooden pallets had been piled on top of each other and a bloke stood on top with a microphone and was addressing the protesters and tourists who were assembled on the steps of St. Paul’s. The guy was talking about alcohol. It seems that the protesters have agreed that the protest should be alcohol and drug free but I suspect that some had been breaking the rules hence his speech. After this guy a series of people stood up and gave speeches. They seemed to have created a series of working parties. The woman form the kitchen talked about the times that food was served, a guy from the Tec Team talked about trying to set up a live streaming video link and another guy talked about setting up a Political Tent and where this should be located.
There were people there who were obviously knowledgable about the financial situation and one of the sign proclaimed a very specific demand: “End Fractional Reserve Banking”. Others appeared to be more protesters by temperament. Several people wore V for Vendetta masks which seems to have become a badge of the Anonymous movement. and one guy was dressed in a suit of armour. Other individuals seemed to have their own agendas that may or may not overlap with the Occupy movement. One guy wore a sort of billboard which attacked smoking. I talked to him and he was really just trying to get people to recognise that smoking was dangerous and, perhaps, should be banned. Another American guy was telling bloody curdling stories and seemed to have been at this quite a while. Another guy was dressed in some kind of weird Irish kilt and danced around proclaiming that Israel is a fulfilment if bible prophesy and that Jesus would soon return to become king of the world.
However, there was organisation here. Some of the speakers appeared to be seasoned protesters who had done this sort of thing before and it occurred to me that if you got involved in this sort of protest you’d run into the same problems again and again. It must be quite difficult to harness the energy of the protesters and direct it in a useful way.
Though I do believe that the protesters have a point I did not get the impression that this was a grass roots protest by people who had suffered specifically from the financial crisis. By that I mean that I saw nobody say that they had lost their job or lost their house or had some benefit cut. Whereas the media coverage of the protesters in New York gave me the impression that these people were involved at the Wall Street protests. This may just be a matter of time. As the cuts start to bite the government should be worried that this currently small scale protest might become the focus for a much bigger protest. As one of the protesters pointed out the Lord Mayor of The City of London is due to make a speech at St Paul’s soon and the protest could prove an embarrassment. It’s worth noting here that The City of London is the financial area and that Lord Mayor of The City of London is trustee of St. Paul’s. Perhaps this explains the apparent U-turn in policy toward the protesters?
An odd little hand gesture seemed to have evolved. By waving their hands and wiggling their fingers the protesters seemed to signal agreement and support tot he speakers. At one point a wedding party emerged from the cathedral, all suits and hats and dresses. They stood on the steps surrounded by the protesters while their photographer, amidst a sea of other photographers, made the best of a difficult assignment. The mood was very good natured, the confetti was thrown a cheer went up and the bride and groom swept their way through the crowd. I spoke to one of the guests who said it had been a beautiful ceremony.