What is the Occupy camp at St. Paul’s really like?

It’s almost impossible to see through the spin and opinion in the mainstream media to get a picture of what the Occupy London Stock Exchange (LSX) camp at St. Paul’s is really like. Earlier this week a friend and I spent the morning there to get a feel of what’s going on…
Welcome tent: “Caring is everyone’s business. Our presence here expresses concern for global eco-nomics and social justice.”
From the welcome tent onwards the camp was clean and well organised. Events, activities, seminars, noticeboards, jobs to do, FAQ – it’s all there.
 
The Welcome tent backs onto the library and ‘tent university’ (a room for seminars.)
 
Everyone I spoke to seemed to have a clear role – chef, taking witness statements, welfare team, clean-up, London corporation policy group, welcome crew, press spokesperson.
 
 
 
The Public face:
We try to answer the questions of all the general public properly and with respect. At night we get drunk bankers coming to ‘confess’ and we talk. If someone comes angry and pissed up we ask them to come back tomorrow.”
 
 
 
A cup of tea, serenaded by the piano (donation box available). It struck me how well everyone I spoke to genuinely listened, even when they disagreed. I half expected everyone to rant on their chosen hobbyhorse, but there was  a strong culture of interest and discussion.
 
When someone came in with a bottle of vodka the person responsible moved him on straight away.
“There was alcohol trouble in the tea tent a few days ago – I’m making it nice again.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The police are a constant background presence, but no-one I spoke to mentioned them.
 
 
 
 
 
 
The General Assembly is held on St. Paul’s steps twice a day and operates by consensus (sadly we couldn’t stay for it), but the Working groups mean that those prepared to do the work rather than just criticise have more influence.
 
“I don’t normally go to the GAs. I abide by what they say, but they go on soooo long.”
 
“There’s some people who think that they run the place, but they don’t. We all lead ourselves and that then influences others around us in particular areas.”
 
I asked quite a few people where they thought the camp was going and what would be the end result. It seemed like I was asking the wrong question.
 
There’s lots of people working on specific concrete demands in various areas, but somehow that wasn’t the primary focus. Instead people wanted to create a safe space where people could talk and be themselves outside of the mainstream system. Process was as important as outcome.They wanted to model  something different in terms of decision making and human interaction.
 
Some  talked of going home for a few days, some said that this was there home now.
 
“I came to visit a friend of mine and I’ve never left. I’ve no plans to go.  This is where I need to be.”

About Jonathan Chilvers

Jonathan Chilvers...leads a homeless project in the middle of Leamington and is part of Jubilee Church Leamington. He is a Green Party County Councillor in Warwickshire, but is not writing on behalf of any of the above. Jonathan loves his wife and two beautiful daughters. Follow or contact him via Twitter: @jonchilvers
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5 Responses to What is the Occupy camp at St. Paul’s really like?

  1. Human Being says:

    Reblogged this on escapecapitalism and commented:
    Keep it up my friend! Change is now 🙂

  2. Victoria Ward says:

    Would be interested to hear what you picked up that hadn’t already been reported ithrough the spin and opinion of the mainstream media?

  3. Leona Angus says:

    I visited about a month ago – you so eloquently document many of the thoughts and feelings I had about being there. I went initially as a response to the church starting legal proceedings to get them off site – to support the occupation. Also to stand with them as a move against the huge inequality that is in our society. Everyone I spoke to wanted dialogue – for these issue to be on the table. At the General Assembly there were many speaking from different facets of the issue – against fuel poverty, ex-service/war veterans, church liaison groups. I also spent time talking to many of the ‘suits’ who were watching from the periphery of the camp.

    Since then I have visited the Occupy Bournemouth camp and try to stay on touch with developments through various web sites
    http://occupylsx.org/http://occupylsx.org/?p=1526 – article on tax havens
    http://theoccupiedtimes.co.uk/

    • Jon Chilvers says:

      Hi Leona,
      Thanks for your comment – what was Occupy Bournemouth like? How big is it and whose land are they on? I’ve often wondered how the camps out of London are getting on largely out of the media glare and what the people are like that actually got them started?

  4. Jon Chilvers says:

    Hi Victoria,

    All the stories initially were (understandably) around the eviction / relationship with St. Paul’s & London Corporation / the resignations etc not looking at how the camp actually worked or were trying to do.

    There’s been another group of stories that sets out to prove that the people in the camp are contradictory / hypocritical (the going to coffee in Starbucks stuff etc). Often they’ve been described as ‘protestors’ or ‘anti-capitalist’ without really investigating what that means and the terms have been used in loaded/perjorative ways.

    I’d been impressed by Occupy’s constructive, but assertive dialogue and tactics and the relative lack of just yelling/moaning protests and expecting everyone else to sort things out. I guess I wanted to see whether that impression I formed was accurate and try and understand how things were working in practice, with as little agenda as possible (although obviously I am going in broadly sympathetic). I wanted to find out about how the messy tensions of consensus-building democracy have worked without either jumping on or ignoring every mistake. That kind of approach is very hard to find in the mainstream media – it’s difficult to find ‘the story’ around it and it’s not polemical/opinion driven.

    What were your experiences down there?

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