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Reporting From St. Paul’s

The various “Occupy” movements around the world are remarkably similar. More akin to a crime spree than a political movement, the occupied zones quickly degenerate into hell-holes. A reporter from the Daily Mail joined the occupiers outside St. Paul’s Cathedral under cover, and filed a report accompanied by lots of photos:

The 12th meeting of the General Assembly of the London wing of the international revolution against capitalism is not going smoothly. The first item on the agenda relates to changing the banner that fronts the sprawling camp in the piazza surrounding London’s St Paul’s Cathedral.

It currently reads ‘Capitalism is crisis’, but some demonstrators want it changed to: ‘We are the 99 per cent.’ Unfortunately, there is a snag. Someone has nicked the banner.

If anyone asks why I am here, my cover story is that I am demonstrating against the banks, having had to close a business as a result of their unwillingness to lend. But in the 48 hours I spend at the camp, I discover that procrastination, contradiction and confusion are pretty much par for the course—and absolutely no one asks about my reason for being there. My fellow protesters are too busy posing for the world’s media, being interviewed by film crews and radio stations from around the world, and loving the attention. …

A key activity is sitting around smoking joints and knocking back lager. Complaints circulate about drunk people urinating on the steps of the cathedral and on each other’s tents. It becomes clear that undisciplined behaviour is affecting the camp’s image and driving some of its residents away. Among the professional protesters, those from the anarchist group Anonymous form a tight knot of tents and are distinguishable by the plastic Guy Fawkes masks they carry and sometimes wear to obscure their faces.

The only uniformity in the camp is that just about everyone, when not inhaling marijuana, smokes cigarettes (roll-ups, of course). The mornings are a cacophony of hacking coughs.

Everyone looks exhausted. For starters, the cathedral bells peel every 15 minutes, and buses roar past throughout the night. The City starts work early and finishes late. At 6.30am on Tuesday I am roused by a passer-by yelling: ‘Get up, you lazy bastards.’ Not that they do.

The reporter confirms that this is a Potemkin protest. Thermal imaging has indicated that only one-tenth of the tents that protesters have pitched are occupied overnight. The reporter says that his tent touches five others, and he has never seen anyone enter or leave three of them.

One consistent feature of these gatherings of leftists is squalor:

At the meeting on Monday, one activist complains that his partner was almost assaulted yesterday by a drunk. ‘And I saw the camp’s kitchen staff being harassed by someone who was drunk,’ he says. ‘I was also harassed by someone who was drunk. I have reason to be a little bit afraid for our safety.’

His words are warmly applauded, as are those of a facilitator who reveals there have been complaints about boozed-up people urinating on the cathedral steps and on tents.

‘No one should pee on the church or the tents,’ she instructs. ‘That is just not OK. We have big issues with peeing. A bag of s*** was also put in the bin. That is also not OK.’

Everywhere around the world, the face of liberalism is public urination (not to mention, as we noted last night, public masturbation).

Echoing the findings of many other observers, the Daily Mail reporter found that the protesters have no coherent ideology:

Even after living cheek-by-jowl with the demonstrators for two days and nights, what they stand for and what they hope to achieve by occupying this half-acre of paving slabs remains an utter mystery to me. They purport to be running their campaign to fight against capitalism. But what I encountered was a disparate group of freelance travelling protesters with little or no discernible philosophy and a penchant for petty squabbles. …

Many tell me they attend London universities, dividing their time between their studies and the protest. Hardly surprising, then, that much of the business of the camp has the whiff of student politics. Twenty-something and predominantly female, the middle-class accents of the ‘facilitators’ — yes, that’s what they call themselves — fill the piazza as they do ‘shout-outs’ for people to join caucuses for women and ethnic minorities, and for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LBGT) support groups.

Alongside them in equal number are foreign activists living in London. Smaller in number but perhaps most vocal of all are the professional activists. Several tell me they have just returned from the Dale Farm traveller evictions. Others are veterans of protest camps dating back decades.

What is supposed to be a spontaneous uprising against the evils of capitalism seems very like a gathering of the usual suspects. For all the talk of popular support, there is little evidence on the ground.

In London as in the United States, whatever support the Occupiers might once have enjoyed has ebbed away:

In PR terms, the [St. Paul's] location is clearly a disaster, and it is one that, in private, the protesters are deeply concerned about. ‘Support is ebbing away,’ says one. ‘And with Remembrance Sunday coming up, it is only going to get worse.’

Another tells me his group of a dozen protesters would be happy to leave if some way of packing up without losing face could be found. …

[W]ith each chime of St Paul’s august bells, confidence in this haphazard and strangely disingenuous protest grows more hollow.

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