Occupying or Not, London Protesters Say the Movement Will Continue

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Oli Scarff/ Getty Images

St. Paul's Cathedral in London, after police evicted the Occupy protesters overnight

Among the myriad mantras and statements that have been espoused by the Occupy movement, “You can’t evict an idea” has remained steadfast. It’s time for the London arm of the movement to put that to the test.

Because you can, of course, evict a protest camp, a fact that the Occupiers were forced to reconcile late Monday night. Around midnight, hundreds of police officers began removing the group of protesters that have been camped outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral since October. Despite the late hour, the police’s actions weren’t unexpected; last month a high court judge granted the City of London Corporation – the governing body in charge of St. Paul’s property – the authority to remove the camp.

But while there were minor scuffles and around two dozen arrests were made, both the City and the protesters have described the eviction as largely peaceful.

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Just because the camp was disbanded relatively easily, however, doesn’t mean the protesters aren’t still resentful about the financial industry’s greed, and the way they’ve been treated by St. Paul’s staff.

“In communication with the church, it’s always felt like we were being told one thing, while another thing entirely was taking place in the background,” said Ronan McNern, a prominent Occupier. McNern, who has been camping with Occupy London since the beginning, was also a member of the liaison group between the camp and the church, a position he now suggests was meaningless in light of the eviction. He said that while it was the City of London who formally took legal actions against the camp – seeking an injunction from the high court — he, and many of the Occupy protesters, feels that the staff at St. Paul’s has been championing the camp’s removal all along.

After protesters were forcibly removed of the steps of the cathedral where they had gathered to discuss the eviction as it was happening, an officer told the press that the church had given them the authority to do so. “We saw that the church actively wanted to take part in a forceful eviction,” McNern said.

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The camp and St. Paul’s have been struggling to come to an understanding since the occupation began. St. Paul’s faced something of an image crisis when they were initially reluctant to welcome the protest. A few members of the church’s staff resigned, most notably the canon chancellor Giles Fraser, who said that he couldn’t stand by St. Paul’s refusal to embrace the camp, which he thought would lead to violence in the name of the church. And, on a much wider scale, St. Paul’s faced much criticism in the media from people who found it difficult to comprehend that the church wasn’t more sympathetic to the protester’s goal of economic equality.

Although the camp has been evicted and the tents have been cleared, the much of the movement’s usual activities seem to be carrying on in one way or another. On Tuesday night, less than 24 hours after they were evicted, the Occupy protesters gathered again on the steps of the cathedral to hold their daily meeting, dubbed general assemblies. (The high court order against them was only in regard to camping and setting up tents.) Meanwhile, some of those evicted from St. Paul’s have simply set up shop at Occupy London’s sister encampment, in nearby Finsbury Square; others appear to be regrouping for the next chapter in the movement. The protesters’ Twitter feed and website have still been active; a release posted to the latter also assured that “plans of some ambition, employing a diversity of tactics and delivered with the aplomb you would expect” were underway. While the enthusiasm of the protest at St. Paul’s had maintained an impressive momentum throughout the nearly five months it was in place, the challenge will be whether it can be sustained after the movement has suffered the eviction blow.

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