Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Finsbury Square Occupy London protest

Finsbury Square is five star accommodation compared with St Paul's. There's plenty of space, and grass rather than cobblestones, so the campers here don't have to stick their tents down with gaffer tape.

Clem, 17, polite, cheerful, comes from Harrow. He's at college studying music in performance - guitar, keyboards, voice: 'It makes people happy.'

He gets the first, wheeziest drawing of the day.

'Do you know about Greenham Common?' I ask him.
'Yeah. The Suffragettes.'
'CND? The Aldermaston march?'
'Educate me.'
I need to leave my assumptions at the door. But there aren't any doors here.

The kitchen tent is bulging with food, much of it donated. Robert says he is 'pretty new to England': he grew up in Australia. He plays jazz guitar and is going to train to teach English as a foreign language. 'This is one of the biggest global protests ever - 980 cities worldwide are involved,' he says. 'I'm making a kind of dhal. It's got lentils, cardamom, clove, curry leaves, cumin, turmeric, no chilli as some people don't like it, ginger, garlic, onions, carrots and potatoes. And a little salt.' The camp isn't vegan though. The freegans go out to forage in the evening.

'How long are you staying?'
'Until we're forcibly evicted or we change the world, whichever comes first.'

Someone walks in. 'What's for breakfast? Smells lovely.'
'It's lunch.'
'What time is it?'
'Twelve thirty.'

Marianna, who is also working in the kitchen tent, grew up in Italy and is half French, half American. She thinks the camp is important for 'people who are not likely to join. People who don't agree and can't envisage an alternative - it gives them an idea that an alternative is possible.'


Outside, protesters are using a megaphone to address passers-by. Rhodri, who is 'working within it all', says, 'I'm not sure it'll change anything but it's a fresh opinion.' He likes gardening, the theatre, being with his family. He says that's all rather ordinary. To me he sounds content and blessed.

'Will you draw me next?' says Adele, who works at Progress Software round the corner. 'They won't change anything. They're giving it a good go though.'

Adele's colleague agrees. 'Fair play to them. It'll make no difference whatsoever. It'd be nice to think so though. I'd say keep going. Not everything happens in a day. They'll make people more aware of injustice. I don't agree with what you're doing but good on you.'

B

B, another onlooker, says, 'I'm so glad I'm not 15. The new world is starting in 2012 and it's gonna be horrible. Nostradamus said that in 2011 the economic state of the world will be down and there'll be rioting in the street. Take me now Lord! Hold on to your soul, let love grow.'

On the edge of the group of onlookers are three of the pantomime villains. 'I'm being sketched,' David says to his companions. 'Not really,' I say. 'You moved.' He moves back to where he was to allow me to carry on, but after a few seconds he says, 'We have to go now.'
'Where do you work?'
'RBS.'


Francesca has been megaphoning the pavement crowd. 'I was educated at the International School in Milan and then went to Japan with my family. I finished my masters in international development in September and now I want to learn more about the world.'

Her friend Simon is visiting the camp: 'If you're not careful your options narrow very quickly and you start to wonder how people can do anything other than academic or business jobs.' He is an American, working for the Nigerian government.

Francesca is living in a squat in Tufnell Park and works with Squash (Squatters' Action for Secure Homes). She plans a nomadic life.

'This camp started organically,' she says. 'There was a march then some people said, camp! Working groups started. Leadership doesn't necessarily mean being in charge. The kitchen and dealing with donations were the first things to be organised, it was really fluid.'

If there is a leader, I don't find anyone who claims to know, or who is bothered about not knowing.

Some snatches:

'There's no leader here but there is at St Paul's.
'Who's the leader there?'
'I don't know.'

'Will there be a third and fourth camp?'
'Someone said the South Bank and Canary Wharf but I don't know who's in that group.'

'Is anyone in charge?'
'I think it's the guy wearing the bunny ears.'

Angella-Dee says: 'I've lived on a peace camp in Cheshire. It's character building. You can live without money. I've been an anarchist all my life. They've only just caught on here.'

Greenham Common? 'I was there too. We started all these rumours that we'd dug tunnels into the RAF airbase.

'And I was at Beanfield. But you mention it now and you're talking at a blank audience. We got mashed up by the police. They smashed the shit out of us and put us all in prison. Here' - she glances at the police vans parked nearby - 'we just get looked at.'

A note for spotters: her bike is a copy of a Schwinn cruiser, given to her by a film editor who won it in a competition.

A little girl comes up to me and says: 'Do you know where my real mother is?'
Uh-oh.
But then a young woman strides over and says: 'I'm her legal guardian. Her real mother is over there.'

It spits with rain. A disembodied hand reaches out from the bottom of a tent flap and stubs out a cigarette.

Inside the first-aid tent is the quasi-religious hush of needlewomen. Three girls are stitching yellow and black letters to electric blue mesh. It's a banner which will say ALL POWER TO THE SPARKS. It's for tomorrow's demonstration of electricity workers. I crassly ask Alexa what she does 'in real life'. She says: 'This, in different contexts.'

I meet a man from Suffolk on his second visit to London: 'I looked round and thought, the buildings get that big? I don't like London. Everyone's hard apart from the people here. My wife says I go back Friday or not at all. Why don't you stay at the camp? We've just had 12 duvets donated.'

An electronic piano has appeared in the kitchen tent which is getting very jolly.

I wander along to the library, a few open-air shelves of paperbacks. Imperial Ambition by Noam Chomsky, One Day by David Nicholls, Cityboy: Beer and Loathing in the Square Mile by Geraint Anderson, Flying by Kate Millett (which would have been to hand at Greenham), Things Can Only Get Better by John O'Farrell.

An email of headlines comes in:
Buyout multiples rise on technology bet
Private equity takes steps towards transparency
Banks are back in takeovers

1 comment: