An Open Letter to the St Paul’s Protesters
What is the significance so far of "Occupy LSX"?
I will be sorry to see you go. I work in the City of London, and I have walked past your tents most days since you camped in the churchyard of St Paul's Cathedral. Anyone who knows the area around the Cathedral will appreciate that you have not been any genuine obstruction. Indeed, one almost has to go out of one's way to be obstructed by you. No one walking from, say, Ludgate Hill, or St Paul's Tube, or from the Millennium Bridge is impeded. Your stay has made no real difference to the coming and goings of the City workers in that part of the City.
But you are now to be evicted. Your removal is inevitable, unless there is some unexpected intervention. The immediate environs of the Cathedral will return to their boring relative emptiness. The Cathedral itself will revert to its role as offering a peaceful and reflective place for tourists to be financially exploited for visiting what is sometimes a place of worship. The Dean and Chapter can again maximise their revenues without any worry of the protesters outside.
The bailiffs and the police may now come at any time, probably within the next few days. The City Of London's press officer refused to tell me exactly when. Will it be later today, I asked, but he said he would not speculate. So have the bailiffs already been, I then asked mischievously, and he still would not speculate. All one knows is that you have to remove your camp in a reasonable amount of time.
If the City is going to be sensible in the eviction operation, it should evict you during daylight. That makes it safer for everyone. And they should do it when there are few commuters, office workers, and tourists about; again, to minimise risk to third parties. For these reasons, I suspect eviction will probably be at the weekend. And coming in at dawn will perhaps mean few will be prepared to argue back or obstruct: sleepy-heads are relatively easy to evict.
On the other hand, the City may like the drama of a night-time eviction, or the media coverage of a week-day eviction, regardless of the safety of those who may be caught up. However, no one really knows.
Should you resist? Well, it is a decision for each of you. There is no genuine prospect of you defeating the coercive force which may be used against you. Your resistance, as they say, would be futile. And it would be a pity if there was any confrontation; the "Occupy" movement is about engagement, not violence. Marching off together at an time of your own choosing, with a brass band or something similar, would be a more fitting conclusion to your stay in the churchyard. And this is because you do have something to celebrate.
I understand you did not intend to camp outside the Cathedral. The target of the occupation was originally elsewhere in the City. But by choosing the Cathedral as a second or third resort, you unintentionally created a remarkable circumstance. Within days most of the cathedral clergy were shown up as buffoons, closing this great building on dramatic but spurious health and safety grounds before sheepishly re-opening. The undemocratic and opaque Corporation were forced to a decision to evict you in a bizarre closed session, demonstrating their contempt for transparency. Just by staying put you shoved those in power into uncomfortable and telling predicaments. It was refreshing to see how things were thrown into the air.
And you have been decent and polite throughout your stay. The camp has applied health and safety measures which show a genuine care for yourselves and those who could be affected by you. There has been sincere and often constructive engagement on various issues with bankers, lawyers and other City workers. You have been a standing reminder that the force of capitalism may not be what its champions say it is. In my opinion, you have been a useful if colourful corrective to the arrogance and financial vandalism of many who work in the Square Mile.
Nonetheless, you failed to convince the High Court and the Court of Appeal that your camp should stay in breach of the laws of the highway and of planning. That was unfortunate, as it was possibly open to the judges to say that a significant and influential protest like yours was just the sort of thing that Article 10 of the ECHR is there to protect against the indifferent enforcement of statute law. However, your arguments were presented and heard, even the contentions that smacked of complete legal woo-woo ("heirs of Magna Carta") were considered. But you lost. Of course, you may wish now to be civilly disobedient and take on the bailiffs. As long as you realise the consequences, it is a course you may like to take; but remember the Rule of Law is precarious and a valuable public good, for without it the powerful can abuse the power which they have, and you do not.
So the camp will soon disappear, but the ideals of "Occupy" will perhaps linger in the City of London. You have shown that anti-capitalistic and other progressive protests do not have to be one-day wonders with violent disorder and breathless commentary, but that they can be patient and respectful even in the face of those which you say are destroying our society and our planet. For a short while, you were even the "Shock of the New", causing some well-paid managers to make the first difficult decisions of their careers.
Your immediate shock value has now gone. It would be nice if you could stay a while longer as a reminder that capitalism gets things badly wrong. But the great achievement of "Occupy LSX" was never the physical camp. It was the realisation that those in power can be wrong-footed, and that their bullshit can be exposed, by those who are serious and thoughtful about promoting a better world. This can be done anywhere, and not just in a churchyard of a Cathedral.
David Allen Green is a City lawyer as well as legal correspondent of the New Statesman
Tags: Occupy London