The Camp at Finsbury Square
Exactly a week after demonstrators first gathered upon the steps of St Paul’s and then pitched camp beside the cathedral, a second camp has appeared at Finsbury Sq. It is the same location in Moorfields where protestors gathered in the Summer of 1780, drawn together by many grievances including unemployment, rising prices and a government that was out of touch with the populace. Yet any similarity ends there because – in contrast to their eighteenth century predecessors – these people are committed to staging an entirely peaceful occupation.
When I visited the camp at St Paul’s, I could not tell whether it would last – but the arrival of a second camp in the City confirms growing support for this international movement, which began last Summer in Wall St, New York, and has now spread across the globe.
By mid-evening, once the commuters have piled out of the offices that surround Moorgate and disappeared into the tube, these streets are usually deserted with just a few stray drunks stumbling from the pub to hail a taxi home. All that changed this week, as orderly lines of tents appeared upon the green at the centre of Finsbury Sq, quickly establishing a small community and drawing the attention of crowds of passersby who linger upon the pavement in conversation with the tent dwellers .
Standing in the shadowy park sets you at one remove from the illuminated towers that surround it. Here I joined the evening’s general assembly and learned the language of hand signals that has become a unifying characteristic of this movement, enabling large groups of people to communicate efficiently. The primary gestures are – shaking your fingers to agree, crossing your hands to disagree, raising both your index fingers to make a point, making the letter ‘T” with your hands to make a technical comment and rolling your hands in a circular gesture which proposes that the meeting needs to move on.
In effect, one hundred people were gathered in parliament with a “facilitator” acting in a similar role to the Speaker in the House of Commons, directing who should talk next. In the half-light, one by one, various working groups of the residents reported to the assembly on the day’s developments in their collective efforts to establish the camp sustainably. A plan was mooted to join the striking electricians in Blackfriars next day and a message of support was read out from workers on the London Underground who are currently facing fifteen hundred job cuts. Just three days into the camp, the discussions moved from getting portaloos and keeping the park tidy, to T’ai Chi classes, organising a football team, arranging nightwatchmen and inviting musicians from the Guildhall School to come and play in the square.
“We are not here to make ourselves a luxury life, we are here to change this situation,” declared one resident, with noble understatement in regard to the living conditions. No one could fail to be touched by the courtesy that was paid to each speaker, however timid their contribution. There was no cynicism among this group of hardy souls gathered in the darkened park, who had put themselves on the line for the sake of daring to dream of a better world. It was a wide constituency, including students, nurses, ex-servicemen, teachers and old timer activitists. And it was a timeless spectacle, watching these individuals crouched together at such an intense conference in the gloom. In three days, this disparate group of people had created their own society with discrete codes of respect and shared responsibilities.
As rain began to fall in the darkness, we all took shelter and I found myself under an awning in conversation with a resident of Fitzrovia who had been here each night and over the weekend at St Paul’s, working in the media department, representing the protestors to journalists. Looking slightly at odds in his dark suit and tie, he revealed he was an investment banker who came to the park after finishing work. “This is an historic moment. We are on the precipice of what could easily become another great depression like the nineteen thirties,” he informed me, his eyes gleaming with agitation, “I am here because money does not mean much to me, I value people for what they do rather than their wealth.”
The rain was closing in and I was grateful to walk back to Spitalfields where my warm bed awaited, yet I shall be keeping the sleepers at these camps in mind, as the nights grow colder and Winter begins.
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