They claim to be the 99%, the protesters at the Occupy London camp outside the front of St Paul's Cathedral. They're possibly the 50%, representing the views of mainstream Britons uneasy at the influence of business and banking in our recession-hit society. They're really the 0.001%, based on the proportion of the UK population who can actually be bothered to set up tents in central London and live in them forthwith. I've been down, because I wanted to see what could possibly be so awful that this esteemed place of worship has closed its doors. And you know, I'm 99% sure I can't tell what the cathedral's problem is.
They've been here a week now, the protesters, part of a global campaign to rally society against the iniquities of corporate greed. Initially the Cathedral welcomed them, at least cautiously, as they set up camp in the piazza out front round the Queen Anne statue. A sea of tents, mostly the small cheap type you get from Argos or Milletts, to create the ultimate pop-up protest in the heart of the City [photo]. A good choice of location too, because there aren't many public-ish open spaces in the Square Mile, let alone with a ready-made stream of passing tourists to impact upon (and some convenient shops and cafés for refreshment purposes).
Capitalism Is Crisis, says a large green banner strung out between lampposts, with People Are Not Profit added alongside for good measure [photo]. An entire community has evolved, with first aid tent, canteen and information point. Recycling bins and portaloos are in place, the former with a stern sign not to dispose of urine bottles within. There's even a Tent City University, whose aim is "to create a non-hierarchical, open and inclusive space in which people can come together to share, teach and learn", because it's that sort of place. Most, but by no means all of those sitting around are young, and are busily engaged with one another (and with visitors) in earnest conversation. The atmosphere is entirely totally 100% non-threatening. Unless you're a banker with a conscience, that is, in which case it may give you the willies.
Dear General Public. Our democracy is broken, and we are staying here until it is fixed. We are angry at the bankers' bailout, the corrupt politicians, the cuts, the privatisation of the NHS, the undemocratic power of the IMF, the untrustworthy media, the wars waged without consent and the Corporatisation of Everything. We are angry that this country, like so many others, is being run by a few people for their own profit instead of for the benefit of all. We are not some special interest group. We are you. If you have any ideas about how we can do this better, please tell us. Better yet, join us. Come down for a day, or stay for weeks. Come to an assembly and voice your views. We are not going away. This is not a protest. This is the resistance. We are the 99%. Expect us.
The protesters would prefer to be closer to the London Stock Exchange, their primary target, but the LSE is based in Paternoster Square nextdoor to the cathedral and that's private land. A sign at each entrance announces "any licence to the public to enter or cross this land is revoked forthwith" and "any such entry will constitute a trespass". Official tenants are allowed in, on production of proof of identity, but otherwise the Square is a no-go-zone. That's bad news for the bars, restaurants and businesses within who suddenly have no footfall, but the protesters unsurprisingly aren't bothered by that. It also gives the City Police somewhere convenient to park a fleet of riot vans, in case the protest suddenly turns nasty, and somewhere to stand around while that turning nasty continues not to happen.
And what of the religious life of the cathedral? That would appear to be seriously compromised, as the tall wooden doors remained firmly shut on Sunday morning for the first time since the Blitz. The Dean put out a statement on Friday, announcing that the cathedral would be closed until further notice "because of the legal requirements placed upon us by fire, health and safety issues." This came as a surprise to the protesters who'd taken the advice of the Fire Brigade earlier in the week and rearranged their tents to ensure emergency access. The side entrance, the one with the wheelchair ramp, remains entirely unobstructed. Even round the front, approaching from Ludgate Hill, a broad protester-free path is freely available. Indeed, I have to say it was damned simple to walk through the camp, or indeed not through the camp, and climb the steps with ease to the cathedral's closed doors [photo]. Bad news for tourists - no admittance, not even an apologetic pinned-up message explaining to disappointed visitors what was going on. The only advice for worshippers was to go and celebrate Eucharist at St Vedast's Church in Foster Lane instead... but no further clues as to where that might be, which seemed more than a little unhelpful.
I think we can assume that capitalism is unlikely to crumble in consequence to a tented village round the corner from Merrill Lynch, however noble its intentions. I fear that the Dean of St Paul's is unlikely to reconsider his risk register, however seemingly unnecessary his safety shutdown appears. And I suspect that this communal occupation is entrenched for the long haul, at least until the portaloo system collapses or until forcibly evicted by the powers that be. So expect stalemate at the Cathedral for the foreseeable future. The 1% will not be changed, and the 99% will not be moved.