Occupy London - one year on
A year ago this week 250 activists descended on St Paul’s Cathedral to protest against banker excesses and corporate greed which precipitated global financial collapse.
Formed in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement, Occupy London aimed to highlight the injustices of the economic recession generated by the wealthiest 1%.
Originally the protesters intended to occupy the London Stock Exchange, but such ambitions were thwarted by the police and a high court judge who ruled that occupation of the Square Mile of private land was illegal. Instead the protesters set up camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral until they were forcibly evicted in February 2012.
An initial statement, signed by 500 supporters called for social justice and economic equality. They expressed resolute opposition to public sector spending cuts and called for an end to an undemocratic system that puts corporate profits before people and the environment.
The protesters demands were met with varying response from politicians, the church, and the media.
The movement first won the support of Dr Giles Fraser, ex-canon chancellor at St Paul’s Cathedral, who resigned in October 2011 because he could not accept the idea of violence being used on the Church grounds to evict the protesters. He has since been a strong advocate of their cause.
Across the Atlantic, Occupy London attracted the attention of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who addressed the camp in person on December 15 2011. Pledging his support for the actions taken by the protesters Reverend Jackson noted that,
“Jesus Christ, Gandhi and Martin Luther king were all occupiers”.
He added that:
“Occupy is a global spirit, which is now sweeping the nation and the world, fighting for justice for all of God’s children.”
To mark the first anniversary since the birth of the movement, four women from Occupy London disrupted an evening sermon at St Paul’s Cathedral by chaining themselves to the pulpit. They accused the Church of colluding with bankers and failing to help the poor.
Meanwhile questions are being asked about what the movement has achieved. Occupy London has not been able to stop Britain falling into double dip recession or reverse the Coalition’s austerity programme which continues to disproportionately penalise the poor. Unemployment among 18-24 year olds has risen to 23% and huge banker bonuses are still the norm. Hundreds of thousands of jobs lost in the public sector have not been replaced and the welfare state is under attack. The government has identified the need to cut welfare by a further £10billion.
Earlier this year Dan Hodges, contributing editor of the political website, Labour Uncut, said he believed that the Occupy movement was a failure and would not be remembered, “because it didn’t really have a message.” In his view it was ”a great myth” that the movement was driving public opinion.
Yet while also stating that the movement’s objectives were “incoherent”, it is noted in this week’s Economist that the movement has pushed the issue of social inequality higher up the political agenda. In this week’s special report on the global economy it notes that the share of national income going to the richest 1% is increasing and that such social inequality is ultimately dangerous and inefficient.
Many have agreed that Occupy London is a mass movement in its infancy and is necessary and inspiring. It has succeeded in stirring the consciousness of the 99% and united people from all walks of life to stand up for their rights, take action and demand change.