What do the anti-capitalist protesters in London actually want? They compare themselves to the Arab Spring, but it all sounds a bit vague

It’s getting colder in London. We had a lingering summer, but that is over. Not such a great time to be on the streets for any longer than you have to.The central heating goes on and the thick duvet is very welcome.

Pity then, the anti-capitalist protesters currently camped outside St Paul’s Cathedral. For them it's thin canvas, extra thick jackets and concrete bedding. Ouch.

There are maybe two or three hundred of them, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York. The campers in New York have been doing their thing for more than a month now, but the London version is still relatively new.

They look fairly settled in, though. They have a media and legal tent, a food tent (shared cooking and cleaning by the look of it) and a first aid tent.

They are going to a lot of trouble to make a statement. The trouble is to the casual observer, it’s quite hard to know what that statement is. They are against capitalism. There is a big banner hanging out the front of the tent town, right where the tourists normally stand to take their photos of the Cathedral, which says Capitalism is Crisis. But obviously that sentiment has its limits. After all, none of the tents were homemade and I saw a few IKEA bags flapping about in the breeze. Another banner, which clearly is homemade, says Grow the Real Economy. That means, according to the words drawn around, time, experience, wisdom and energy.

It’s all a bit vague.

At CNBC we’ve been following the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York and we spent a day reporting on the protests in London too. And even during that process, it was hard to get a firm idea of what the Occupiers were after. They compare themselves to the Arab Spring. But in the countries caught up in that wave of revolution there was a very definite aim – to overthrow ageing dictatorships and introduce democracy. Here in London, if I can put words in their mouths a bit, it is more about wagging fingers at greedy bankers and the spineless regulators who’ve bailed them out.

Well, good for them. They share that urge with plenty of institutional investors, disgusted shareholders and a large number of other humans, with or without money.

Even without a clear message, you could still probably get that general idea across. And they are having some success. They are right next door to Paternoster Square, where the London Stock Exchange is based, which is all private land. So the Square is now closed to the public and there is security and policing on every corner and at every entrance. Hence their success, because the cafes and bars in the Square, which, reports have it, use money as a means of exchange and are therefore capitalists, are suffering rather a lot. The phalanx of slightly desperate signs says WE ARE STILL OPEN, but let’s face it, who can be bothered with the twenty questions from the security guards required to prove you are capitalist enough to get through the barricades.

“Yes sir, that is a copy of the Telegraph under my arm and if you’ll just hold my bowler hat for me I’ll get out my photo of my Chelsea tractor.”

So not only are they stopping a tiny slice of capitalism in its tracks, they are being noticed by many dozens of people who might otherwise take their lunch near the LSE.

You do have to feel a little sorry for them. They have chosen the tail end of one of the busiest years in the news business for quite some time. Who has the time to pay them attention between the horrors of the Thai floods, the recent news from Libya, the continuing Greek protests and violence and the see-sawing of news from European officials about what they might or might not do to tackle the debt crisis.

If that goes badly, we might all be needing our tents.


Comments (3)

by nommopilot on October 25, 2011

It may be true that these occupations lack a well-managed PR strategy but it is pretty clear what they're protesting against.  An unjust global economic system which allows a small number of priveleged people to accrue immense wealth at the expense of the environment and the majority of the population.

It's a little boring to see the media constantly parroting this meme that they don't know what they want.

If you weren't extremely well-paid you might be more motivated to learn, through journalism, what the protests are about.  Then maybe you could report about what you do know rather than what you don't.

by nommopilot on October 25, 2011

Here's a much more worthwhile read on the occupy movement from Gordon Campbell.


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