Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Church and State.

After work I headed into town, met up with Eleanor and went off to have a look round the Occupy London site outside St Paul's. We'd gone to see a debate at the Cathedral about the radicalism of Jesus' mission, but on the back of two resignations and the continuing fears about safety and public disorder, the event was, ironically if unsurprisingly, cancelled. The church has really missed a trick with this one. The worries seem to be more about how having a lot of unwashed hippies on the doorstep will effect box office takings in the gift shop rather than engaging with the larger questions surrounding the increasing gap between the rich and poor.

So with the doors of St Pauls firmly closed we instead spent some time in the camp. It's an impressive set up. The largest marquee has been given over as a space for free lectures and seminars. An impassioned debate about public space was raging. During the day a full programme of events are publicised outside, offering everything from talks on the geo-political challenges of the next decade to placard making workshops. Next door is a small library where members of the camp swap books and supporters of the protest bring regular donations.

A little way along an avenue of pop ups is the makeshift media centre where three bespectacled men sat furiously typing responses to the thousands of supportive messages coming in from around the world. The tent is a geeks haven of wires and laptops, all illuminated by a single light bulb run from a noisy mini generator. Next door are the kitchens where huge metal cauldrons bubbled with veggie stews and coffee is handed out to all visitors and beyond that a jam tent, complete with a piano and a couple of broken stringed guitars.

At the centre of it all a small gazebo works as a control point. Lists of needs - food, literature, equipment is scrawled up on a whiteboard, whilst new supplies and donations are registered and distributed. New arrivals also check in here and are either allocated a plot or a place in one of the existing tents. And, as long as this is a fun and diverting place to be, they will keep coming. The headache for the authorities is that for many protestors the Occupy site isn't a necessary discomfort. Its a real social alternative to homelessness or destitution. It won't be easily shifted.

At one end of the camp guarding the entrance to Paternoster Square stood two police officers, refusing to let anybody go near this privatised area. They were, for the most part, ignored.

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