Friday, 25 November 2011

my visit to OccupyLSX

I managed to wangle a few hours at the OccupyLSX protest camp at St Pauls Cathedral this week : I don't trust media reporting of things like this and thought it better to find out for myself. About 100 tents, I'd say, including the welcome/info tent, the multi-faith prayer tent, the first aid station, the kitchen tent, the coffee bar tent (all free food, by the way — guests and donations welcome), the Tent University for seminars, linked to the library ('Starbooks', opposite Starbucks). Photo album here.

I met all sorts : a retired theatre director, a supply teacher, an archaeologist between digs, American students, local workers popping in to help with the kitchen or whatever, visiting speakers, some seriously knowledgeable and professional activists and organisers, a few drifters and layabouts, and one complete nutcase from Merseyside in a smart suit. Oh, and a sharp-witted Irish street poet hanging around the fringe extracting money from people. I joined in a seminar led by some lovely young anarchists who'd never led anything like it before and weren't much good — but once people started challenging their ideas they revealed a much greater wisdom than first impressions gave. People were extremely interested in my Christian input, and Jesus was very highly thought of — the 'Big Man'. Then we had a pretty technical talk on Land Value Tax from a former Vice-Chair of the old Greater London Council, the notorious (to some) Dave Wetzel. There was a bit of street theatre, which had led a local bank branch to close its doors. "A bank closed by poetry" was the claim.

There was a full programme of events. A lot of effort was spent on making sure the camp remained harmonious, welcoming, safe and tidy, with notices up reminding people not to make a noise when prayers were being said in the Cathedral (whose staff, after the initial mishandling, maintain constant friendly contact). Inevitably the camp has attracted some of the very vulnerable, marginal people in London who've gone there because they find a welcome they don't find anywhere else. They were unsurprised, albeit disappointed, that the London Evening Standard had twisted this into a front page headline "Needle bins at St Paul's camp to beat junkie health hazard".

The twice-daily Assembly ('Church Meeting') where policies are thrashed out and occupiers are briefed about similar events happening worldwide, was a mixture of good discussion and tedious debate about admin and procedure. Sound familiar? I saw the 'elders' of the camp preparing for the meeting in Starbucks beforehand. They'd a lot on their plate : they've just planted a 'mission church' by occupying a large building in Hackney (left vacant by the multinational bank UBS for years) and turning it into a 'Bank of Ideas' ( and community centre. Quite apart from the logistics of getting that running there were all the court hearings to prepare for.

At the heart of this are thoroughly organised, very inventive and creative people with determination and a passion for a better society. Like us, they can't describe the 'Kingdom of God' in all its details, but they know what is not'kingdom-like' and are trying to explore and model a different way.

My overall impression : "All the right questions, right spirit, right organisation. Living out a lot of the answers." All in all, just what I'd want the United Reformed Church to be, and in many ways, perhaps, what we are already in a very unobtrusive way. Except, perhaps, without the passion and spirit.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

the triumphal procession of the Fortnum & Mason 145

So, ten of the protestors that 'occupied' Fortnum & Mason to highlight the company's tax avoidance have been done for 'aggravated trespass' - a new law introduced in 2003. I'm not sure how entering a shop during opening hours and sitting down, and then leaving when requested (clearing up as you go) can be described as 'aggravated trespass'. Video footage taken at the time shows shoppers continuing to shop during the 'aggravated trespass', and a police inspector telling them that they will be allowed to go shortly provided they turn left out of the store so as to keep them separate from a more aggressive demonstration up the road. They were then 'kettled', all arrested, and many kept for 15 hours or more in the police station.

The understanding of the Atonement that is most powerful for me is that which Paul (if it is indeed Paul) describes in Colossians 2 : 14, 15 where Jesus's ignominious execution by the 'principalities and powers' is recast as those same powers being led as captives in Christ's triumphal procession - Roman imperial imagery turned on its head. What he describes as being 'nailed to a cross' we might describe as 'being outed' . . "now we can see The System as it really is, with all its injustice and ugliness exposed for all to see, and know that for all its pomp it cannot stand."

That, I am sure, will be the effect of this abuse of power by the Met Police and the courts - it will rebound in the form of a generation radicalised, with any cosy illusions about the British State shattered. While senior government officials run off to Switzerland to do backhand deals with global companies to allow them to avoid paying billions of UK tax, while investment bankers rob a generation of its prospects and pay themselves obscene bonuses for doing so, while their political stooges run behind them collecting their ordure and tipping it on the heads of the poor and vulnerable, those who dare to shout that The System is broken and no longer fit for purpose are done for aggravated trespass. Now we see it : no more illusions.

It's true that I lost my illusions about the British State - and especially the Met Police - years ago. A generation ago, in fact. The war waged on the people the prime minister of the day called the 'Enemy Within', and the covert operations against peace activists, destroyed my faith in the beneficence of the State for good. But just because we see here power doing what power will always do - protect privilege, protect its own power, victimise the weak - doesn't mean that it doesn't still make me angry.

Donate to the appeal costs to keep that triumphal march rolling.

Monday, 7 November 2011

three critiques of St Pauls

see : three pithy quotes on the failure of St Pauls to seize the moment offered by the Occupy protest, and recognise it - as I might put it - as a visitation from God. Although originally intended primarily as a witness against the idolatry of global finance, 'Occupy' has in the process exposed the fundamental weakness of a form of Christian witness inextricably linked to power and privilege.

Mark 13 : 1 - 2 -- "As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”