Occupy London protesters have been evicted from St Paul's. In December, James Macintyre spent a night at the campby James Macintyre / December 14, 2011 / Leave a comment
Above: James Macintyre reports from the camp
Everyone is welcome, and they come from across the country: the unemployed, students, ex-soldiers, social workers—even an elaborately dressed transvestite wearing a short, fluffy pink skirt who is normally seen on the streets of Clapham. “Tent City,” an encampment of over 100 tents which sprawls around the north side of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, has become as much a refuge for the destitute as a site for political protest.
Images of the camp have commanded the news since mid-October, although as Boris Johnson, the mayor of London has pointed out, it has so far toppled not a single banker but three clergymen. Giles Fraser, the canon chancellor, resigned over the prospect of forced eviction of the protesters. He was followed by Fraser Dyer, a chaplain who resigned because he felt “embarrassed by the position taken by the Dean,” Graeme Knowles, whose support for eviction led to his own downfall.
Yet an overall political message from the protesters remains unclear, dissipated by arguments about process and leadership. There seems more substance and clear purpose to the camp’s soup kitchens and the medical tents thrown up at the site to care for London’s needy than there is to its political mission.
All the same, the camp—one of many protests which have sprung up across the world this year—cannot be dismissed. Politicians wonder whether this demonstration will help one party or another—or whether it is a new kind of protest, detached from conventional politics, which they need to court or counter. Months after activists erected the first tents, the central questions remain. Who are the protesters? What do they want? What will come of the battle that rages around their presence on what the City of London insists is an illegally-occupied “public highway”?
On a night in late November in which St Paul’s cathedral spire was lost in fog, many who emerged from the shadows to talk were homeless. Some had been sleeping rough for years, others only more recently, although spokespeople for the camp maintain that the homeless are only “a handful” of the 100-140 people who stay. The campers, a multi-ethnic mix, are fed in the soup kitchen by volunteers, including several part-time chefs; they say they feed up to 1,500 people a day, most of whom are just around the camp during the day. The volunteers’ chief concerns are the need for…