Occupy London: Eyewitness report

Occupy London Stock Exchange on Saturday was well mannered to the point of tedium, reports our man on the ground Charles Orton-Jones

It was billed a global Day of Rage. But my eye-witness record of events of Sunday at St Paul’s was of a peaceful, sleepy sit-in.

The event started at midday. The sun shone in a blue sky.

Paternoster Square, to the side of the Cathedral, was closed. So the protestors’ occupation was redirected to the steps of St Paul’s. Once the steps and terrace were full the police erected a kettle-line to stop any more protestors entering. Nor was egress permitted.

From that point everyone was stuck where they were. The Occupation had begun. Numbers? Hard to say. Two thousand, maybe. The police said they didn’t know.

The atmosphere? Overwhelmingly amiable. Protestors compared banners. There was a lot of waiting. More waiting.

One chap had a drum, which he beat slowly when the mood took him. A chant might spring up, run for a minute, and fizzle out. “There are many, many more of us than you…” was one monotonous line, sung to She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain.

I tried to ascertain which groups had turned up. The Guido Fawkes masks suggested the libertarians and right-wing anarchists had arrived up in healthy numbers. Socialist Worker billboards were dotted around. Rumour was that Julian Assange of Wikileaks was speaking. I couldn’t hear him. No one around me could.

To break the tedium I pulled out my dictaphone and asked a few of the congregation why they were keen to Occupy London.

Chris from Cornwall caught my eye. He wore a bright orange workman’s jerkin and a comic grey plastic helmet. “Should I do an interview?” he wondered out loud. “I’ve just done a fat pipe 20 minutes ago.”

I asked why he had turned up. “I came just to be here really. There is a lot of disillusionment. Down in Cornwall where we live, you feel you are so isolated from what goes on in here in the City and where decisions are made, which affect us in the country, that we both felt, me and my brother, compelled to come up. I wanted to make the 300 mile trip, to the capital of our country, to make a stand and be counted.”

Self-employed with a geodesic-dome marquee business, Chris admitted he had no immediate solutions for the financial crisis, but suggested a redistribution of wealth would be a start. “I like to think this is the start of a lifetime of changes which will see a fairer system. Don’t get me wrong, I pay my taxes and have benefitted from the system in many ways, but I’d like to see a fairer system.”

I moved on. Costa Coffee and Pret a Manger were thriving. The Earl of Sandwich café was doing a good trade.

I approached a cheerful middle-aged woman who had found a quiet corner to sit and amend her sign with black paint.

“I am Jesse from Brighton.” she began. “I have come here today to resist the harsh and unjust cuts which are taking place right now as a result of the banking crisis. We didn’t cause this crisis. We are also here in solidarity with people who are resisting around the world, in Athens, Spain, Latin America and Wall Street.”

What action would she like to see?

She laughed. “Er, good question”. She paused for thought. “Strengthening the resistance movement. Showing that if we stand together there are ways to get big government to change. And to create alternatives on the ground.”

She didn’t see the wide variety of aims and ideologies of the various groups attending as a weakness. “It means we have lot of creative discussions”.

After saying my cheerios, I dashed off to a group of frowning young men holding a banner: “Google RBE (Resource Based Economy)”. Surely these chaps would have some revolutionary ideas.

And they did. In abundance.

The Zeitgeist movement, I learned, wants to abolish money, to be replaced by a total global system of planning. Their spokesman told me: “We have 30 people here from our movement. We advocate a system where you evaluate the entire planet and you quantify all its assets and its elements and use them accordingly.”

The finite nature of our planet’s resources makes our current system “ludicrous”. Other Zeitgeisters told me of their plans to use automated technologies and other scientific notions to eradicate want and, if I understood correctly, work.

“We are just one idea in a sea of proposals here today” they confessed, apparently not minding too much.

I spoke to a half a dozen other campaigners. One chap wanted to re-issue the money supply. A student had come specifically to talk about tuition fees. All were friendly and calm. None had any expectation that the event would produce quick results.

On Ludgate Hill three vans of light-blue-capped Met Police sit in their vans, dozing or reading.

By 4pm I was bored. With no marching, no audible debate and no real debate between participants it was hard to stay motivated.

Truth is that St Paul’s is a tough area to occupy. No grass for tents. There are few toilet facilities – though I gather the police have shipped in half a dozen portaloos. Trips to Costa Coffee for refreshment will soon add up.

The Occupy protest in Barcelona attracted more than 100,000 protestors on Saturday. Occupy Wall Street has been going for three weeks.

London’s movement is clearly struggling to match that intensity.

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