Occupy Wall Street has spawned many imitators – hundreds of them, in countries all over the world.
In London Occupy LSX (London Stock Exchange) claims to be the longest running, the tented encampment having been in situ outside St Paul’s Cathedral since October 15 last year.
Not for much longer though. Last week the High Court gave the landowner, the City of London Corporation, the green light to pull down the tents – there were around 150 at last count – and evict their occupants. The activists – defiant to the last – have just announced the takeover of a new property in London’s financial district, an abandoned nine-storey office building.
But what’s the real state of health of Occupy in the UK – part of what they themselves call “the global movement for social and economic justice and real democracy”?
Laurie Penny, who writes for the left-leaning weekly The New Statesman, probably has a better idea than most. She recently spent the night in a sleeping bag at the Bank Of Ideas, another abandoned office building in central London, waking to “a dawn chorus of hippies and homeless teenagers coughing up last night’s tar.”
She reports certain tensions among those who’ve stuck it out beyond the onset of winter (albeit a noticeably mild one) – epitomised by the tale of the homeless man who complains about the “sociology students in jumpers” setting the agenda. She observes, not unsympathetically, the challenges presented by living without regular access to electricity and hot water for three months, and notes the straggle-haired women with “dirt in the creases of their cheeks”.
“There are many for whom the unglamorous parts of maintaining an honest counter-culture do not fit into the narrative of presentable protest,” she says and cites an incident in New York City last week, where activists from the original Zuccotti Park occupation were turned away from an event being held in their honour, “because they looked and smelled precisely as if they had been living in tents and abandoned buildings since September.”
But useful activism, she concludes “usually involves getting your hands dirty.”