Since Occupy Wall Street’s earliest days, demonstrators have concentrated on certain themes which have resonated through their speeches and chants. Fairness, democracy and equality are, obviously, the major messages the movement champions. And as the Occupy movement spread around the world, another theme was pushed: solidarity. So there’s little surprise that the protesters who’ve been camped outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London are agitated by the police action against their sister protest in New York.
Early Tuesday morning, as hundreds of police officers worked to clear the camp that’s been operating in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, the London arm of the protest began tweeting updates. The camp, known for being highly organized with a media tent, a library and a de facto lecture hall known as “tent city university,” was closely following the events at Occupy Wall Street and coordinating their own plan to lend support from across the pond.
By mid-morning in London, many of the protesters at St. Paul’s were already in motion. Signs posted around the camp notified occupiers and passersby of the police actions in Zuccotti Park. A few of the camp’s resident mouthpieces were busy addressing the media. And others were already organizing a satellite demonstration, to be held Tuesday outside London’s U.S. embassy, in order to protest the use of force at Occupy Wall Street. The protesters plan on demanding a meeting with an ambassador.
One of Occupy London’s supporters, Adam Fitzmaurice, said in a statement that the protest wants “to know why Secretary of State Clinton feels comfortable demanding dictators such as Mubarak and Assad respect and allow peaceful protest while the NYPD, Oakland PD, Denver PD, and others across the U.S. brutally gas, pepper-spray and beat peaceful protesters to suppress dissent.”
Ronan McKern, a 36-year-old protester, was especially bothered with the news from New York in light of the police confrontations that took place in London on Monday night. A group of protesters had staged a demonstration outside of London’s Guildhall where the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet was taking place. Though Occupy London maintains the protest was peaceful, seven people were arrested. The police have said that the five of the protesters were charged with violating the U.K.’s Public Order Act, which covers myriad minor offenses, and the others were charged with indecent behavior or assault. Though the protesters had already been released on bail by the next morning, McKern noted that they’d been banned from entering London’s city center, where St. Paul’s is found. As a result, the protesters would be moving to Occupy London’s sister protest at Finsbury Square, just outside the city limits.
Despite the backup option, many at St. Paul’s are frustrated with what they call “aggressive attacks” by the police. “These people, who have the right to protest and be peaceful, are not able to do that,” McKern said. Pointing to the arguably more aggressive actions by police in New York, where reports suggest at police arrested at least 70 people as they cleared the park, McKern had concerns that the City of London would resort to similar measures. “Is that what David Cameron and [Britain's Home Secretary] Theresa May want to do to peaceful protesters?” he asked.
Of course, solidarity with Occupy Wall Street’s most recent plight could also be seen as a self-interested move to prevent the same fate happening to London’s camp. Yet as another protester, Naomi Colvin, 31, put it, backlash to police interference should be a priority for anyone in a democratic society, whether they’re part of the Occupy movement or not. “There is no middle ground here,” she said. “You either believe we have the right to protest or we don’t.”