Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protest at Zuccotti Park in New York, the camp was started late last year amid a deep economic slowdown, with jobs being lost and social services being cut even as Britain’s investment bankers sought large bonuses.
After months of protest, around 50 tents remained in the camp as the bailiffs and police moved across a plaza in front of St. Paul’s.
A handful of protesters resisted, and police officials said 20 people were arrested after they clambered atop a rickety wooden structure for a final, noisy protest, lofting banners and rattling tambourines. But riot police surrounded the platform and bailiffs dismantled it, witnesses said.
St. Paul’s was quickly accused by Occupiers of “betraying” the protest by giving London’s police the authority to carry out the eviction, but the church’s acquiescence with law enforcement should not be mistaken for resolve. As soon as the camp had been dismantled, the church authorities rushed to reiterate their death-wish, expressing remorse for the end of a sit-in that was described by the Telegraph as having become “basically a holding camp for the mentally ill,” and claiming common cause with the protesters:
In a statement Tuesday, the cathedral authorities said the protest had forced a re-examination of “important issues about social and economic justice and the role the cathedral can play.”
“We regret the camp had to be removed by bailiffs,” the cathedral authorities said, promising to continue to promote the issues raised by the encampment.
The Anglican church’s attitude toward Occupy has been incomprehensible to many, especially given that the camp was directly threatening its livelihood and the upkeep of its signature cathedral. As I noted last year,
as the crowd has grown to 2,000 strong, access to the landmark has been gradually blocked, forcing St. Paul’s to close its doors for the first time since 1940, when German bombs rained indiscriminately down on the city during the Blitz
The upshot of this was that,
the closure is having a real impact on what is one of Britain’s finest pieces of Restoration architecture. Each day that it is shuttered, St. Paul’s loses between £16,000 and £23,000 in revenues ($26,000 to $37,000), a crippling blow to a glorious 300-year-old building that receives little financial support from the state. And then there is the fire risk: “Health, Safety and Fire officers have pointed out that access to and from the Cathedral is seriously limited. With so many stoves and fires and lots of different types of fuel around, there is a clear fire hazard,” wrote the dean in a press release explaining his decision. No doubt the irony that St. Paul’s was the grand centerpiece of the rebuilding program after 1666’s devastating Great Fire has not been lost on observers.
(This is not to mention the subsequent defecation and graffiti inside the building.)
The rump occupation that was left in place after the winter’s cold was undoubtedly less of a threat to St. Paul’s than the 2,000 strong throng that assembled in October; but that it was run and maintained by many of the same people who had shown such disrespect in the face of an initial kindness and caused the Right Reverend Knowles to resign should have been enough for church authorities to recognize that the people sitting outside their building did not return the love they had been shown.