By Caroline Colebrook
PROTESTERS from all over Britain and from many different backgrounds assembled around St Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London last Saturday, intending to begin an indefinite occupation of Paternoster Square, immediately outside the London Stock Exchange.
But their way was barred by a heavy police cordon. Paternoster Square, it seems, is private property, so they stayed put and began their occupation in St Paul’s churchyard.
There were some verbal objections to the police cordon but no serious attempt to breach it. The demonstrators were peaceful, good humoured and totally non-violent.
Yet within half-an-hour the City of London police reacted in a very heavy handed way and kettled the protesters, preventing them leaving or anyone else joining them until late in the evening.
Police also tried to prevent the demonstrators sitting or standing on the steps of the cathedral in order to “protect” it.
But the Reverend Dr Giles Fraser, canon chancellor of St Paul’s, asked the police to move on, because he “didn’t feel that it needed that sort of protection”.
He declared himself a supporter of the democratic right to peaceful protest and said the aims of the protest were in keeping with Christian values.
“This morning I read a bit from Matthew Chapter Six, about how you can’t serve God and money.”
A wedding party booked for the cathedral that day had to make their way through the crowd.
It was a noisy and colourful assembly with many inventive hand-written placards and fancy dress, including one who came as Jesus Christ with a placard declaring: “I drove the money changers out of the temple for a reason.”
Many were wearing Guy Fawkes masks as part of the “Anonymous Group”.
Other banners and placards declared the protesters to be the “99 per cent” or ordinary people, who are fed up with the remaining one per cent holding all the wealth and power.
The occupation was part of a huge global event. On than day similar occupations took place in around 1,000 cities around the world, inspired by the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstration in New York, which is now in its third week.
Speakers on the first day included Wikileaks found Julian Assange, after police had insisted he remove his “V” Guy Fawkes mask.
By the end of the day around 300 protesters remained in occupation. They had brought tents, organised food, portable toilets and a series of activities. Megaphone announcements urged campers to pick up their litter.
By Sunday the tone of the police had eased and a good relationship with the campers had been established. How long that will last when the City authorities demand the camp is cleared is another matter. But since it is on church land and has church support at the moment there is little police can do.
By Monday the campers were still there in force and as the City bankers and as traders made their way to work after the weekend they were confronted by peaceful but persistent challenges to their ethics and their greed.
By Tuesday the campers were inviting the City workers to have dinner with them and engage in discussions.
A handful of the protesters have worked in the City and know its ways from the inside but have turned their back on it because of the damage that capitalism in its most extreme form is doing to the rest of the population of the world.
John McDonnell MP, leader of the Labour Representation Committee called for support for the occupation and tabled an Early Day Motion calling on MPs to support the occupation – the real “big society”.
He had intended to speak at the rally in St Paul’s churchyard but was prevented from reaching it by the police kettle.
McDonnell described the protesters as “inchoate and incoherent” and from a wide spectrum but said they deserved the full support of the labour and trade union movement.