The “global” Occupy movement (global in this case meaning coastal American cities and European capitals) harbors ambitions of holding the powerful to account, and toppling the institutions of the political and economic establishments. In the case of the movement’s British franchise, however, the only institution being laid low is the Church of England.
The Occupy crowd took up residence outside St Paul’s Cathedral almost three weeks ago after police stopped them setting up camp outside the nearby London Stock Exchange. The protest forced St Paul’s to close its doors to the public for the first time since World War Two, causing splits among church officials which have led to the resignations of three members of the clergy.
As at Wall Street and elsewhere in the US, the protestors are mostly well-off young white students and professional activists killing time between riots, with the London numbers boosted by young foreign backpackers scarcely able to believe their luck at finding free camping in the heart of the capital. While the Wall Street campers have been braving unseasonal snow storms the Brits have proved rather less hardy: thermal imaging cameras revealed that in London, many tents were being left empty at night as the protestors snuck home to comfortable beds in well-to-do districts of the capital.
But when they do turn up for the day shift, their demands are every bit as nebulous as those of their American cousins; they also take the same irony-free attitude to obtaining sustenance from the nearest available capitalist pig, enjoying coffee from Starbuck’s and food from the local Tesco grocery store (Tesco, which owns the Fresh & Easy chain in the US, is a favorite target of British anti-capitalist protestors).
Of course the British media has covered the protest with a seriousness that belies its low attendances, frivolity and incoherence, with the BBC and the Guardian newspaper leading the adulation. Cathedral staff were initially sympathetic to the protest, but a split developed after St Paul’s was forced to suspend services amid fears for the safety of worshipers, and the tourists who bring in vital income to pay for the upkeep of the 300-year-old landmark.
The first casualty was Dr Giles Fraser, the cathedral’s Chancellor. Dr Fraser, a card-carrying member of the Church of England’s desperately trendy ‘social justice’ faction, threw in his lot with the protestors early on, asking police not to intervene. He resigned in protest at plans to evict the protestors, which he claimed, rather theatrically, would amount to “violence in the name of the church”.