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An investor among the anti-capitalists

St Paul’s by way of Tahrir Square

A few days ago I paid a visit to see the St Paul’s campsite protestors who are demanding… well, something.

They don’t know exactly what they want and neither do I. Yet we all believe some changes are required – doubtless very different ones.

I had a pleasant enough time at St Paul’s, and thought the protestors were a genial bunch. It felt far more like the fringes of the Glastonbury Festival than Paris in 1968 – besides the tents and the harmless nutters, I was even met by a fire-tossing juggler.

Perhaps that’s the problem. The US protestors have their clever We Are The 99% slogan, which imperfectly points to financial elites as a symptom (and perhaps a cause) of today’s dysfunction.

In contrast, the St Paul’s mob seemed to be the same crew with the same varying agendas who have been cropping up at these things since I first moshed as a left-leaning student to The Levellers two decades ago.

It didn’t feel like a movement, or even a stalemate – just a bit stale.

Their flag said ‘capitalism is crisis’, and I don’t doubt their (often misguided) convictions. But the wider lack of energy, ideas, or leadership in the response to the SNAFU of the past four years suggests it’s socialism that’s in peril.

To me the camp almost felt like a dumb animal response to a hurt, some sort of festering that reveals a deeper wound, but no sign yet of a precise cause or cure.

As George Carey writes following yesterday’s resignation of Giles Fraser, the Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s and surprise ally of the protestors:

As the story developed, thermal images of empty tents seemed to illustrate the hollow nature of the protest movement. The emerging picture of spoilt middle-class children returning home at night for a shower and a warm bed begged questions about their commitment to their cause. It also seemed to suggest that the cathedral authorities in their initial welcome had been duped.

And what was the cause anyway? “This is what democracy looks like,” claimed Occupy’s opening statement. It explained that it was engaged in a process of public assemblies in a democratic process. But it is making up its demands as it goes along – truly rebels without a cause.

In some senses this is what our society now looks like. We are all protesters, even if we don’t take to the streets. We all have an inchoate sense that something is wrong and we have any number of culprits to blame – from Europe, to immigrants, to the banks, to politicians and media barons. Public distrust of the institutions of a civil society has reached an all-time high as the performance of some bankers, public servants and even recently some sections of our media has sunk to the lowest depths after waves of recent scandal.

This protest is distinctly lacking a Martin Luther King, a Bob Dylan, or even a Billy Bragg. But then so did all the uprisings of the Arab Spring. We seem to be everywhere morphing into a split society of ultra-elites and amorphous also-rans, and perhaps that’s part of the problem, too.

Anyway, here are a few photos of the St Paul’s camp for those who wouldn’t be seen dead near a hippy.

(All photos shot on my lovely new Panasonic TZ10).

St Paul's, from the heavily policed Paternoster Square direction

Clever. Big future in advertising for this student.

They say "is" crisis, I say "in" crisis, but let's not call the whole thing off.

Big Buddha is watching them, too.

Sun-powered salvation. I'm just *guessing* they've done this before.

Most of the walls had messages respectfully taped (rather than graffitied!) onto them. They varied from the sublime to the sub-Socialist Worker.

Real global democracy demanded: A hung parliament highly likely.

I was curious how they kept their tents rooted to the ground.

No London paving was injured in the making of this protest.

Have multi-purpose protest sign, will travel.

A bit like Camden market on a Saturday, without the smell of petunia oil and fried onions.

I'm not going to knock recycling bins. Shame they put so many ideas through them.

I bet this conveniently located branch of Blacks did a great trade in tents with the anti-capitalists. Presumably on the barter system.

...and bin the bankers?

Even the toilets were revolting. (Geddit?)

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{ 13 comments… add one }
  • 1 Willem de Leeuw October 28, 2011, 9:08 am

    Ahh, they remind me of some of the idealistic people I knew at school and university. They think they have the answers and want to change the world without actually understanding how the present world works.

    What’s the betting that if they actually got what they wanted – anacrchism (in the true sense e.g., living in self-regulating communes without a central government), communisim or any other -ism – they’d be the same guys then protesting that they want capitalism?

  • 2 ermine October 28, 2011, 10:27 am

    Nice piece of reporting from the coal face. What puzzles me is why they are picketing St Pauls, rather than Canary Wharf? There’s a nice piece of green in Canada Square in front of all sorts of bank people (HSBC,Barclays and Citi among others). Seems a bit tough to pick on God rather than Mammon. They need to take the battle to the enemy.

  • 3 The Investor October 28, 2011, 10:44 am

    Is that space at Canary Wharf public property? That’s the problem here. They want to be next door at Paternoster Square, but it is private property apparently (I presume the City of London corporation?) and they were booted out. It’s now guarded by quite a few police and there are signs up saying any rights of way are hereby revoked or similar (not sure about the legal technicalities).

  • 4 101 Centavos October 28, 2011, 12:09 pm

    Am I the only one that sees the delicious irony of a Rosie the Riveter poster being used to promote an anarchist book fair?

    Good shoe-leather reporting…

  • 5 Kagem October 28, 2011, 12:57 pm

    I agree with ermine – why aren’t they in the real heart of the City?

    I realise I may be in the minority with this thought but I think it’s really inappopriate that they are at St Paul’s because it is a place of worship for people who belong to the Church of England and I would feel the same if it was people protesting at a mosque, Hindu temple etc.

    I find it a bit disrespectful that the services at St Paul’s are being disrupted (I fail to believe they aren’t even in terms of noise) because of the protests. Why not stand outside the Gherkin?

    Why do they want to be at Paternoster Square?

    I just don’t get what they are protesting about per se – has capitalism earned the the clothes on their backs?

  • 6 Kagem October 28, 2011, 12:58 pm

    *them the clothes on their backs – I can’t spell, apologies.

  • 7 The Money Grower October 28, 2011, 3:32 pm

    @ Mr Monevator – Ermine is right – a nice bit of reporting from the coal face.

    You made reference to the Americans and the ‘we are the 99%’. My gut feeling from what I have read on the internet is that Americans have a totally different mentality to us in the UK.

    @ kagem – I think you would probably get many different answers to your ‘why are you protesting?’ question, depending on who you asked.

    There does seem to be a group of ‘protest-a-mob’ activists who show up wherever needed. Strip them out of the equation and I wonder how many ‘real’ protesters would be left.

  • 8 John H, Kidsgrove October 28, 2011, 4:36 pm

    fire-tossing juggler.

    Sure this should be fire-juggling tosser?

  • 9 Salis Grano October 28, 2011, 6:28 pm

    I visited a few days ago and your comments chime with my impressions. They are fairly incoherent, but I don’t think they are doing much harm and should probably be left alone. The closure of St. Paul’s seemed nonsensical and I suspect was due to internal church politicking.

    It’s not really an appropriate spot, logically, but it is getting them publicity which is the chief requirement.

  • 10 The Investor October 28, 2011, 6:43 pm

    They’ve now issued their demands, shifting the focus to the Corporation of London for pragmatic reasons. According to that Guardian article:

    The page-long list of demands says that democratic reform of The City Of London Corporation is “urgently needed” and describes City institutions as “unconstitutional and unfair”.

    The statement, which has been authored by 17 people over the last six days, also calls for an end to the corporations’s own police force and judicial system which affords the square mile vast amounts of freedom to run its own affairs.

    “The risk-taking of the banks has made our lives precarious – they are accountable to no one but themselves, unduly influencing government policy across the centuries both at home and abroad. This is not democracy,” the statement adds.

    The list, which is expected to be ratified before publication at a general meeting at 1.30pm on Friday, also called for:

    • An end to business and corporate block-votes in all council elections, which can be used to outvote local residents.

    • Abolition of existing “secrecy practices” within the City, and total and transparent reform of its institutions to end corporate tax evasion.

    • The decommissioning of the City of London police with officers being brought under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan police force.

    • Abolition of the offices of Lord Mayor of London, the Sheriffs and the Aldermen.

    • And a truth and reconciliation commission to examine corruption within the City and its institutions.

    Regardless of the merits, it’s blatantly opportunistic.

  • 11 Barry Daft October 31, 2011, 2:50 am

    The choice of location is brilliant and draws the church into the mix. Most bishops have their heads stuck up their mitres and dare not enter public affray. That camp gives then no choice but to speak out. I delight in their discomfort. George Carey, the ex Arch Bishop of Canterbury wrote, “….it seems that on the doorstep of St Paul’s, of all places, yet another blow has been struck against Christian worshippers. In this case, “anarchist” protesters threatened the freedom to worship – one of our most basic and hard-fought-for rights – by forcing the cathedral authorities to halt public access.”

    Well the thing is George, I am happy to sit on the steps of your church while your Church is happy to preach ethics and morals to the needy, vulnerable and gullible. Your church with an investment portfolio worth nearly £6 billion, continues to put it’s own profits before ethics. Your church has invested over £170.8 million in BP, Shell and Exxon Mobil. These three companies have accepted responsibility for the worst oil disasters in recent history whether in the Gulf of Mexico, the Niger Delta or Alaska. They have been judged amongst the least ethical companies on the planet. Also your church has, untill very recently and only after adverse publicity and preassure, relinquished the £20+ million invested in the arms dealers, GEC and British Aerospace.

    You are a money lender devoid of ethical scruples when and where a profit is to be made. How does this reflect the integrity of your Christian thought and practice?

    Further more, in the UK, your church stands in the way of a properly democratic government. The 26 most senior bishops of the Church of England have by right, a seat and a vote in the national legislature, in the House of Lords. This is an affront to democracy and until we have a disestablishment of church and state and such feudal privileges that you enjoy are removed, your church must be seen as an enemy of the people.

    Please be forewarned I shall be visiting the steps of your church again in the near future and no matter what discomfort you may feel about that, it in no way amounts to the anger and frustration many ordinary citizens have for you and the institution you represent.

  • 12 K.N. Swamy November 1, 2011, 3:55 am

    I disagree that the camp should have a precise demand for cure or point precisely at a cause to their misgivings. I am in the US and I see these protests as a response to gross unfairness they see in the way their institutions are working. The financial elite may not be the cause of the dysfunction today but the financial institutions have been dealt a far fairer deal with their mess-ups compared to the ordinary homeowners who were actively marketed all the risky mortgages. None of the refinancing or reworking the mortgages have worked, but the banks have settled most of their fraud charges without accepting any wrongdoing (recently citigroup, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/opinion/sunday/friedman-did-you-hear-the-one-about-the-bankers.html). A sane and stable society should have protests like the Occupy mvmt to highlight the gross unfairness and the dysfunctional institutions. It will be bad for a democracy if such protests don’t happen. The govt institutions must come up with ways and regulations to avoid such financial messups in the future and not demand these protesters for a solution. I wrote more about this in my blog at http://macroecons.blogspot.com/2011/10/occupy-movement-is-not-bunch-of-cry.html

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    o me the camp almost felt like a dumb animal response to a hurt, some sort of festering that reveals a deeper wound, but no sign yet of a precise cause or cure.

  • 13 Ross Parker November 14, 2011, 4:03 pm

    Seriously? Everyone knows that EC4M is the City of London, not Westminster. It’s not like they’re short of time to research these things.

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