#OccupyLondon - the start of a new general interest

Occupy London is fundamentally different in nature to the occupations in Madrid and Greece. It is small, but determined, and is on sacred ground: the skirts of St Paul's Cathedral. But how long will the anti-city in the City last?
Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
19 October 2011

This article is part of a series on the #Occupy movements.

I joined Occupy London briefly last night and will do so as frequently as I can for as long as it remains. The movement to occupy squares is tremendously important. I was convinced of this when I went to the occupation at the Plaza del Sol in Madrid in the summer (see my interview with Beatriz Pérez). I also visited Syntagma Square in Athens, in July, which was very different. It was much closer to a traditional protest of people who knew in their hearts they were going to lose - rather than feeling in their hearts that they were starting something new that could win, as was palpable in Spain.

London is different from both. It’s small, it is only beginning to get organised, but it seems determined. It is also very cold! A tremendous advantage that Madrid had in the summer was that the numbers really grew at 6pm and it was T-shirts through to midnight and free sun-protection oil for the days.

Another difference which may turn out to be exceptionally important is that the gathering skirts the awesome, freshly cleaned and floodlit St Pauls: it occupies not public space but private, indeed sacred ground. Canon Giles Fraser said they could stay. If the Church continues to give permission, the police cannot evict. This alters the dynamics and the tension.

I feel sure that the police strategy was to stop the march on the Stock Exchange and shut the whole thing down asap, last week, with a conscious view of preventing any encampment. Instead, last night's General Assembly discussed hygiene and noise and proposed to create a Tranquility working party so that people could get the necessary sleep.

I know there is a lot of scepticism about the occupation's melange of demands and determinedly unpolitical approach, especially by some of the more militant who were involved in the Winter protest and Fight Back! But I think it is wrong to see what is happening from the optic of traditional politics. The peaceful encampment legitimises a claim to stay and if they stay then there will be a permanent anti-city in the City appealing to a new general interest.

Whoops! It seems that St Paul's is losing money badly as visitor numbers fall and they want OccupyLondon to leave. According to tomorrow's Daily Telegraph, "A cathedral spokesman denied that they would be forced away but said: 'We’re encouraging them to leave. We’re essentially appealing to their better nature.'" And the Church's better nature? Phew! @occupyLSX have tweeted me to say that the Telegraph (and apparently the Times) are stirring and OccupyLondon is in a "constructive dialogue" with St Paul's. When you go along, put a note into the Church's donation box with a sticker attached saying support the occupation...

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