Occupying St Paul’s

UK Protestors Ahead on Points

The Tumultuous Conclusion of Round One

By Tom Aitken in London

Soon after I last reported, a part-time ‘junior’ member of the St Paul’s Cathedral clerical team resigned.

Then, on the day when Dean Paul Knowles and the Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres, had a discussion with the demonstrators, the Dean himself resigned.

As the man directly responsible for the closure he thoughthe could not credibly preside over the radical change of policy that was needed.

Bishop Chartres has temporarily taken over. He announced that the Cathedral would take no legal action to remove the demonstrators and, in broad terms, supported their aims.

He suggested, however, that they substitute for the encampment outside a single tent inside.

Later the same day the Corporation of the City of London announced that, subject to agreement on matters such as urination, and banners and bikes attached to railings, it would allow the camp to stay until after Christmas.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, now back in town, told the Financial Times and the BBC that the protest was saying something which needed to be said. He endorsed a ‘Robin Hood’ tax on financial transactions.

Prime Minister David Cameron said that he too favoured that step––if it were undertaken simultaneously by a large number of countries.

The demonstrators divide themselves into groups to discuss possible courses of action. Then they hold plenary sessions to agree proposals to be put to Cathedral and City authorities.

I watched one of these. The Cathedral steps were crowded with listeners, as their negotiators explained what was going on.

A code of hand-signals expresses varying degrees of approval or disapproval. Vigorous approval is indicated by holding your hands above your head and wiggling your fingers. To disapprove, you cross your arms and, again, the higher you hold them, the stronger your feeling.

Between each point debated the listeners may speak. Sometimes this leads to an off-megaphone huddle and a revised statement of intent.

All this is generally good-natured.

The same applies to the reception of visitors who wish to ask questions or express disapproval of what is going on.

I saw a black man, clearly a practiced participant in street theatre, giving a solo performance, which began

‘If you is white

then you’s all right.

If you is brown, then stick aroun.

But if you’s black…’

At this point he collapsed, painfully convincingly, into a kind of rolling fit, with twitching limbs and grimaces to match.

A smartly dressed West Indian woman, watching with mounting indignation, intervened to drag away a large strip of paper on which racist and anti-racist slogans were inscribed.

An American camper grabbed it back. ‘Hey, don’t take his stuff. You may think he’s wrong. I may think he’s wrong. But he’s entitled to express his opinion.

The woman shook her head violently and gestured upwards at the façade of the Cathedral. ‘No, he’s not. Not here. This is God’s house, not his.’

‘Oh,’ said, the American. ‘I thought it was everyone’s house.’

The woman snorted at what she evidently considered provocative sophistry.

Many of the demonstrators can be very charming. A young West Indian spent some while expounding, to a young city gent and me, his preferred solution to the world’s economic ills. The city gent said, I think sincerely, ‘You’ve really thought this through. You ought to be on the podium.’

When I pointed out to the West Indian that such schemes sound wonderful, but are never fully achieved, he said that, given time and true democracy, a system such as he proposed would inevitably evolve, as would total cessation of war.

I expressed scepticism on both counts.

‘Gee, man,’ he said, ‘you’re real pessimistic.’

‘I’m not pessimistic,’ I said,  ‘just seventy years old.’

His eyes widened, ‘I tell you, my man, you sure don’t look it.’

I had known all along that he was intelligent.

Another young man I spoke too had spent ten months in New Zealand last year. He has very pleasant memories of Mount Manganui, and is distressed by what oil has done to it.

All things considered, then, round one goes to the protesters. In London they are looking for a third site in the city, since they have agreed to reduce numbers at St Paul’s and Finsbury Park is virtually full.

(Occupations have begun also in Bath, Bristol, Birmingham and Bradford.)

It may turn out, of course, that self-interested calculation lies behind the City’s changed attitude. Perhaps they suppose that forcible dispersion could lose them more than they could possibly gain, and that time will wear down protest.

Meanwhile, they appear to be losing part of the argument. Many specialist commentators on economics are saying that, left unregulated, capitalism will always produce a small, absurdly wealthy plutocracy, and a very large underclass in perpetual economic difficulty: regulation is necessary.

Equally, they know that most bankers will not regulate themselves, believing that in making themselves monstrously rich they are ‘creating wealth’.

My perceptive young West Indian believes that ‘true democracy’ will one day eliminate this self-deluding greed. He may live long enough to see that happen. I certainly won’t.