The main objections (PDF) will be familiar to anyone who’s been watching the arguments wend their way through the media: obstruction of the public highway (a claim that up to 84% of the ‘highway’ of St Paul’s Churchyard is occupied) leading to pedestrian congestion, and that the site is insanitary. The documents are very clear that the City of London Corporation doesn’t “seek to prevent protest in this location or at all” – just not camped ones.
But it’s the stuff in the supporting witness statements that has the papers in a froth. It’s claimed that, despite the provision of portaloos on site, people (and dogs) are pissing and shitting on the street and that the area has a whiff of urine about it (anyone with a sensitive nose in the vicinity?). Another notable passage is:
“the Protest Camp has acted as a magnet for unsocial and criminal activity and, despite attempts by the organisers to manage the protest appropriately, the magnet effect has meant that this is not possible…the quality of the control and management of the Protest Camp is deteriorating over time”
Basically, the camp is attracting vulnerable people who aren’t necessarily au fait with the cause behind the protest, jazz hands consensus decision making or the need to be whiter than white to not create excuses for the authorities to go in with batons. Daytime drinking has been witnessed and a request for sharps boxes has led to assumptions of intravenous drug use. Though let’s be charitable and assume there’s a diabetic on site.
Other issues include arrests for non-protest-related activities (assault, theft, someone on the Sex Offenders’ Register failing to register a new address) as well as rumours of thefts and a women-only tent because apparently some women don’t feel safe in the camp at night. To add to all this, the St Paul’s registrar also notes graffiti on the cathedral, as well as crap inside the West portico, and complains about noise becoming a significant problem: the camp is now up to about 200 tents, and the sounds of camp life and live music regularly drift into the cathedral, disrupting services. Visitor numbers are half what the cathedral would expect for the time of year, and half of school parties have cancelled scheduled trips.
The documents give the overwhelming impression that the camp started to deteriorate around the weekend of 12/13 November – we’d be surprised if camp organisers have the experience or resources to deal with the vulnerable people they’re attracting. Social workers and homeless charity Broadway are monitoring the situation but say they are worried by the “magnet effect”.
We’ve been to some tented protest camps – notably climate camp – and they’ve been fun, vibrant places. But also, perhaps crucially, they’ve all been much shorter-lived. With hindsight, it was perhaps inevitable that setting up a camp offering free food, shelter and a free-living spirit would attract people who would be better off receiving help for their problems. It would be interesting to know how protests in other cities handled the issue – or if they were able to before being broken up. Perhaps OccupyLSX should consider dismantling the camp themselves before something happens to discredit their entire protest.