Tuesday, October 18, 2011

St Paul's Cathedral shelters the Occupy London protests

As the "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations spread across the globe, Reuters reports on a curious and welcome quirk of the UK protests. Several hundred protesters have occupied the steps and pitched tents outside the iconic St. Paul's Cathedral, situated in the City of London. The Occupy London movement had gathered there initially in order to protest at the nearby London Stock Exchange, and now the choice of meeting venue is bringing an interesting twist to the story.

As Reuters reports:

Now the cathedral is becoming an unexpected focal point of debate over the future of capitalism ... Almost swept from the area by police that night and the following morning, they [the protesters] were spared when cathedral authorities told officers to back off and allowed the protest to stay.

Blocked from their original target - the stock exchange on the other side of Ludgate Hill - several hundred people have set up camp, promising to emulate their U.S. counterparts and stay for weeks, months, or even longer.

And, intriguingly:

A church warden told the protesters the Corporation of London - the local government body that represents London's financial district - was putting the greatest pressure on police to end the occupation.

Late on Monday, a Corporation spokesman denied that was the case and said there were no plans to clear the demonstration "today or tomorrow". But he said the protesters were wrong to try to scapegoat the City of London.

We think the protesters are entirely right in their choice of target. See Nick Shaxson's Treasure Islands for the exposé of the role of the Corporation of London in secret and murky dealings, tax havenry, and the global financial crisis.

The article describes:
Beneath the massive dome, built by Sir Christopher Wren from 1675 after the church's destruction in the Great Fire of London, church services continued with prayers for those camping outside.... At one [service], Canon Giles Fraser told the congregation many of the world's problems were caused by financial greed.
A protester observed:
"I've always thought of churches as conservative institutions, as protective of the status quo," he told Reuters on the cathedral steps. "But I went in there yesterday and I saw a reverend of a huge cathedral essentially agreeing with what protesters are saying out here."
Crucially, Reuters notes:

With its reputation as a leading banking centre for the world's richest, critics say London law firms and wealth managers have grown increasingly adept at attracting Russian oligarchs, Arab potentates and sometimes dubious clients.

Members of the Mubarak and Gadaffi families both held expensive London properties through front companies registered in offshore tax havens such as Panama, believed to be only the tip of hidden investments. Inflows of foreign wealth have pushed up top end house prices and left many complaining of a widening and obvious income gap.

John Christensen, former economic adviser to the government of Jersey and now head of the Tax Justice Network which works to close loopholes, said he had travelled to London to talk to the protesters about London's status as what he calls the "world's largest money launderer". "These protests are hugely symbolically important," he said.

We also welcome that the article discusses a situation we have commented on before, that many of the regular workers in financial institutions are sympathetic on the issues.

Importantly, this article amongst so many reports, highlights the fact that this is a growing voice around the world that is demanding change:
Signs and banners on tents made it clear those at St Paul's viewed themselves as part of a much larger global protest movement.

As one of those banners said, and we wholeheartedly agree: "The people are too big to fail".


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