Down and Out in Occupy London

Dark, brooding and incongruously ugly, the Occupy London’s Tent City offers an apocalyptic vision of a post-recession Britain. A nightmarish vision of austerity, middle-class slum or a utopian commune, it really depends on your point of view. Marxist cuckoos in the Anglican’s nest, the anti-capitalist protesters have turned the public piazza outside St Paul’s Cathedral into a new found democracy.

Organised by a hash tag and riddled with contradictions, the Occupy protesters are a malleable bunch. Predominately under the age of thirty, if not younger, the hardcore militants protesting at St Paul’s are invariably white educated liberals or students as they are more commonly known.

Campaigning against banker bonuses, corporate greed and the grotesque spectacle of UK business executives giving themselves a 50% increase in their salaries. Something had to be done. Identifying what is wrong with modern capitalism but thus far offering no concrete solutions, Occupy London has a lot in common with social-democratic politicians like Barack Obama and Ed Miliband. Awaiting genuine leadership, a big bang moment has yet to strike a chime with the protesters at St Paul’s.

With up to 150 tents living cheek by jowl on frozen concrete, the protesters come from different social and economic backgrounds but slumming it is a real leveller. Speaking about his experience mingling with tramps, George Orwell wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier, “Once you’re in that world and seemingly of it, it hardly matters what you have been in the past. It is a sort of world-within-world where everyone is equal, a small squalid democracy – perhaps the nearest thing to a democracy that exists in England.”

Although unlike the lowly tramps in Orwell’s essay, the anti-capitalist protesters occupying St Paul’s are bound by idealism not poverty. Coming from good homes and largely well-educated, the Occupy camp will have enjoyed wealth, comfort and opportunities for most of their young lives.

It is the fear of these privileges being taken away from them that propels them to the streets. Those worst affected by capitalism, the grizzly anonymous men loitering in street corners drinking cider, are nowhere to be seen. Instead a bizarre congregation of misfits preside over a spectacle of awareness against a system that continues to feed them.

As the global economic crisis of 2008 has already shown, ordinary people have become helpless components in a computerised market system, which we are seemingly powerless to challenge or change. And nothing will change as a result of this protest camp. To pretend otherwise is to miss the point entirely.

Occupy London is merely a piss stain on the carpet of the establishment. A metaphorical protest that is more likely to be dismantled by dropping temperatures than police bailiffs. However, it offers a fascinating insight into the collective values of middle-class idealism. Those whose essential needs have been satisfied and yet dream of changing the world order for the greater good of society.

With police thermal images showing 90% of tents at St Paul’s are unoccupied in the early hours, the protesters have been accused of hypocrisy and self-indulgence. Returning home to warm bedrooms, eating gourmet sandwiches from a nearby Marks and Spencers and tweeting solidarity on luxury smartphones, there are benefits to capitalism that not even the most militant-protester would want to lose.

This fractious community are representative of an increasingly divided country, angry at injustice and corporate greed, but still more likely to pay homage to Steve Jobs than Karl Marx. Unnerving as it might be to suggest, the otherwise noble idealism of the protesters regularly falls short at the first touch of reality. All the while the genuinely impoverished and historical victims of the market system are nowhere to be seen.


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