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Eviction from St Paul’s: Is this the end for Occupy London?

Kevin Rawlinson

139498522 300x200 Eviction from St Pauls: Is this the end for Occupy London?To most people, unfamiliar with the workings of a “General Assembly”, “consensus decision-making” and the “mic-check”, the most – perhaps only – widely recognisable thing about Occupy London has always been its campsite outside Sir Christopher Wren’s famous old Cathedral.

So, the dismantling of that camp, which began today following a final defeat in court, must mark the end of the movement as a relevant force, mustn’t it? Well, yes and no.

Members have for some time been involved in a kind of “rolling occupation” of east London and the City. A group of supporters – often those who have prior experience of squatting disused buildings and thus know how to get inside and, more importantly, exploit “squatters rights” to stay there – have identified and moved into a series of buildings.

Some of those manning the St Paul’s Cathedral camp had already given it up for lost before this morning’s appeal decision. “I don’t attach total significance to this place, the movement will exist somewhere else. Better that we move on and keep the debate going than try to fight over a fixed point,” said one recently, who did not want to be named.

Indeed, ‘this will be no Dale Farm’ has been a well-worn line ever since reality set in that High Court judges were not going to set aside legal concerns over the protest in favour of moral concerns over its right to encamp in central London. Beside a few – time will tell how many – who are likely to resist on principle, most prefer to move the bandwagon a little further up the road.

Besides, we’re only here by accident. This is just where we got stopped, we were aiming for Paternoster Square,” said an occupier.

The greater problem facing the Occupy London movement – larger than the disapproval of any UK court, none of which has yet proven nimble enough to stop the protesters simply occupying somewhere else when moved on, is the indifference of the public.

While it may take violence beamed into people’s living rooms to turn the majority from a position of relative ambivalence to one of avowed opposition to the movement and the way it is going about its business, their ignorance of its workings and – more importantly – of what it actually stands for (rather than simply what it stands against) is a festering and potentially mortal sore for Occupy.

People familiar with leaderless organisations and activism understand the processes by which Occupy makes its decisions and the values which inform its conduct. It is clear that many people agree that the system of finance and governance of Britain needs to be rethought to one degree or another. But too few currently fit into both groups.

The movement will surely not betray its founding principles. Electing a leader, even if in order to more effectively communicate and organise, would be unthinkable to most who feel strongly enough to camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral.

The eternal irony is that there is nevertheless influence to be claimed. In a movement with no official leadership, those with the loudest voices have always wielded the most effective power.

‘As long as we shun attachment to buildings and individual campsites in favour of attachment to the cause, we will be ok’, reason the occupiers. Unfortunately for them, keeping the public similarly ensconced may prove a greater challenge.

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